• Shaft Triple Feature (Shaft, Shaft's Big Score, and Shaft in Africa) (Warner Archive) Blu-ray Review



    Studio: Warner Archive
    Release Date: July 2nd, 1971 (Shaft) / June 8th, 1972 (Shaft's Big Score) / June 14th, 1973 (Shaft in Africa)
    Run Time: 100 mins (Shaft) / 105 mins (Shaft's Big Score) / 112 mins (Shaft in Africa)
    Region Code: FREE
    Picture: 1080p (1.78:1 aspect ratio) (Shaft) / (2.40:1 aspect ratio) (Shaft's Big Score and Shaft in Africa)
    Sound: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (All films)
    Subtitles: English SDH (All films)
    Slipcover: No
    Digital Copy: No
    Starring: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Charles Cioffi (Shaft) / Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Drew Bundini Brown (Shaft's Big Score) / Richard Roundtree, Frank Finlay, Vonetta McGee  (Shaft in Africa)
    Written by Ernest Tidyman (Shaft and Shaft's Big Score) / Stirling Silliphant (Shaft in Africa)
    Directed by Gordon Parks (Shaft and Shaft's Big Score) / John Guillermin (Shaft in Africa)
    Rating: R (strong bloody violence, language, and nudity) (All films)

    The Film(s)


    Shaft (1971) ⭐⭐⭐1/2

    Private detective John Shaft is hired by Harlem mobster Bumpy Jonas to find his kidnapped daughter. Bumpy has no idea who might have taken her but isn't as forthcoming as he could be about his situation. When his first lead peters out - he thought it might be Black power advocates who took the girl - he acts on information from NYPD Lt. Vic Androzzi that outside mobsters are in town and might be trying to take over various illegal businesses in Harlem.

    Over the years I have been discovering films and even genres that I either didn't have an interest in or not enough of an interest in. Some of the films and genres  I have discovered were the works of Brian Trenchard Smith, giallo, and even Blaxploitation, our subject for today. Over the years I have seen a ton of Blaxploitation with Coffy, Foxy Brown and Dolemite being among the ones I have liked the most.

    There was always one character and film series that I have never seen, Shaft. Ok, I saw the Samuel L. Jackson film that came out in 2000, but that was once and I don't remember anything from it. Right now I am talking the original trilogy.

    Shaft, released in 1971, is considered to be one of the founding fathers of Blaxploitation. After Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Shaft is the most widely known of the genre.


    The thing that I noticed about Shaft is that it isn't a message film. Sweet Sweetback was a statement about how white people in power are keeping the black man down. It is a powerful statement told in a very powerful way.

    Shaft, on the other hand, could be confused for a "normal" film. Shaft is a film that could have been released in any decade and still play well and you would never know that it is a Blaxploitation film. While other Blaxploitation films make a point of showing that black people can overcome, Shaft just goes about his day as if it were just another day. He doesn't make any grand speeches about race and the neither does anyone else.

    There are only a few times when race comes into the film. One of the times is when a white man comes into Shaft's bar and says he is looking for "an n-word named Shaft". That word was still quite popular in the 70's (I saw it used in the original The Taking of Pelham One Two Three which was released a few after Shaft) so you can count that one up as something of its time. There is also the time when one of the cops interrogating Shaft after he threw someone out the window of his New York City office "Is this how you kind act?" Again, this is another "of its time" comment.


    The fact that Shaft isn't degraded by whites in the film speaks volumes about the character and the film. Director Gordon Parks, who does a masterful job with this film, presents Shaft as a private detective who works any case that comes his way and will do anything to get the job done. Shaft bribes people, gets into fights, and breaks many more laws in order to get the job done.

    Speaking of Parks, he does a wonderful job here. This is the first of his films that I have seen but I am going to track down his other films based on what I have seen here. He treats the film with the style and grace you would expect from an arthouse director, with him giving some decent screen time to even the smallest character. He shows that he has a sure hand and understands the language of cinema, something that even some of the biggest directors today don’t have a handle on. His action scenes actually make sense and the stakes are always on the table. I honestly had no idea where this film was going, but that is a good thing as I was wrapped up in the story.

