King of New York appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. I didn’t expect much from the transfer but found it to look surprisingly strong.
Overall, sharpness seemed positive. Some wider shots displayed a little softness, but those examples remained minor. For the most part, the movie seemed concise and well defined. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, but some mild to moderate edge enhancement seemed apparent throughout the movie. The haloes never became intense, but they softened the image a bit and presented a few distraction. Happily, print flaws caused no concerns, as the movie seemed virtually free of them.
King offered a varied palette that utilized a mix of tones. These went from rich and natural to cold and stylized, though most of the movie stayed in a fairly bright and vibrant domain. The DVD replicated the colors very nicely, as they always seemed accurate and detailed. Black levels appeared deep and bold, while low-light shots were clear and appropriately opaque. King nearly made it to “A” level for its image; it fell short solely due to the edge enhancement. Otherwise, it offered a picture that hadn’t aged a day over the last 14 years.
While not bad, the Dolby Digital 5.1 showed its age in some ways. The soundfield suffered from some erratic localization. Speech and effects usually popped up in the appropriate places, but they occasionally bled to the sides or appeared in odd spots. The activity level seemed fine given the age of the movie. The track stayed with environmental elements that gave it a decent sense of atmosphere. Music offered good stereo imaging, and the surrounds contributed a nice feel as well. They supported the forward channels acceptably and kicked in with some unique audio in livelier situations like shoot-outs. The mix seemed somewhat lackluster, but it fit within the boundaries expected from its period.
Audio quality also was fine for the most part. Speech occasionally demonstrated some dense qualities and seemed a little rough, though not harsh or edgy. The lines stayed easily understandable, though, and weren’t a problem. Effects appeared a little dull but were acceptably accurate and concise, and they demonstrated decent low-end response as necessary. Similar thoughts greeted the music, which was reasonably bright but not exceptional. The score and songs showed fair clarity and range. Nothing about King stood out in the auditory realm but it seemed generally satisfactory.
When we move to the supplements, we start on DVD One with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Abel Ferrara, who offers a running, screen-specific discussion accompanied by DVD producer Mark Rance. To say the least, Ferrara presents a colorful personality. He spews almost as much profanity as we find in his film, and that says a lot. Ferrara goes into topics such as locations, working with the actors, financing the film, editing, marketing, and the film’s reception. Much of the time Ferrara just gushes in admiration for the flick, as he frequently spews comments like, “Look at that shot!” He also babbles along with it and basically talks about how wonderful it is.
Rance acts as interviewer mostly, which creates some interesting moments with the prickly Ferrara. The director often contradicts what Rance says. For example, when Rance implies that the cast improvised a lot of the film, Ferrara shoots him down quickly and almost harshly. This forms an interesting dynamic that makes the commentary unusual. Ferrara does unusual things like his own performance of Schoolly D’s title song, but he makes it a Dylan-style rendition. As for the quality of the information discussed, it seems erratic. We find some interesting points but a lot of blather as well. Overall, it comes across as a very spotty but moderately compelling track.
For the second commentary, we hear from producer Mary Kane, editor Anthony Redman, composer Joe Delia, and associate producer Randy Sabusawa. All four sit together for a running, screen-specific chat, though it sounds like some editing appears and a few remarks may come from separate sessions. The crew lack the same odd personality of Ferrara but don’t make this a better commentary. Not surprisingly, we get a lot of remarks about the participants’ areas of expertise. We learn about the score, editing, casting, locations, and various challenges. Some of the information seems decent, but as with the Ferrara track, we find far too much general praise about the movie; Redman especially seems insanely enamored with the flick, and he even appears to have memorized most of it, as he chimes along with it at times. Occasional dead spots occur, which don’t help. Some useful material shows up periodically but I don’t think we get a lot from the piece.
On DVD One, we also get the flick’s theatrical trailer as well as A Short Film About the Long Career of Abel Ferrara. In this 47-minute and one-second program, we get comments from Ferrara’s biographer Brad Stevens, director of photography Ken Kelsch, art director Charles Lagola, editor Anthony Redman, music supervisor Joe Delia, script supervisor Lisa Krueger, producers Randy Sabusawa and Mary Kane, music supervisor Janice Ginsburg, and lawyer and producer Jay Julien. Mostly we hear from those who worked with Ferrara. The documentary takes an extremely anecdotal nature as it follows Ferrara’s career in fairly chronological order. The participants talk about their personal experiences with Ferrara on and off the movie set. This offers some entertaining and reasonably frank stories, but it means that “Film” doesn’t cover his career in a terribly concise manner. It’s entertaining, though.
Over on DVD Two, the main extra comes from a documentary called The Adventures of Schoolly D, Snowboarder. This 42-minute and eight-second piece starts and ends with comments from Vibe History of Hip Hop editor Alan Light; in between we get comments from Schoolly himself. Light discusses the history of rap, while Schoolly chats about his own life and times. He gets into his early history, how he started to rap, his work in that field, and his relationship with Ferarra. Occasional interesting tidbits emerge, but a lot of Schoolly’s comments just sound like bluster. In addition, he says “y’know I’m sayin’?” about 7000 times in this program, which gets annoying. “Snowboarder” offers a decent but spotty documentary.
DVD Two finishes with a couple of other pieces. We get two TV spots plus a music video for Schoolly D’s “King of New York”. To my surprise, the song’s not bad, but the video’s dull. It shows the usual lip-synching plus a few snippets from the movie. Larry Fishburne shows up for some new footage, though.
Apparently King of New York enjoys a positive reputation as a gangster classic, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. The movie seems dull and shallow and goes virtually nowhere. The DVD presents very good picture with decent sound and a roster of extras that looks impressive on paper but doesn’t deliver a great deal of information. Though I think fans will like this generally positive DVD, I can’t recommend it to anyone else.