New Jack City appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While I didn’t expect much from this movie’s picture, I found a surprisingly terrific presentation.
Sharpness was nearly immaculate. A smidgen of softness occasionally popped up in a wide shot here or there, but those instances were very minor. The vast majority of the movie looked crisp and detailed. Jagged edges and shimmering created no concerns, and I noticed no signs of edge enhancement. For a 14-year-old movie, source flaws were shockingly rare. Indeed, I saw only one or two small specks during the film; otherwise it was clean.
Colors also stood out more strongly than I expected. Many films of the era come with a dull tone, but this one offered quite lively and vibrant hues when appropriate. The colors always appeared rich and full. Blacks were tight and deep, and low-light shots provided solid clarity and delineation. This transfer worked very well and earned an “A-“.
Though I gave it a “B+”, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of New Jack City offered almost as pleasant a surprise as the picture. The film presented a surprisingly broad soundfield. It concentrated on city street ambience, with the occasional violent sequence to punch up matters. These all used the localization well and created a nice sense of place and involvement. The surrounds kicked into action better than I expected and added real life to the proceedings. They even showed some stereo action at times, something I definitely didn’t anticipate from a movie of this one’s vintage.
Audio quality worked fine. The sole minor weak link came from the music – at least when the tunes didn’t come from a club. In that setting, the songs showed good low-end, but otherwise, the music seemed a bit anemic and didn’t present a lot of depth. The score and tunes were clear enough; they just failed to demonstrate good dimensionality.
Otherwise, the mix seemed positive. Actually, effects came across as a little limp at times and didn’t show great low-end, but they were generally satisfying in that regard, and they provided solid definition and accuracy. Speech was natural and concise, with no edginess or other issues. Ultimately, I felt satisfied with this effective soundtrack.
New Jack City gets the special edition treatment in this two-disc affair. In addition to the flick’s trailer, DVD One includes an audio commentary from director/co-star Mario Van Peebles. He touches on subjects like the movie’s social and political connections, casting and working with the actors, locations and attempts at verisimilitude, cinematography and lighting, and homages to other films and influences. At times Van Peebles seems rather full of himself, but he manages to convey some good information. Although he gets too technical on occasion, he still maintains a reasonable level of depth and gives us a pretty nice look at his film.
As we move to DVD Two, we start with a featurette called The Road to New Jack City. In this 28-minute and five-second show, we find the usual mix of movie clips, behind the scenes materials, and interviews. We hear from Van Peebles, producer Doug McHenry, and actors Ice-T, Chris Rock, Wesley Snipes, Judd Nelson, and Allen Payne. The program looks at the origins and intentions of the movie, hip-hop-related innovations, the film’s messages, casting and the actors’ work, the specifics of the opening shot, changes from the original script and the early chase sequence, problems with locations and details of the shoot, and the movie’s legacy.
Lean and tight, the featurette digs into its topics quite well. We get a surprising level of detail along with many interesting anecdotes. I especially like Rock’s comments about how the character of Pookie continues to reverberate with some fans. This program gives us a nice little look at some aspects of the production.
Next comes NJC: A Hip-Hop Classic. The 20-minute and 12-second show offers notes from Ice-T, associate producer Fab 5 Freddy, soundtrack executive producer Cassandra Mills, radio personalities Big Boy, Ed Lover, musicians the Nappy Roots, Raphael Saddiq, Truth Hurts, Black Child, Cadillac Tah and Warren G, Yo! MTV Raps co-creator Moses Edinborough, and USC School of Cinema’s Dr. Todd Boyd. They talk about the movie’s music, the use of a rapper as an actor, the characters, the flick’s use of New York, terminology and styles of the era, the film’s message and some favorite scenes.
The show emphasizes how folks reacted to the movie and its elements. This means a lot of praise for the film without tons of reflection. Oh, we get some decent thoughts about what the film meant, but this piece comes across as a little more self-congratulatory than I’d like.
For the final featurette, we get Harlem World: A Walk Inside. It takes 10 minutes, seven seconds and offers a tour of New York’s Schomburg Center. Historian Christopher Moore takes Van Peebles and his kids on a tour of the museum and also leads them through notable spots in Harlem. Well-meaning but not particularly inspired, we get a fair overview of the area’s highlights and that’s about it.
The DVD ends with a collection of three Music Videos. We find Ice-T’s “New Jack Hustler (Nino’s Theme)”, Christopher Williams’ “I’m Dreamin’”, and Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up”. The music and clips vary from the pretty good to the mediocre to the downright terrible. Rap from the early Nineties holds up well, and while Ice-T’s video is little more than a prototype for all the girls and bling pieces we see these days, it’s not bad; at least it lacks the usual surfeit of movie snippets.
I can’t say the same for Williams’ dull video. It showcases many film clips and does nothing creative the rest of the time. The song itself is bland early Nineties soul notable only in a bizarre way since Williams sounds strangely like white boy Michael McDonald.
From their absurd fashion sense to their non-existent sex appeal to the stupid spelling of their name, Color Me Badd was an embarrassment 15 years ago, and they’ve not gotten better with age. They were always the wimpiest vocal lotharios of the era – what’s with the Kenny G-looking guy, anyway? I don’t doubt they did a lot of sexing up back then, but I doubt it was with too many women. And what the hell does “we can do it ‘til we both wake up” mean? “Making love until we drown”? Who writes this nonsense? Terrible song, terrible band, terrible video.
It may lack the societal impact of 1983’s Scarface, but as a film, 1991’s New Jack City holds up better. It presents a still-gritty look at its subject and suffers from only a little of the expected moralizing. The DVD offers excellent picture as well as very good audio and an erratic but often useful set of extras. I think New Jack is worth your attention.