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  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • English: Dolby Digital Mono
  • French: Dolby Digital Mono
  • Italian: Dolby Digital Mono
    English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, Arabic, Portuguese, English - Hearing Impaired, Romanian, Bulgarian
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Featurette

Shaft (1971)

Warner Bros./Warner Bros. . R4 . COLOR . 97 mins . G . PAL


Check the ‘fro. Load the .45. John Shaft’s on the case baby, and he don’t take no crap from no-body. You dig?

In the early seventies, spurred by the increasing discontent of America’s urban black communities, a new film genre began to emerge. These films featured a new kind of hero – a strong black male forced to strike back against an oppressive white-man’s system. Portraying a virile black-male sexuality that had previously been missing in mainstream cinema, the genre was coined ‘blaxploitation’ after the trashy exploitation films of the 60s. Between 1971 and 1975, it spawned over a hundred movies, with later films also featuring black females as protagonists. The most notable of these was Pam Greir (the queen of blaxploitation) who appeared in Tarrantino’s brilliant 1998 homage to the genre Jackie Brown. Targeted at black urban audiences, blaxploitation films were a lucrative business, with the majority being produced by white studios. The budgets were small. The profits were huge.

Two 1971 films, Melvin Van Peeble’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song and Gorden Park’s Shaft are frequently cited as forerunners of the genre. With MGM about to go bankrupt, Shaft was produced for a meagre 1.2 million dollars. It brought in 12 million and gave the ailing company the shot in the arm it desperately needed.

On the mean streets of Harlem, John Shaft (Richard Roundtree) is a super cool private detective who is as great with a gun as he is in the sack. And he aint afraid to go his own way neither, you dig? This guy is bad-ass baby. With the white NYPD on one side (with whom he shares an ambiguous relationship), and the black crime syndicates on the other, his uncompromising methods garner respect from both. Approached by big-time Harlem pimp and drug-lord Bumpy Jones, Shaft reluctantly accepts the task of tracking down and rescuing his kidnapped daughter. Enlisting the help of a local black power group, Shaft takes to the streets, battling the establishment, the New York mafia and the Harlem drug lords. Never adverse to a quick sojourn, Shaft always leaves time to enjoy the intimate company of many an accommodating beauty.

Even after 30 years, Shaft is still a great movie. Sure, the plot is simple and the characters cliché (at least by today’s standards), but it moves along at a steady pace and finishes with a satisfying climax. There’s humour, and lashings of comic-book violence, all infused with a gritty realism. The real stars of Shaft are the rough streets of 70s New York and Isaac Hayes funky sound-track. The cinematography has perfectly captured the poorer areas of the city, adding a real depth of tone to the film. The opening sequence provides a great photo essay of the trashy areas around Times Square. The locations for each of the movie’s key scenes are also well chosen, with director Parks and cinematographer Urs Furrer finding ancient, run-down apartment blocks, crowded city streets and seedy alleyways in which to stage their violent confrontations. All the while, Hayes' signature sountrack pumps along, beating out the rhythm of the city.


Warner Brothers have presented us with a double sided disc, with an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer of Shaft on one side, and a 4x3 transfer on the other. Both sides are single layered. For the age of the film, the video quality is quite something. There is a small yet constant amount of film grain throughout, noticeable only during the darker shots. It's never distracting. Despite the grain, the level of detail is fantastic, enhanced by the high level of contrast in the image. The contrast is created by the predominate greys, browns and blacks of the grimy city and 70s decor and clothing. The print used for the transfer is a little dirty early on, with a reasonable number of film artefacts soiling the image in the first few minutes. Thankfully they tail off after about 3 minutes and never re-appear; overall the print turns out to be very, very clean – fantastic given the age of the film.

The quality of the print is matched by the fantastic transfer. There are no MPEG artefacts to be seen, and the transfer is at all times sharp and clear. The odd splash of vivid colour, mainly oranges reds and blues are also handled well. Blacks are deep, and shadow detail is mostly great – reduced slightly by the film grain. All in all, the movie looks terrific – this is fantastic work from Warner Brothers.


Shaft is presented with its original mono soundtrack in English, Italian and French. Needless to say there is no surround or subwoofer activity, but the movie still sounds great, perfectly evoking its era. Despite a mono presentation, the dialogue was at all times clear and distinct, and the dynamic range was quite good, although anyone with a small centre speaker may wish to redirect the mono signal to their side speakers to give a more fuller sound. At a few points, dialogue sync was a problem, but I put this down to bad looping in the production itself.

By far the most defining characteristic of Shaft is its instantly recognisable, Oscar winning soundtrack from Isaac Hayes. The ‘Theme from Shaft’ is one of the most enduring pieces of music written for a film, simultaneously deprecating and glamorising its hero. I half believe that last year’s Shaft remake was just an excuse to resurrect its signature track.

All in all, the soundtrack itself is fairly unassuming but provides a good compliment to the film.


The disc is nicely presented with static menus that are 16x9 enhanced. A remixed version of the movie’s theme plays behind them. Warner have provided a few extras, most with minimal re-watch potential.

Theatrical Trailer: your normal fare. It is interesting to see how the movie was marketed in the 70s, but the print used here is quite dirty.

Production Info: lists cast and crew.

Awards Info: lists the (single) award won by the film.

Featurette: ‘Soul in Cinema – Filming Shaft on Location’. Provides footage from the filming of several of the action scenes, as well as footage of director Parks working with Isaac Hayes and his band, and editor Hugh Robertson.

Of course due to its cult status, a great addition to this disc would have been a retrospective audio commentary from director Parks, or even from Isaac Hayes. Compared to the R1 version, we miss out on extra theatrical trailers for the follow up movies Shaft's Big Score and Shaft in Africa. No great loss.


There is no denying the pulp, yet entertaining nature of the blaxploitation genre. With shallow plots and stereotypical characters these films were created on the cheap for mass consumption. Despite their formulaic nature, the ingredients – a little sex, a little violence, and lashings of attitude – never really date. Shaft is as entertaining today as when it was first released; maybe even more-so. Its still got that hip edge and there’s lashings of 70s, black vernacular to keep you amused for hours. Combine this with a great transfer from Warner Brothers, and you’ve got a sure fire winner baby.

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      And I quote...
    "Who’s the private dick that's a sexmachine for all the chicks? Shaft! … Damn right. "
    - Gavin Turner
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Toshiba SD-2108
    • TV:
          Panasonic TC-68P90A TAU (80cm)
    • Receiver:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Amplifier:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Speakers:
          B&W 602
    • Centre Speaker:
          B&W CC6 S2
    • Surrounds:
          JM Lab Cobalt SR20
    • Subwoofer:
          B&W ASW-500
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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