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

Notorious (Collectors Edition - Unrated Directors Cut) [Blu-ray]

(aka "Notorious B.I.G.")


(George Tilllman Jr, 2009)






Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Fox Searchlight &Violetta Wallace Films/By Storm Films

Blu-ray: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment



Region: A

Chapters: 32

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: April 21, 2009



Aspect ratio: 2.40:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC @ 20 Mbps



English DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1



English SDH, Spanish & French



• Theatrical & Director's Cuts

• Audio Commentary by Director George Tillman, Jr., Co-Screenwriters Reggie Bythewood & Cheo Coker, and Editor Dirk Westervelt

• Audio Commentary by Producer (& Biggie's Mom) Violetta Wallace, Producers (& Biggie's Co-Managers) Wayne Barrow & Mark Pitts

• Bonus View: Life After Death: Making Notorious

• Behind-the-Scenes: The Making of Notorious (27:23)

• Notorious Thugs: Casting the Movie (9:05)

• Biggie Boot Camp (6:48)

• I Got a Story to Tell: The Lyrics of Biggie Smalls (9:32)

• Anatomy of a B.I.G. Performance (5:15)

• Never-Before-Seen Concert Footage of B.I.G. (3:43)

• The B.I.G. 360

• Deleted Scenes (12:15)

• The Music BD-Live

• Digital Copy Disc




The Film: 6
I wonder if this movie would hold much interest if it weren't about a man who didn't live long enough to settle on a name for himself, a man who only managed to release a single CD before being murdered by assailant(s) still unknown - a colorful rapper who may or may not have been implicated in the death of his onetime friend and fellow rapper, Tupac Shakur?

The extra features and audio commentaries push the idea that the movie is about Christopher Wallace's journey from to man, but I felt more persuasive was the journey that Jamal Woolard made from rapper to actor. For me, the moment he nailed the character and became an actor was in the scene where he first confesses his shortcomings to Fay and then seduces her with that riffing smile of his. From then on he had me in the palm of his hand, and I wanted to know how he comes out.

The movie, produced by Biggie's mom and his business associates, is not trying to tell Biggie's "true story" or even a balanced one, nor does it try to resolve the mystery of his murder. But the film can't help but show its bias. The movie's epitaph pretty much sums up the intention: Christopher Wallace did not live to see the release of his second album, "Life After Death," which sold 10 million copies worldwide. With his life, he proved that no dream is too big.

I suppose if you're his mother you would think that, but to me the film proves quite the opposite. In any case, even if we take the movie's view of things at face value – and there is no good reason not to – Biggie does not actually get to be the "man" that his mother and friends feel he finally accrued to. But he does appear to have put aside, if only for the time being, the major issues (women, drugs-dealing and professional competition) that have kept him down.



Image: 8/9
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

The overall look of the movie is unusual in that it has at least two very different "looks" for color and lighting. Much of the daytime action on the streets and in or on the way to jail is desaturated, while most of the family and intimate scenes with Biggie's girlfriends are in rich color with warm gold highlights and lots of extra light to bring out skin tones. The effect is unrealistic but emotionally persuasive. The image is very sharp with a nice hint of grain. There is the occasional nighttime scene where some noise creeps in, but otherwise the transfer appears to be intact and unmanipulated.














Audio & Music: 7/7
Once we get used to Jamal Woolard's recreation of Biggie Small's delivery and manner of talking in general, the dialogue is clear enough to make out and only gets a little buried in crowd scenes. There are basically two venues for music: in the studio, which comes off in the old Hollywood style as if what we're hearing is what's playing, when what we're hearing is more like the finished product. It's such a common cliché that we have come to accept it - exceedingly unrealistic, but always works. The concerts are more like the real thing: lots of thumping bass, crowd noise and the DJ trying to pump up the EQ in vain attempts to rise above it.


Operations: 7
Extra points for supplying subtitles for rap, even if it coming from a recording rather than the actor on screen (unlike 8 Mile). The producers of this video take the concept of rap lyric seriously and the use of subtitles is the proof.


Extras: 7
If ever there was an instance where "Collector's Edition" applies, it would be this one. It's hard to imagine what is left out short of additional B.I.G. concert footage - and we can appreciate why that would not be the province of this Blu-ray (more on that shortly.)

First, a note on the two commentaries: The one by the producers, Biggie's mom and two managers, who reminisce about the boy and the man and how the movie does or does not correspond to their memory. I found it telling that Violetta saw the script only after the movie was set to go. The other commentary is by the filmmakers who pretty much stick with production issues of how Biggie's story is manifest in cinematic terms. Fox supplements these commentaries with a BonusView in which talking heads occasionally pop up to do their thing. "Behind-the-Scenes: The Making of Notorious" also gets into how the Wallace family got involved in the making of the movie.



"Notorious Thugs" takes a look at casting for all the main roles. "Biggie Boot Camp" is Tillman's idea for bringing the cast together for a few weeks of rehearsal for the actors to learn the language and moves of rap. "I Got a Story to Tell" doesn't quite do what I hoped, which was to discuss the lyrics (instead of merely assert their greatness). I would have liked to know why Biggie's lyrics are thought of so highly. Don't expect an answer here. The "Anatomy of a B.I.G. Performance" shows how live archival footage of a B.I.G. concert was transformed into a concert segment in the movie. Along with that is the only low-definition feature on the disc: raw footage of a "never-before-seen" concert segment: "Party & Bullshit". The image quality is poor and the audio was so bad I could barely tell Biggie from anyone else, let alone understand the lyric (which isn't subtitled – and no wonder!).

"The B.I.G. 360" is one of the oddest bonus features I've run up against – being little more than a 360-degree nighttime panorama of the intersection of Wilshire & Fairfax in Los Angeles. Seeing as how this self-rotating image has little going for it besides the technical 360 angle of view (and not a very engaging picture ion its own terms) and the coincidence of the spot where Biggie was killed, I don't quite get the indulgence. No director's comments with the Deleted Scenes.



Bottom line: 7
I have to admit I've never been versed in rap. It often sounds like a foreign language to me. I really made an effort to appreciate it here because of the protagonist's reputation, reviewing all the rap sequences with subtitles. Just so you can put my remarks in some context. As a biopic, I found the film to be average or a little better. The acting and, from all reports, the vocal impersonations of Wallace and Faith Evans, are nailed perfectly. My takeaway is that the movie does not do what its producers intended: namely to show the progression of boy to man, but rather how forces beyond one's control commingle with one's intentions. The image and audio are both very good; these together with lots of extra features go to make this disc a must have for fans and ought to be of interest to anyone who wants to know what's been happening in contemporary American culture.


Leonard Norwitz
April 28th, 2009








About the Reviewer: 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.

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