When I started this site in 1999 a “25th Anniversary Edition” of a movie dated back to 1974. That’s now over forty years old and as I so often say – time flies. Being totally honest, I’d never seen Juice. It’s a title that I recognize simply because I passed it in the video store (yes, video store – for those of you born after 1990, those were stores you had to go to in order to see a movie). But for whatever reason, I never picked it up and watched it. Looking back at the early 90’s, it was littered with “urban” dramas that featured predominately black casts. There was Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, New Jack City, Boyz N’ the Hood and Menace II Society. Those all came out in a 3 year span and Juice fit succinctly in the middle. Though the themes in these films do tend to vary, the underlying message remains the same – life in the inner city wasn’t (and still isn’t) easy.
Q (Omar Epps), Bishop (Tupac Shakur), Raheem (Khalil Kain), and Steel (Jermaine Hopkins) are four Harlem friends who spend their days skipping school, getting in fights, and casually shoplifting. The only one who shows some promise is Q who has aspirations of being a deejay. Tired of living in fear, fighting off rival “gangs” and not getting respect – they decide to get some street credit and knock over the local liquor store. Things don’t go as planned (do they ever?) and in an after-crime fight, Raheem is killed by Bishop. Bishop then spirals into a pit of paranoia and hostility, fearing that Q and Steel will turn him into the cops. Q, sensing the threat, has to think quick and act quicker, lest he be the latest victim of Bishop’s malice.
Juice was shot on a small budget ($100K, paltry by today’s standards) and ended up raking in over $20 million domestically. The cast included all relative unknowns and it was Tupac Shakur’s performance that stood out. In an unfortunate turn of events, Shakur would tragically be killed a few years later in Las Vegas due to a gang-related feud. Director Ernest R. Dickerson, best known for being Spike Lee’s Director of Photography, put something special together here. With the help of producer David Heyman (the Harry Potter series), this provided an outlet for some very young talent. Look for a pre-Pulp Fiction Samuel L. Jackson and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her cameo by Queen Latifah. While not quite up there with one of my favorite films: New Jack City, Juice was ahead of its time and has withstood it well.
Video: How’s it look?
Having never seen the film before, I had no basis of comparison. But given that Paramount put this edition out with new features, so I have to assume that some care was put into this transfer (there is, however, no mention of a 4K treatment). That said, the 1.85:1 AVC HD image looks, by and large, pretty good. The opening sequence is intentionally grainy, but the film has a very sleek look and feel to it. Shot on the streets, it’s a clear and clean-looking image, but has an edge of grittiness to it as well. Colors are a tad desaturated, contrast seems fairly strong and given the age of the film I’ve seen many look much worse. I think fans of the movie will be more than satisfied.
Audio: How’s it sound?
A new DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack has been added for this inaugural Blu-ray and it’s a perfect compliment to the jazzy, hip hop soundtrack that plays throughout. Dickerson references Hank Shocklee and the Bomb Squad in the commentary for their work on the soundtrack and it shows. It’s an interesting mix (pardon the pun) that really sets the tone and the mood for the film. That said, the dialogue was a little soft and it made the movie sound dated. I had to turn it up in a few sequences to get it how I liked it. Then again, given the budget and age of the film – I doubt we’ll have many complaints.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Audio Commentary—Director Ernest R. Dickerson gives a new (he references if he can remember 25 years ago) commentary and it’s a solo venture. He’s very articulate and evidently surrounded himself with top notch talent, most of whom he knew personally. He comments on the cast, the shoot and the mostly unheard of talent that made the movie what it was. Fans will eat this one up.
You’ve Got the Juice Now—A look back at the making of the film featuring brand new interviews with director Ernest R. Dickerson, producer David Heyman and actors Omar Epps, Khalil Kain and Jermaine Hopkins. The piece details Dickerson’s struggle to remain true to his original vision, his desire to cast fresh new talent, the challenges of shooting on location in Harlem, and the reasons why the film’s ending was changed.
The Wrecking Crew—The film’s surviving lead actors talk about how they came to be cast in the film and the bonds they immediately formed with one another. They additionally share stories about Tupac Shakur’s drive, authenticity and unmistakable genius, as well as their delight at getting to work with Samuel L. Jackson, Queen Latifah and Cindy Herron.
Sip the Juice: The Music—Explores the essential role that music plays in the film. Features vintage interviews with the Shocklee brothers about their score, as well as Erik B, EPMD, and members of Cypress Hill speaking about their contributions to the unforgettable soundtrack and why they chose to be a part of the film.
Stay in the Scene: The Interview—Vintage interview with the four lead cast members on set. The piece demonstrates their rapport as they discuss the importance of the film and its message.
Photo Gallery—Unit photographer Adger Cowans’ photos taken on set.
The Bottom Line
Most remembered for being a breakout role for Tupac Shakur, Juice is now a quarter of a century old. Amazingly it’s just now come to the Blu-ray format, but Paramount has done it right. The audio and video are top notch and the assortment of supplements, a few new, only add to the allure.