Menace II Society has a fantastic unbroken shot, one that moves through a house in which a party is taking place. Outside a fight is breaking out, inside people are kissing and groping each other in the open, and deeper in, drugs and illegal gambling occur. It creates a metaphor for Caine’s (Tyrin Turner) life, stuck in the ghettos of Los Angeles. He is surrounded by crime and cannot get away, even to have his own graduation party.
The Hughes Brothers direct a harsh, brutal film, one that hardly turns a blind eye to the events that occur regularly within the toughest sections of city. Violence here is forceful, completely on camera. When one of Caine’s family members is murdered in a drive-by, the body twitches and convulses as it lies on the street. It is an unforgettable image.
Unfortunately, the Hughes Brothers have a flair for the over-dramatic as well. Late in the film Caine is arrested and put into an interrogation room. Lighting here is borderline ridiculous, with red lights on one side, blue on the other, and the spotlight firmly planted over the table as the camera completes multiple spins. It causes unintentional laughter in a scene that is incredibly important and tense.
Despite the misguided lighting, Menace II Society leaves an impact. The film chooses not to show the kids as victims, but adults who make personal choices despite the opportunity to get out. Caine is given multiple opportunities to escape the situation, but chooses to rob another man for tire rims. Part of that is his upbringing, with a drug pushing father and drug-addict mother. He is lashing out, but old enough to make personal choices.
His friend is O-Dog (Larenz Tate), somewhat of an opposite, a hotheaded violence seeker. He snaps regularly, resorting to drastic displays of aggression. He relishes the opportunity to show off the security camera footage of his murder/robbery to friends, all of whom laugh and praise his accomplishments.
One of the more telling scenes in the film is when O-Dog is given a shotgun, the weapon which will allow him to seek revenge. The look in his eyes and the smile on his face is tragic. It is more than a powerful piece of acting, and more of a statement. Menace II Society does not try to find an answer, but shows how much help this area of our society needs.
The film arrives on Blu-ray in a decent, if average VC-1 encode. Bright red lights used in the early scenes cause some compression problems and some red push. Some banding is noticeable on the walls as well, particularly around bright lights. Color saturation is otherwise superb, and in combination with the bright contrast, the image is immediately striking once out of the darkness of Caine’s home.
Black levels remain deep and rich throughout, creating decent depth with minimal crush. The grain structure can appear noisy, although it is dependent on the scene in terms of severity. Facial detail never rises above fair, and typically is flat. This is a soft film throughout, and it is unlikely a transfer problem.
New Line gives Blu-ray viewers a front-loaded TrueHD 7.1 mix. The front stereo channels are used effectively, handling positional dialogue and effects with ease. It is quite expansive, with excellent separation.
The surrounds are used, although sparingly. The streets of LA offer some light ambiance, including police sirens. Gunfire is rarely placed in the rears, with the impact almost solely coming from the front. Fidelity is superb, with crisp dialogue. The early ‘90s rap soundtrack pounds the subwoofer with throbbing beats, equally clear.
A crowded commentary includes directors Albert and Allen Hughes, writer Tyger Williams, producer Darin Scott, along with actors Ryan Williams and Larenz Tate. This is followed by a typical but nicely made making-of Gangsta Vision. It runs for 21:36. An older interview with the Hughes Brothers repeats some of the information from the making-of, and runs just over 10 minutes. A trailer remains.