Along with Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song, Shaft helped launch the Seventies era of so-called “blaxploitation” films that would dominate the world of Black entertainment for nearly a decade. Directed by prominent Black photographer Gordon Parks with Richard Roundtree in the title role and featuring a sizzling soundtrack by Isaac Hayes, Shaft didn’t quite fit the mold of its subsequent ilk. Sure, it was a crime drama that explored the dregs of society, like pimp Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn), whose daughter is kidnapped, but there’s a key difference: Shaft himself is not a criminal. He’s not a pimp or a drug dealer like the main characters of Super Fly or Black Caesar—he’s a private detective, hired to find the Bumpy’s daughter. In 1971, Shaft was like a superhero to the Black community, a Black man who took no guff, dressed sharp, and talked back to the cops, outperforming them while he was doing it.
Shaft arrives in a 1.85:1 digital transfer created in 16-bit 4K from the original camera negative and mastered with Dolby Vision. Sections too damaged were replaced with a duplicate negative in which the original yellow, cyan, and magenta were separated and independently scanned before being recombined. The presentation on Ultra HD disc is grainy, which is not surprising, but an abundance of textural information in close-ups and backgrounds helps resolve the grain structure naturally. By comparison, the regular Blu-ray disc included in the set doesn’t resolve the grain quite as well and therefore looks a bit coarser and grittier. Dolby Vision’s wide color gamut also adds a touch more pop to specular highlights and brings out the camel tone of Shaft’s turtleneck, even if the 4K presentation is a tad darker overall. That darkness exists on the HD Blu-ray but without the inky blacks and wider dynamic range, and with colors that look just a little flatter.
Shaft includes the original mono mix and a stereo remix (both LPCM 2.0). Both sound great, providing clean dialogue and a nice boost in the midrange and low end that strengthens the film’s soulful musical score.
Criterion Collection gives Shaft/ the usual deluxe treatment with a slate of fantastic bonus features, including a second Blu-ray disc with the 1972 sequel Shaft’s Big Score! and its own array of bonus features. Additionally, there is a booklet with an essay, archival interviews with Gordon Parks and Isaac Hayes, and more.
Ultra HD 4k Blu-Ray
Studio: Criterion Collection, 1971
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
HDR Format: Dolby Vison, HDR10
Audio Format: LPCM 2.0 mono/LPCM 2.0 stereo
Length: 100 mins.
Director: Gordon Parks
Starring: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Charles Cioffi, Christopher St. John, Gwenn Mitchell, Lawrence Pressman