It has been twenty years since the release of writer-director John Singleton’s, Boyz n the Hood, and now the film is available on Blu-ray for the first time. One of the most celebrated debut’s in movie history, Boyz n the Hood has been credited with opening a lot of eyes to the violent realities facing African-Americans living in urban areas. In this case it’s South Central Los Angeles, where a number of young men are trying – with varying degrees of success – to stay out trouble.
The story opens in 1984 as three preteen friends are indoctrinated into a world of violence. Tre Styles (Desi Arnez Hines II) is sent to live with his father, Furious (Laurence Fishburne), after his behavior becomes too much for his mother (Angela Bassett) to handle. Tre spends much of his time palling around with two other boys, brothers Doughboy (Baha Jackson) and Ricky Baker (Donovan McCrary). Furious, a successful and hardworking businessman, strives to set a good example for Tre. The bond between father and son is central to Boyz N the Hood. After young Doughboy and another neighborhood kid get arrested, the story leaps into then-present day 1991.
The majority of the film tracks Tre and his friends as young adults. Doughboy has just been released from prison, while his brother Ricky is the star of his high school football team. Colleges are courting Ricky, hoping to lure him to their school. Tre continues to have a strong relationship with his father, who continues to try and steer his son away from violence. The cast is noteworthy for featuring a number of prominent actors making either their debut or the first significant film appearance. The adult Tre is portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr., Doughboy by Ice Cube, and Ricky by Morris Chestnut. Nia Long plays Tre’s girlfriend Brandi, while Brandi’s friend Shalika is portrayed by Regina King.
That highly skilled cast alone is enough to ensure the film’s on-going popularity. But even though heavy-handed foreshadowing and some corny dialogue creeps in at times, the story remains compelling. The themes of family and friendship continue to ring true. Singleton not only became the first African-American to be nominated for Best Director, but at 24 he was the youngest person to ever receive that particular honor. The Wayans brothers wicked 1996 parody Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, which mercilessly lampooned the era’s subgenre of “black youths struggling in the inner city,” took some of the bite out of Boyz. But despite some clunky and awkwardly delivered messages, Singleton and company invest a very real depth of emotion in Boyz n the Hood.
Sony Picture Home Entertainment has done a very respectable job with the 1080p high definition presentation of this very modestly budgeted 1991 film. The film retains the look of the era in which it was made, with a consistent level of fine, natural grain throughout. The cinematography was apparently intentionally a tad soft focus, and this slightly compromises the level of detail – but not in a way that hinders the image. Colors are mostly vivid and realistic. The print looks clean and free of specks, scratches, or other artifacts. I can’t imagine Boyz n the Hood looking better on a home video format.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is equally, if not more, impressive. For a twenty-year-old, low-budget, non-action film the soundtrack is very immersive. The urban atmosphere depicted visually is immeasurably enhanced by the presence of so much purposeful noise (yelling, helicopters, automobiles, gunfire) coming from the surround channels. The LFE channel delivers a moderate punch, whether it be the bass lines of soundtrack songs or car doors slamming. Dialogue is very occasionally just shy of distorted, but overall it is generally crisp and intelligible.
Most of the supplemental material is carried over from the previous standard DVD edition. This includes a making-of featurette, commentary by John Singleton, deleted scenes, audition footage of some primary cast members, and a pair of music videos. Luckily for fans of the film, there is a brand new Blu-ray exclusive included – a half-hour documentary called “The Enduring Significance of Boyz n the Hood.” All of the main cast members, as well as writer-director Singleton, contribute new reflections on this landmark film.