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Shaft In Africa (Blu-ray Review)

Exactly five years ago (to the day of this film and the other’s release), during my weekly wishlist articles, I made the request that the two 1970s Shaft sequels be released on Blu-ray. And thanks to the new film opening in theaters next week (The third film in the series to be titled merely as Shaft), Warner Archive Collection has scored another win and scratched yet another title from the wishlist. Shaft’s Big Score! and the final film of the original trilogy, Shaft In Africa, made their way to the Blu-ray format on May 21st.  For this review, we’ll be focusing on Shaft In Africa, which capped off the character’s run theatrically in the 1970s (There were some forgotten TV movies), with a more genre-embracing tale.

Film 

The Shaft franchise’s next entry comes with a big budget boost out of the exploitation zone and into Bond-style action-adventure. Subject to a most unorthodox recruitment, John Shaft (Richard Roundtree) is shanghaied from the Big Apple for a voyage to Mother Africa in order to tackle the evil of the returning slave trade. With an undercover assist in Ethiopia by the lovely Aleme (Vonetta McGee), Shaft goes native just in time to get captured by the slavers. Too bad for them!

Shaft takes on a new criminal situation and a new locale that attempts to expand again the scope of the series in Shaft In Africa. The detective is plucked from New York (Once again in a scenario that begins with the sibling of the woman he’s dating? at the beginning of the film) and sent to Africa in order to look into some modern slave exchange. We are given some desert action as well as some stuff on a boat. Overall, you’d think this adventure would be a thrilling personal journey, but in the end its all right and mostly lands in the “another one” territory.

There’s an attempt to scale things back and embrace the Blaxploitation genre that Shaft had a hand in making popular. But in taking the narrative there, they remove elements of John Shaft that we loved before. No longer does he wear a big leather coat and track down criminal enterprises. Here’s he dressed more like a casual James Bond in attempt to infiltrate a bigger evil group as a super spy on commission. Some of this works, and I applaud it for going for something different, but we get even a little more further for what really made the series something special and tick.

For a long time, I think Shaft In Africa received a bad rap for being a bad movie, but I think its more of a “just all right” movie. The only element left from the original magic is Richard Roundtree as Gordon Parks didn’t direct this one. Each sequel shaved one piece off until no movie followed (Until the 2000 film, but it effectively killed the 1970s canon). They replaced him with the more than capable John Guillerman (Of The Towering Inferno fame), but it just feels like the series has run its course in terms of wanting to prove itself anymore and that weight kind of hangs here in the balance. On its own, its a fine little action film with John Shaft, but with the rest of the films to account for, it sadly has to make its room at the bottom of the stack.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Shaft In Africa comes into focus on Blu-ray with what is likely again a 2K transfer from Warner Archive Collection. The picture quality is pretty identical to that of Big Score! Details are strong in a rather tamed color palette. It features a sharp, crisp picture with pretty solid, refined details, especially looking at the definition of the sand on display in the film. Another easy win for WAC.

Depth:  The film features some pretty good spacing with much of the Africa locale feeling its size and structure. The underground tunnels looking upward to through the opening outside is also pretty neat in spacing and appearance. Motion is smooth and cinematic with no distortions of any kind distracting from the viewing experience.

Color Reproduction: Colors er on the side of that 1970s look, but even moreso bland with this film having a lot of barren lands and desert in the film. It does get a chance to shine in some office building scenes as well as with some of the more exotic clothing that shows up in the film.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent. Facial features and texture are plenty visible and discernible from any reasonable distance in the frame.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Format(s): English 2.0 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: Hate to play copycat here, but these two Shaft sequel releases really compliment each other in delivering the same viewing experience from a home theater perspective. Again, the film feels about as far as they could take things without a big overhaul, while delivering a mix that’s light on the LFE and punches things up whenever a song or the score takes center stage.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp and carry a bit of its era and analog sourcing with it.

Extras 

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 3:03)

Summary 

Shaft In Africa opts for a change of scenery but still manages to deliver the goods one would expect from a Richard Roundtree-led Shaft film. Once again, Warner Archive Collection gives it a solid presentation with just a trailer in tow for an extra. Like I said with Shaft’s Big Score!, I’d love something more in the Collector’s Edition realm for all the Shaft films, but really I’ll take my wins as this is probably the best we are going to get.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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