    I can not close out this review without talking about Isaac Hayes’ brilliant score with the theme song winning him an Academy Award. The music fits the film in ways that many films can’t. You always know when Shaft is around based on the music and this is one score that you can listen to on its own and it is still brilliant.

    Shaft is a really great film. I don’t really like calling it a Blaxploitation film because it transcends the markings of the genre and becomes something truly special. Richard Roundtree is brilliant as Shaft and the score and direction are pitch perfect. This is a film that I wished I had seen earlier in life because I feel like I have missed out until now. If you are into action films, detective stories, and/or 70s films then I would say this is required viewing.


    Shaft’s Big Score (1972) ⭐⭐⭐

    When Shaft finds out that a dead friend ran a numbers racket out of his legitimate business and left $200,000 unaccounted for, he knows why he has suddenly found himself in the middle of a war between rival thugs. These goons are all trying to take over the territory of the dead man as well as get their hands on the missing 200 grand. Shaft has all he can handle trying to track down the money and, at the same time, keep his friend's sister from the clutches of the hoods.

    Shaft’s Big Score sees Richard Roundtree return as the iconic John Shaft as well as Gordon Parks return as the film’s director (he also scores the film as he and Isaac Hayes, who scored the first film, had a falling out), but the film doesn’t have the same feel as the first film. Shaft is the same private dick who is a sex machine to all the ladies and Parks shows that he can still give us great character moments, but the magic that made the first film so great has lost its luster a bit.

    The film is bigger in so many ways. The story is bigger with Shaft following around the bad guys all over New York. The film opens with a pretty big explosion and ends with one as well. The direction is grander as well, with Parks shooting in the “scope” aspect ratio usually reserved for the big summer films. There is even a helicopter chase that spans many a vehicle.


    This is where the problem of the film lies. I am sure the producers pushed Parks to make a bigger film because bigger means more people which means more money. The problem with that is Shaft doesn’t feel right getting into a gun battle with a helicopter. Some stories and characters feel better when they are left to what they do best. When we see Shaft driving a speed boat away from a helicopter who is firing on him, it just feels weird. Shaft should be solving his friend’s murder in a smaller way. In fact, if you cut out the stuff at the end, you have a slightly better film than you do with the car/boat/helicopter chase. By going bigger the producers have made the character into something he wasn’t originally: an action star.

    Richard Roundtree is still the Shaft we loved from the first film. He is still detecting and banging all the chicks, so nothing has changed with the character. Parks also brings the same style of direction he brought to the first film, so it still has the feel of the first film. Gone is the Hayes score, but Parks does a relly good job with the score as well. I do wish that they had used the theme song, but that is a small complaint overall.

    Shaft’s Big Score! is a good film that gets lost towards the end with all of the action that feels out of place. The stuff that proceeds that is pretty good, though. This is a good sequel to the classic original, but I do wish that they had spent more time on the script as this film is very predictable. Still, the film is fun and that is really what is important.


    SHAFT IN AFRICA (1973) ⭐

    John Shaft is persuaded by threats of physical force, the promise of money, and the lure of a pretty tutor, to assume the identity of a native-speaking itinerant worker in Africa. His job is to help break a racket that is smuggling immigrants into Europe then exploiting them. But the villains have heard that he is on his way.

    Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Shaft in Africa should be ashamed to be the third film in the Shaft trilogy. The first film was a tight little detective story that had a ton of soul and some great characters and music, the second one lost some of that soul as it became more of an action movie while still retaining what it could. This third film is one loses all of that, except for Shaft, while trying to make Shaft out to be a black James Bond.

