L  e  n  s  V  i  e  w  s

A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz


Introduction: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

The LensView Home Theatre:




Drumline (Special Edition) [Blu-ray]


(Charles Stone III, 2002)






Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Fox 2000 Pictures

Blu-ray: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment



Region: A

Runtime: 118 Min

Chapters: 36

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: January 27, 2009



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC @ 34 Mbps



English DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1; Spanish & French Dolby Digital 5.1.



English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean & Thai



• Theatrical (118 minutes) & Extended (122 minutes) cuts.

• Audio Commentary by Director Charles Stone

• Half Time Heroes Featurette (14:02)

• Anatomy of a Drumline Featurette (09:28)

• The Real Battle of the Bands Featurette (19:01)

• 4 Deleted Scenes with Optional Director's Commentary (ca. 7 minutes)



The Film: 7
Devon Miles (Nick Cannon) has just graduated high school in New York, prideful that he has accomplished this without drugs, arrests, or any help from his deadbeat dad. He also has a talent for drumming, enough for him to have been tapped by Dr. Lee (Orlando Jones) for a spot in his celebrated, if fictitious, marching band at Atlanta A&T University, along with the full scholarship that goes with it. Pride seems to be the name of his game. Devon might as well have graduated from Pride and Attitude High School - with honors.

In his way, Devon reminds us of Zack Mayo. Zack may not have had Devon's talent but he sure had similar father issues and the entitlement that can accompany the feeling of rising above whatever dad represents. Just as Zack was no gentleman, Devon is no team player. And you can well imagine how that's going to play in a marching band.



Devon enters the program as a trainee and is immediately at loggerheads with his section chief, Sean Taylor (Leonard Roberts), who recognizes Devon's talent, but isn't at all happy about the spotlight that Devon carries with him at all times or his competitive drive, which could ultimately threaten his own status.

Dr. Lee is not without trouble of his own. The powers that be have been pressuring him to alter his focus from music and musicianship to razzle dazzle applied to whatever is currently at the top of the charts. The crowd gets all jazzed when the band from Morris Brown is front and center, but sit respectfully when A&T plays The Flight of the Bumble Bee. Dr. Lee is old fashioned enough that education has a place even in a college band. It would appear to be an either/or situation.

Like any good sports movie, a battle of the bands situation arises when the annual BET Classic pits the best of the best southern college marching bands against each other in a stadium-filling extravaganza. Dr. Lee is told he has to win or else. But he feels a compromise is necessary, an inevitability perhaps, that is brought into sharp focus when it is learned that Devon can't read music.

At the time, Charles Stone was a relatively new filmmaker. Drumline was only his second feature, and it demonstrates a craft that rises above its predictable, lightweight script. Given that Drumline is marketed as a "youth" movie, there is relatively little here that gives into the sort of jock humor and leering that often accompanies movies of the genre. Note how Stone considers Laila (Zoe Saldana), the upperclassman cheerleader who is the object of Devon's romantic intentions: Laila is a whole person, whatever Devon may think of her initially.

Most of the time, Stone and his photographer have a respectful and colorful way with how they shoot the band, whether in practice or on the field. I would have preferred something more fanciful for the final drumline duel, but it's a minor quibble about a finale that really nails it.



Image: 8/9
Shane Hurlbut's photography is solid, vibrant, emotionally riveting. The Blu-ray image shows nary a stray artifact or blemish to distract our attention. Though we are aware of its filmic grain, the edge-enhancement reported for the DVD is not a problem here.














Audio & Music: 9/7
The success of a movie like Drumline as a home theatre experience rises or falls on its soundtrack. A band of over a hundred musicians with brass and winds and all manner of field percussionists needs to have a proper distinction of timbres, credibility in terms of acoustical space, and power. In this case, the function of the surrounds is to nail the ambience rather than provide pinpoint directionality. It would be curtains for this movie if turning up the volume simply resulted in just so much squawk and clatter. We should be grateful Fox was able to present Drumline in an uncompressed DTS HD-Master Audio format, for without it, all you have is the last century's DVD. Of course, just because you have a Blu-ray player and an HD display doesn't mean you will reap the benefits.


Operations: 6
Points off for the absence of a Play All option for the brief deleted scenes. Otherwise, everything works.




Extras: 6
Though all the featurettes are presented in 480p, they are of high video quality. If we didn't know beforehand, we learn in "Anatomy of a Drumline" that the movie is inspired by the high school drumline adventures of Dallas Austin, the movie's executive producer. (Austin also doubles as the film's music producer.) In "The Real Battle of the Bands" featurette, we see how the big band playoff was conceived and choreographed from elements of bands foro a number of southern colleges. In "Half Time Heroes" we visit the real-life young men and women whose passion is it is to train and play for their college marching band. It's a lot of work, as we see here as well as in the movie. Charles Stone's audio commentary is more about his thinking about character and story and less about production. His comments on the exorable images that make up the deleted scenes make his points all the more so. You would think somewhere in the bonus features someone would have made a big deal about how the music was recorded here for I can't recall a band so dynamically, yet accurately captured on video. Maybe I missed the reference.



Bottom line: 8
The original DVD was released in 2003 and reissued last year. The movie itself may be a bit thin, but given its intentions, it may surprise you. As to the video, few Blu-rays make the case for high definition audio as well as Drumline. While the image is good, the audio will knock your socks off. Bookmark your favorite kickass band sequences and you will have one serious demo disc.

Leonard Norwitz
January 26th, 2009









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