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Beat Street (Blu-ray Review)

Beat-StreetBeat Street is chock-full of hip-hop, electro music, and breakdance artists of the 80’s including Grand Master Melle Mel & the Furious Five, Kool Moe Dee, New York City Breakers and Rock Steady Crew.  Directed by STAN LATHAN (Amazing Grace, TV’s Real Husbands of Hollywood), the film stars RAE DAWN CHONG (The Color Purple, Cheech & Chong’s The Corsican Brothers, Commando) GUY DAVIS (Def by Temptation, Final) ROBERT TAYLOR (Avenging Force, Some Mother’s Son, The Bay Boy) JON CHARDIET (Money Talks, Borderlands).  The film comes to Blu-ray on February 16 and can be pre-ordered using the link at the end of the review.  Be sure to reserve your copy today!

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With dreams of breaking out of their South Bronx existence, friends Kenny Kirkland, an erstwhile disc jockey; Kenny’s brother Lee, a breakdancer; and their friend Ramon, a graffiti artist, see a ray of hope when local composer and choreographer Tracy Carlson takes an interest in their talent. But these friends will find that dreams are hard won in the musical drama Beat Street.

1984 saw the hip hop and break dancing craze soar to new heights.  With movie studios, there started a race to be the first studio to get a break dancing movie made.  Cannon Films and Orion Pictures busted balls to hurry up and turn out SOMETHING reflecting the culture.   As we know now, Breakin’ was the winner of the race, arriving first and also promising a sequel at the end.  Just a mere 30 days later, its competition, Beat Street chugged across the finish line.  But the real winner here?  Us moviegoers.

Breakin’ provided us with a film that took a much more musical and fantasy approach to the how it would make the craze a cinematic adventure.  It featured many colorful characters with crazy nicknames, able to make a dance number out of any scenario and struggling to have their life and interests taken seriously by other classes.  Beat Street takes the more true to life approach to the film.  Break dancing is a big part of the film, but it also dives into much more an educational approach to the hip hop culture.  We don’t just learn about dancing, we learn about the music production, DJ’ing, urban artwork and also the type of lifestyle and tough streets the artists were coming from.  If Breakin’ is the musical comedy, Beat Street is the serious dramatization.

With Beat Street‘s approach to the material, it has some good dance moments, but its not a movie trying to infect you with a lot of fun.  All the subplots are kinda downers to a degree.  A lot of them feel like stereotypical movie subplots, but the character of Ramo (The graffiti artist) gets probably the meatiest and best arc in the entire film.  If you come in to Beat Street expecting Breakin’, you’ll be pretty disappointed.  Much of this movie will have you thinking “Could we get back to the dancing, please?”

For all intents and purposes, when you get technical about it, Beat Street is probably the better directed, shot, scripted and acted film of the two 1984 break dance movies.  But, with the passage of father time, it just doesn’t engage you as much as something that is infectious and fun like Breakin’.  Breakin’ is a party movie that you can throw on at really any time.  Beat Street is one that you kinda gotta be in the right mood for.  Its a solid movie, which approaches very good dramatics at times with some impressive dancing.  It just needs to show much more of the fun side of the culture, too.

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail:  Beat Street comes to Blu-ray in a transfer I respect because I feel it looks probably true to form of what it would look like projected.  Detail is decent and the image is sharp enough.  Textures on surfaces are  strong suit especially during some of the graffiti scenes as you can make out things under the paint.  

Depth:  Decent depth work on this one for its age.  Movements are smooth with free characters and objects with okay spacing.  Background detail is discernible where focus allows.

Black Levels:  Blacks are decent.  Some minor details hidden in the shadows, but that’s due to the intent of the lighting in the scene.  No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction:  While the look of the film is kinda gritty, colors do pop off quite nicely when it comes to graffiti and stylish outfits.  Reds, blues and such are strong.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones are natural and maintain that look throughout the film’s duration.  Facial details come across wonderfully in the close-up shots.

Noise/Artifacts:  Pretty clean.  There is some dirt/specs as well as a nice layer of grain.  There are about 2 frames at one point that have a lot of markings, but it could have been there to notate a reel change.

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Audio Format(s): English 2.0 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: N/A

Dynamics:  This is a pretty awesome 2.0 mix.  What matters?  The JAMZ!  And they do come through plenty loud and definitely go bumping.  Olive Films audio here should have you boogey’ing plenty in your viewing area.  Effects and vocals come across neatly as well in this terrific mix.

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is clear and clean for the most part.  Some source sounding dating is present at times but not really distracting at all.

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Trailer (HD, 1:30)

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Hopefully people are going to have a good time revisiting 1984’s Beat Street.  I’m on Team Breakin’, but I still enjoy Beat Street well enough.  Olive Films gets this one onto Blu-ray with a terrific audio track to groove and spin to and some solid video to see the sights.  Unfortunately the only bonus material available is the trailer, but it IS a really awesome trailer.  Fans and collectors should probably pick this up at the right price, some may want to revisit first before making the purchase.

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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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