    I honestly don’t know what the filmmakers were thinking when they came up with this idea. Why would some foreigners want Shaft, who isn’t a big star in the world of dectectiving, to go into Africa to stop a ring of smugglers who are stealing away African men to work as slaves in Paris? Shaft is not known outside of New York. In fact, in Shaft’s Big Score!, there is a scene where the lead villain, after being told that he has to deal with Shaft, asks who Shaft is and then asks his henchmen who Shaft and they don’t even know. So no one really knows who Shaft is, outside of the black community I am sure, but these foreigners want Shaft to do something they could have asked a hundred other more well-known people to do. I understand that the film would not exist if it were not for this plot, but come on, this is a really stupid plot.


    Also, the filmmakers seem to be wanting to make a statement with the plot to this film. When this film was released, we were in the heart of the Blaxploitation era, so there is something to this film. But then the filmmakers go and ask the one person who does things purely for the money to do something noble. Shaft even says that he is only doing this for the money. So where is the statement? Is it that slavery is bad? We know this because, well, slavery IS bad. Wow. What a statement this film is trying to make.

    I know that I am talking about the film’s plot a lot, but this is one really stupid plot. I guess I could list off some of the other things about this film that I hated.

    -The fact that Shaft can learn the African dialect used in the film enough to get by. Shaft is really good at what he does, but he ain’t that good.

    -He bangs a few chicks in the film, but those scenes are off-screen.

    -The plot, while pretty simple, is kind of hard to follow because of the way the film just goes from scene to scene without too much motivation outside of basic screenwriting which isn’t even followed all that much.


    -The film spends way too much time in Africa. I know that the film is called Shaft IN Africa, but while the film is there it really meanders along. The first 20 minutes of the film and the last twenty minutes are pretty good, but the film really wants to live up to its name. There are a few scenes here and there that are pretty decent, but for the majority of the film, I was just not caring about what was going on.

    -Shaft’s bodyguard, while in Africa, is taken out so easily that I wondered what the point of having a bodyguard for Shaft was. This man literally steps into a nasty bop to his head and he is out for the entire action scene.

    -The filmmakers decided that killing a dog was right for the film. Shaft, while in Africa, finds a stray dog and they become friends. They go about Shaft’s journey and in the same scene where the bodyguard is taken out, the dog is shot and killed. The way it is edited, and the corpse of what looks like a real dead dog, make this the worst dog killing I have seen since John Wick lost his dog. I hated this scene and wish that the filmmakers hadn’t stooped down to shock value for “thrills”.


    -The fact that Shaft could have gone to Paris, without going to Africa, and done just as well, if not better, then he did by actually going to Africa.

    Now, I know I am shitting on the film, but is there anything that I LIKED about the film? Sure there is. I liked the violence. In the previous two films, the violence added to the story. Here it just wakes the audience up. Honestly, the action is the best part of the film even if you have to sit through the other parts of the film to get to it. I also liked the way the villain is taken out. I thought it was brutal without being graphic.

    Shaft in Africa is a terrible film that offers almost nothing in terms of entertainment. Richard Roundtree is still excellent in the role, but I think that he could do this role in his sleep and it would be just as exciting. The filmmakers give Roundtree things to do in the film, but they are things that Shaft would not do. I hated that they would take a kick-ass character like Shaft and try to make him into something he isn’t. Another New York story would have been nice. Instead, we get a film that strips a once vibrant character of almost everything is his known for and send him globe trotting. They actually should have asked James Bond to handle this case while Shaft sexes up even more chicks in New York.

    THE PICTURE AND THE SOUND


    SHAFT ⭐⭐⭐1/2 / ⭐⭐⭐

    Shaft looks outstanding here. The film is very dark and has a color palette that doesn't include too many colors outside of earth colors (blacks, browns, dark reds, etc) which many a transfer can't handle with edge enhancement being added or compression artifacts being found everywhere. None of this is the case with Shaft as everything looks how it should. There a bit of grain to make everything feel more natural and detail is impressive. I was really expecting a flat looking picture but Warner Brothers really gave Shaft a nice presentation.


