Belly [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Pat Pilon (9th September 2008).
The Film

Have you ever seen a music video (usually of the rap or hip-hop variety) where, in the middle of the song, the video stops and a sort-of mini-movie starts, continuing the story started in the musical part? Imagine that little bit expanded to 90 minutes. That's basically what you'd get with 'Belly'.

There's a very good reason music videos are only 4 or 5 minutes. Anything longer would try your patience exponentially with every extra half-minute. With only 4 minutes to grab your attention, music video directors have to resort to funky colours, weird angles and strange camera techniques to stand out. Imagine all those gimmicks, only on a continuous basis for a whole hour and a half.

Director Hype Williams is best known as being a music video director, and with 'Belly' he wanted to create a different cinematic experience. Unfortunately for him, there's a reason good reason why movies don't look like music videos. After the opening credits sequence, it's already a bit long. The colour scheme is really wacky in some scenes, with either all blue or all red lighting. One thing remains constant, though, the picture is always very dark.

Though the cinematography is certainly interesting, the plot is nothing special. It concerns a small-time crook, Tommy (DMX), that decides to go big-time and decides to deal a new designer heroin. The movie is told though the eyes of Tommy's best friend, narrator Sincere (Nas), and also includes various gang members and girlfriends. The second half really takes a wacky turn that really (and I mean really) has nothing to do with the first half. They style stays pretty much the same, but characters and plot points go really wacky. This isn't so bad because the real novelty in this movie is in its presentation.

Remember I mentioned those little mini-movies in the music videos. Imagine the acting abilities of the participants, and then multiplying that by everybody, then you have the talent involved in this movie. Everybody looks amateurish and just seems to be mugging for the camera. It's nothing special and it doesn't come off as being too professional.

The movie has had bad reviews, and I can understand why. The box mentions the movie is a 'realistic urban drama', but I fail to see the realism in here. In fact, 'Gummo' seems to be more realistic than this movie. The dialogue is very bad (how many times do you hear 'know what I'm sayin''), the action is simple, and the rest of the movie seems very music-video –like. If you're making a music video, that's not too bad. On second thought, even for 'Belly', it shouldn't be too bad, because this sure isn't a movie.

Video

1.78:1 widescreen, using the MPEG4/AVC codec. Put short, the picture looks really bad. Now, most of the problems are actually wanted by director Hype Williams and his director of photography, but I still find the transfer not all that convincing. For starters, the contrast is pretty awful, with the picture appearing flat and used. Shadow detail is non-existent, and the picture goes to black pretty quickly when any kind of shadow is seen. Perhaps Mr. Williams wanted darkness, but this is too much, as there's one thing compositing a shot with darkness in it (see Johnnie To's 'Election' movies for a good example), but it's another thing to compose a shot in darkness and not see anything going on. Colours, especially when the screen is imbued with strong reds or blues, seem to bleed slightly. This brings me to the level of detail, which is pretty bad. Ther'’s heavy grain throughout the movie and specks here and there, as well. Watching this thing, I honestly wonder how much better than the standard DVD this might be. This is honestly the worst Blu-rays I've ever seen.

Audio

The only audio track is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. The audio packs a nice punch, but only when it comes to the music. This being a 90-minute music video, there's a lot heavy bass and lots of mid-range. The lossless track has on problems handling any of the music thrown at it. The gunshots, cars sounds, dialogue and other effects are clear, as well, but the dialogue is mixed in a bit low, whereas the music is a bit too loud. Overall, it's a good mix.
English and Spanish subtitles are here.

Extras

Lionsgate here replicates the extras of the old Artisan release. First up is an audio commentary by director/producer/co-writer Hype Williams. He speaks more or less throughout the track, leaving short gaps here and there throughout. He expands on a lot of the elements, like the language, the cinematography and the music, explaining why these elements are the way they are. He also gives his impressions on the actors and crew. He does seem to force himself to say things at times, but overall, the track is pretty enjoyable, especially if you like the movie.

Next up is the Deleted Scene (3:32), titled 'Welcome to the Tunnel'. This is just more scenes from the strip club, just the camera moving back and forth in the club, looking at the (censored) dancers. The most interesting thing about this scene is the audio options associated with it: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo or Dolby Digital 5.1, in which case you see the scene, or the Full Mix or Instrumental Mix of the song playing during the scene, in which case you just hear the song.

Next up is the Grand Finale Music Video (4:04) with DMX, Method Man, Nas and Ja Rule. The funniest thing about this video is that, on this disc of all things, this song is actually censored. The cuss words are muted out. With these rappers, also, this muting gets quite annoying.

Spoken Word is a collection of spoken word poetry pertaining to various themes found in the movie, and performed by various performing artists. This seems to have been shot during a theatrical performance of some kind. The poetry is pretty nice and could easily be turned into song if a beat is added. I particularly enjoyed 'Greed', and 'Tap Dance' is pretty impressive. The poems relate to: 'Pride' (2:01), 'Envy' (3:21), 'Greed' (4:46), 'Gluttony' (2:36), 'Sloth' (3:31), 'Wrath' (3:42), 'Lust' (2:57), 'Redemption' (5:54), 'Beat Box' (5:25), 'Tap Dance' (4:43) and 'Credits' for the performances.

Next is Also From Lionsgate, showing you trailers for 'Rambo' (0:58), 'War' (0:38), 'The Condemned' (1:49), 'Crank' (1:58) and '3:10 to Yuma' (2:32. These are also start-up trailers.

Some Disc Production Credits inform you on who was involved with the disc.

Overall

The Film: D Video: D+ Audio: B- Extras: C Overall: C

 


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