When 8 Mile was released in late 2002, it opened with a staggering $51 million three-day weekend. The film would eventually gross over $242 million worldwide. As it makes its Blu-ray debut, it’s reasonable to wonder how it holds up now that Eminem has faded from being among the biggest cultural phenomena of this decade’s first half.
With a new album due out next month, his first in nearly five years, Eminem is sure to be getting plenty of press again. But I had to ask, prior to screening this disc: Did 8 Mile survive as more than a quick cash-in on the star’s popularity at the time. The answer is yes, with a few reservations.
Aiding matters greatly was the decision to hire an A-list director. Curtis Hanson was fresh from a pair of winners, 1997’s L.A. Confidential and 2000’s underrated Wonder Boys. He kept his hot streak going, infusing 8 Mile with enough grittiness to keep it from becoming a frivolity; more like a hip-hop Rocky than a silly Cool As Ice vanity piece.
A less serious-minded production team could have churned out a “Slim Shady” movie that might have pleased many fans, but ultimately could’ve turned into an embarrassment. A feature-length Eminem music video would have likely made a shallow and lazy excuse for a movie, but even with a more ambitious agenda, the script doesn’t give anyone involved all that much to work with.
The plot is simple. Eminem plays Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith, an aspiring rapper who works whatever jobs he can manage to hold onto. He presses bumpers at a Detroit automobile factory and lives with his mom and sister in a shabby trailer. His perpetually drunken mom, Stephanie (Kim Basinger), is dating a guy Rabbit knew in high school.
No one outside of Rabbit’s best friends believes in his ability as a rapper, but that doesn’t stop him from writing rhymes during his free time. He tries to work with a local wannabe record producer who can supposedly book him studio time.
There aren’t many surprises as the story progresses. The plot feels like a series of distractions to keep us interested as Rabbit works up the courage to take on the rap battle champs, “Leaders Of the Free World.”
One of Rabbit’s buddies, Cheddar Bob (Evan Jones) manages to shoot himself in the leg at one point and needs medical attention. An ex-girlfriend (a completely wasted Taryn Manning) shows up to berate Rabbit, embarrassing him in front of his co-workers and boss.
A new potential romance with an aspiring model, Alexandra (Brittany Murphy), quickly stalls when Rabbit realizes she’s sleeping with whomever can advance her career. We get little teasers now and again of Rabbit’s rap skills, but nothing that lets us know whether he is truly talented or not.
Of course he’s talented (it’s Eminem after all), but we are made to wait patiently as Rabbit’s confidence builds and he becomes ready to display his full ability. Somehow the movie manages to be consistently watchable — engaging, even — as it rolls toward the rap battle that serves as its climax.
Back in 2002, much of the audience turned out to see how Eminem would fare as a dramatic actor. He acquits himself nicely in a role that isn’t very demanding. Mostly, Eminem keeps Rabbit dour and humorless throughout, but luckily there are no awkward moments where he seems out of his depth.
He fares better than Basinger, who doesn’t come across as very authentic in her rather clichéd “trailer trash” characterization. Mekhi Phifer makes the most out of his sidekick role as “Future,” Jimmy’s best friend and host of the local rap battles.
The Blu-ray presentation of 8 Mile is outstanding. The 1080p high-definition video was apparently encoded with great care from a near-pristine source print. The picture is sharp throughout and presents its muted color palette realistically.
This is not a colorful film; dark, shadowy blues and grays dominate. The industrial look was obviously by design and conveys the right atmosphere for the working-class characters. Film grain is noticeable, but it’s entirely appropriate for the grimy, inner city environments.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix does a superb job of creating a live club feel during the rap battles. Without sacrificing the clarity of the raps themselves, the sound approximates the feel of being smack dab in the middle of a claustrophobic club with an audience cheering and/or booing loudly. Alternative audio tracks include DTS 5.1 in either Spanish or French, as well as an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mix.
The special features appear to have been ported over directly from the standard DVD release, and are not enhanced for widescreen televisions. A video for Eminem’s song “Superman” has no connection whatsoever to 8 Mile and serves little purpose here.
“The Making of 8 Mile” is a ten-minute promo piece that is nothing more than fluff. Thankfully, the “Exclusive Rap Battles” featurette contains some interesting footage. Hanson and his crew auditioned numerous unknown rappers who were extras in the club scenes. A few were selected to perform freestyle raps with Eminem to be used as a montage in the film. It’s fun to see these nobodies get a once-in-a-lifetime chance to battle with a huge star.
Even though the Blu-ray edition of 8 Mile doesn’t include any exclusive special features, the excellent audio/video presentation will please fans. Those who haven’t yet succumbed to the temptation of watching Eminem’s only feature film to date should finally take the plunge. Even seven years after its initial release, 8 Mile remains an entertaining experience.