8 Mile 
DVD Drama
Written by Abbie Bernstein   
Tuesday, 18 March 2003



title:
8 Mile


studio:
Universal Studios Home Video
MPAA rating: R
starring: Eminem, Mekhi Phifer, Brittany Murphy, Kim Basinger
release year: 2002
film rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
sound/picture: Three-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

Although it is set very specifically in 1995, “8 Mile” evokes memories of 1977’s “Saturday Night Fever,” which likewise featured a young man from a working-class background trying to make something of himself via his chosen art form. There have actually been plenty of movies with this premise before and since – it’s just that “Saturday Night Fever” is one of the few that succeeded without making its themes and/or its lead look silly.

While Brooklyn discos in the ‘70s and Detroit rap clubs in the ‘90s would seem to be separated by far more than mere geography, “8 Mile” turns out to be a worthy successor in the genre. It of course helps immeasurably that leading man Eminem has total credibility in most quarters when it comes to rap and it’s also key that director Curtis Hanson and writer Scott Silver have a strong grasp of their milieu and their subject matter. Melodrama rises but never really gets out of hand, both the movie and the hero retain some sort of perspective – indeed, the trenchant dialogue on exactly what’s going on finds its way into the character’s potent rap routines – and production sound mixer Danny Michael and supervising sound editors Dane A. Davis and Julia Evershade take pains to ensure that the rap lyrics are not just audible but intelligible, a crucial distinction that is often missed in both video and straight audio presentations.

Eminem plays Jimmy, aka B. Rabbit, who spends his days on the line at an auto plant, his nights with his friends hanging around the neighborhood and at rap joints, and every spare moment penning rhymes. Jimmy is talented but plagued by stage fright – his best buddy Future (Mekhi Phifer) urges Jimmy to face his demons and enter another local rap competition, while name-dropping Wink (Eugene Byrd) wants to be Jimmy’s ticket to the big time. Meanwhile, Jimmy has a messy home life with his adored little sister (Chloe Greenfield) and an unemployed alcoholic mom (Kim Basinger) who puts up with far too much from her abusive boyfriend.

“8 Mile” is unobtrusively skillful, showcasing Eminem’s rapping chops and strong naturalistic acting ability – we believe everything he does – without resorting to turning Jimmy into a plaster saint. The character’s bouts of indignation and self-righteousness are proportionate to what’s going on around him; this isn’t one of those movies where telling someone off is equated with running into a burning building. In fact, there is a sequence in a burning building, but it is there to prove how random and callow Jimmy and his friends can be, not that they’re incipient heroes.

“8 Mile” does not the amount of courage it takes to get into the duel of words that is a rap battle – even if you’re not a hip hop fan, the film’s smart look at how rhymes are inspired and utilized enhances appreciation of the form. Indeed, the best extra on the DVD is the “exclusive rap battles” section, hosted by director Hanson, which chronicles a rap competition set up by the production company for the dual purposes of revving up the extras and giving Eminem/Rabbit some challenging opponents. While the analogies aren’t hit too hard, we can easily see parallels with big-screen boxing stories – here the combatants are brainier, more artistic and not trying to inflict physical brain damage on one another (whether this is positive or negative is in the eye of the viewer).

Eminem has both honesty and charisma in his performance, Phifer provides strong support and Basinger is colorful and rather affecting as Jimmy’s loving but despairing mother.

The soundtrack climaxes with Eminem’s hit “Lose Yourself,” while his “8 Mile” makes a strong impression. Other artists represented here (mostly in snatches heard as source music) include Mobb Deep, Notorious B.I.G., O.C. MC Breed, 2Pac, Cypress Hill, Montell Jordan, South Central Cartel, Outkast, Naughty By Nature, Junior M.A.F.I.A., Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Method Man, the Pharcyde, Wu Tang Clan, Showbiz & AG, Onyx and New Birth, An impromptu parody of “Sweet Home Alabama” in Chapter 5, with Jimmy and Future making up lyrics about Jimmy’s cruddy home life to the Lynyrd Skynyrd tune, feels spontaneous (though it is no doubt carefully scripted) and makes the characters instantly identifiable and endearing – everybody has memories like this.

Sound on the DVD is a mixed bag. As noted above, the rap lyrics on the DTS mix are blessedly clear. Chapter 1, however, has slight congestion in the main speakers as heavy rap plays over the opening titles. Chapter 2 treats us to some authentic crowd sounds that dial down once the onscreen rap begins; the mains and rears put us on the stage and surround us with a chorus of “boos” at the end. Chapter 4 has reasonably loud but not enveloping ambient sounds in the auto factory where Rabbit works. Chapter 6 has probably the best ambient effect on the whole DVD as police sirens stream through the mains, wail back into the rears, then circle around into the mains again. Chapter 9 has some disproportionate popping sounds as drops of liquid hit the floor. When Future grapples with his mike for the final showdown in Chapter 19, his patter is plosive – we would assume that this is an intentional effect (showing that the characters’ are coping with cheap sound equipment in the screen), except that there seems to be a slight but detectable gap between the rappers’ voices and the ambient rumble of the crowd. The DTS surround mix in the crowd scenes generally favors the mains rather than providing many discrete voices in the rears. Image reproduction is faithful to the theatrical release, with bleak but clear visuals.

Besides the rap battle, the DVD contains a reasonably informative making-of short, livened up by use of several different visual formats (black and white film, color video, sepia treatment), a music video of Eminem’s caustic “Superman” and a section entitled “The Music of ‘8 Mile’.” This consists of contents lists of the two soundtrack albums and something called “Music Highlights.” I was unable to access this last – every attempt to click on a selection caused the disc to launch into Chapter 1 of the film proper.

“8 Mile” is a four-square gruncy showbiz success story, but it avoids the traps of the format to emerge as an involving drama with music that powerfully showcases both the new and already known abilities of star Eminem.


more details
sound format:
English DTS 5.1; English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround; French Dolby Digital 5.1; English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround; Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
aspect ratio(s):
2.35:1
special features: Making-Of Featurette; Exclusive Rap Battles; “Music of ‘8 Mile’”; “Superman” Music Video; Production Notes; Cast and Filmmakers Filmographies; Theatrical Trailer; DVD-ROM Features; English Subtitles
comments: email us here...
   
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba








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