    SHAFT’S BIG SCORE ⭐⭐⭐1/2 / ⭐⭐⭐

    This sequel to Shaft doesn't really on the darkness as much the original did so it must have been easier on those working on the transfer as this looks really good. There are nighttime scenes which are handled very well, leaving much of the grain intact. Detail is high especially when you look at the scene in the bar. You can see where the paint on dancer's bodies bends with the body. Really great stuff here.


    SHAFT IN AFRICA (1973) ⭐⭐⭐1/2 / ⭐⭐⭐

    This second sequel to Shaft is the best looking out of the bunch. Of course, this is probably because the film takes place outside, mostly, so there is no darkness to have to light. That being said, this is a wonderful transfer that stays true to the look of the film. Detail is really high here and colors look great. A thin layer of film grain seals the deal here.

    All three films feature DTS-HD Master Audio tracks and they all sound great. The first film has that kick ass soundtrack that sounds so great. All of the films have no problems I could hear and everything is nicely balanced.

    THE PACKAGING ⭐⭐⭐

    All three films come packaged in one three-disc amray and come on their own disc.


    The front features all three front covers with one on top of the other.


    The Shaft disc is the same Warner Brothers release disc from a 2012 and features the tried and true Warner Brothers disc art of being all black with the title and studio logos being silver. The other two films get better treatment as their disc art is the same as the front cover artwork.

    All three discs are REGION FREE

    All three films can be purchased individually as well.

    THE FEATURES


    SHAFT ⭐⭐⭐

    Soul in Cinema: Filming Shaft On Location (10m 50s, SD, 1.33:1) Filmed during the filming of Shaft, this all too short fly on the wall look at how a few scene were filmed as well as the score being produced and the film edited, is a wonder to behold. So many times we here about how films were made back then, but rarely do we see footage like this pop up. I love the way Gordon Parks directs. He is a soft spoken man who knows exactly what he wants and how to get it. He also wants to make sure that everyone is safe and seems to care about everyone around him. We see him briefly talking to Isaac Hayes about a scene that Hayes has written music too and we see that they have a good report. Lastly, we see Parks working with this editor on a scene they shot earlier in this doc. This seemed like it was a cool set to working on and I would have loved to be able to just sit with Parks for a few minutes and witness him to his thing.

    Shaft: The Killing (1973 Episode) (1h 13m, SD, 1.33:1) After Shaft finished off a trilogy of films, he came to the small screen and got back to doing what he does best: solving crimes and sexing up chicks. This is the second episode of the series and is pretty good. Of course, they had to tone Shaft down for this run, but he still is a bad ass. There were only seven episodes to the series because the network alternated weeks of this show with another show. Why they didn’t run the series as a weekly thing is beyond me, but it failed because of this.

    Trailers:

    Shaft (3m 13s, SD)
    Shaft’s Big Score! (3m 7s, SD, 1.78:1)
    Shaft in Africa (3m 1s, SD, 1.78:1)


    SHAFT’S BIG SCORE ⭐

    Trailer (3m 9s, HD, 1.78:1)


    SHAFT IN AFRICA ⭐

    Trailer (3m 3s, HD, 1.78:1)


    OVERALL ⭐⭐⭐

    Shaft is a series of diminishing returns. The first film is flat out fantastic, the second film tries to add big action scenes to what was a smaller film, and the third one is the literal interpretation of “what the fuck?”. The character of Shaft remains the same and that is thanks to Richard Roundtree giving the character exactly what he needed to be awesome. This three-disc package, from Warner Archive, brings all three films together for a low price and gives us some truly great picture and sound. The special features are a bit lacking but what we do get, on the first film at least, are really good. I would recommend picking this set up as it is cheaper than buying them separately. Watch the first two, but skip the third one.

    MORE SCREENSHOTS:

    SHAFT

    SHAFT'S BIG SCORE!


    SHAFT IN AFRICA


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