Malcolm X appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This appeared to offer a good replication of the movie.
The majority of the flick showed nice delineation, but the image could become slightly soft at times. Most of this came during the first act and connected to the film’s stylistic choices – these moments focused on “Malcolm adrift”, and I thought the softness was intended to demonstrate his lack of mental clarity and purpose.
When Malcolm became more secure of purpose and overall definition improved. Softness became marginal the rest of the way.
I witnessed no problems with jaggies or moiré effects, and edge haloes remained absent. Grain felt light but natural, and print flaws failed to appear.
Colors fared well. From the first act’s lush, nostalgic tones to the more natural and realistic look of subsequent sequences, X consistently presented concise, vivid hues.
Blacks were dense and tight, while low-light scenes seemed smooth and well-developed. This turned into a solid representation of the source.
I didn’t expect any slam-bang audio from the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Malcolm X, and the film delivered a generally subdued experience. Most of the material stayed focused on the forward channels. Music displayed good stereo imaging, while effects usually stuck with general environmental information.
The track went with atmospheric audio much of the time, though it flared up occasionally. For example, in scenes during which houses get torched, the flames spread all around the room. Crowd scenes also broadened neatly. The surrounds didn’t have much else to do, however, as they favored reinforcement and not too much more. Given the focus of the story, that was fine.
The quality of the audio was good. Speech always sounded distinctive and crisp, and I noticed no signs of edginess or issues connected to intelligibility.
Music was smooth and vivid, as the generally jazzy score offered well-defined qualities. Effects appeared accurate and clear.
No distortion or flaws marred the presentation, as it represented the elements well. Not a lot of ambition popped up here, but the results were perfectly solid for this material.
How did the Criterion Blu-ray compare to the original BD from 2012? The audio seemed very similar, if not identical.
As for visuals, the Criterion seemed a bit tighter than the 2012 release, and it lost the occasional light edge haloes of its predecessor. While the Criterion Blu-ray didn’t offer a major upgrade over the 2012 version, it nonetheless became a good step up in picture quality.
The Criterion Blu-ray mixes old and new extras, and we start with an audio commentary from director Spike Lee, director of photography Ernest Dickerson, editor Barry Alexander Brown, and costume designer Ruth Carter. Each recorded a separate running, screen-specific track back in 2005, and this piece edits them all together.
As one might expect based on the roles of the participants, technical areas dominate the commentary. We get notes about the film’s visual looks and cinematographic issues, costumes, editing and pacing, research and factual elements, the cast, Washington’s approach to his role, and other general topics.
Surprisingly, Lee proves to be the least informative and interesting of the participants. Much of the time he simply narrates the movie or names various performers.
Often when Lee launches into an interesting subject - such as the pressure he felt to deliver a product worthy of Malcolm’s legacy - he discusses it too briefly to tell us much. The others more evocatively get into their material, though the emphasis on the nuts and bolts tends to make this a dry track. It’s worth a listen, but don’t expect to be glued to it.
The remaining extras appear on a second disc, where we find a documentary called By Any Means Necessary: The Making of Malcolm X. This 30-minute, 27-second program presents notes from Lee, Dickerson, Brown, Carter, filmmaker Martin Scorsese, Reverend Al Sharpton, Warner Bros. Executive VP Worldwide Production Lucy Fisher, composer Terence Blanchard, co-producers Preston Holmes and Jon Kilik, producer Marvin Worth, casting director Robi Reed, Malcolm X’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz, and actors Ossie Davis and Denzel Washington.
They discuss the desire to bring Malcolm’s story to the screen and how Lee got the gig, conflicts between the filmmakers and the studio, adapting Malcolm’s life to the screen, various production decisions, casting, specifics of the shoot, locations, post-production challenges and controversies, and the film’s reception and legacy.
Tight and relatively light on self-congratulatory material, “Means” nicely complements the commentary. While that one stuck largely to technical topics, this one gets into all the problems that came along the way.
It delves into issues slightly skirted in the commentary, such as the campaign Lee led to take the film away from original director Norman Jewison. We get a good examination of the concerns and obstacles in this solid documentary.
In addition to the movie’s theatrical trailer, we get nine deleted scenes. These come with introductions from Spike Lee and last a total of 20 minutes, 41 seconds.
Nothing terribly fascinating pops up here, as the majority consist of fairly brief character bits. They’re fun to see but they don’t add much. Lee’s intros give us background about the clips that help put the moments in context, though he doesn’t tell us why the snippets failed to make the final cut.
Up next we find a 1972 documentary entitled Malcolm X. It runs one hour, 31 minutes, 41 seconds as it presents archival footage and narration from James Earl Jones as he reads from The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Essentially this makes the movie into Malcolm X: In His Own Words. A few comments from others appear as well, but between Jones’ occasional narration and the many snippets of Malcolm, he dominates the piece.
Of course, it covers all of the same subjects examined in Spike Lee’s movie, but it goes into these elements via actual footage. That makes it very compelling to watch, as it’s quite interesting to compare what we saw in the theatrical flick with this documentary examination.
The remaining extras are exclusive to the Criterion release, and Spike Lee in Conversation runs 25 minutes, 49 seconds. Shot in 2022, Lee chats with journalist/screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper about his cinematic influences, development of Malcolm X and various challenges as well as aspects of the production.
Expect a lovefest, the conversation comes with lots of praise and not too much actual film-related information. While not a waste of time, Lee fails to bring much insight to the table.
Delroy Lindo delivers a 2022 conversation with actor Delroy Lindo. It spans 16 minutes, 42 seconds and features Lindo’s thoughts about his character and performance along with some experiences during the shoot. Though not a fascinating reel, Lindo offers a mix of good notes.
Disc Two concludes with Terence Blanchard, another 2022 reel. It occupies 18 minutes, 43 seconds and offers the composer’s notes about his work on the film and his connection with Spike Lee. He provides an engaging and vibrant view of these topics.
A booklet provides photos, credits, an essay from Barry Michael Cooper, excerpts from a 1992 book about the film, and Ossie Davis’s 1965 eulogy for Malcolm X. It winds up as one of Criterion’s better booklets.
Denzel Washington perfectly captured his character in Malcolm X, and I consider his turn here to be one of the all-time great pieces of movie acting. The rest of Malcolm X seems less strong, but the film nonetheless succeeds more than it sputters. The Blu-ray presents very good picture and sound along with an informative set of supplements. While I can’t call Malcolm X a great film, it’s consistently intriguing, and the excellent lead performance from Washington elevates it.
To rate this film visit the DVD review of MALCOLM X