Bones: Platinum Series
Ernest Dickerson is a wonderful cinematographer. Responsible for the look of many Spike Lee films (including She's Gotta Have it, Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X), he's got a great eye for rich colors, bleeding film stocks, eschew angles, and ambiance its no wonder he cites Italian horror great Mario Bava as one of his biggest influences. On the DVD release of Dickerson's confused but often gorgeously shot picture Bones (2001), he includes a 19-minute documentary ("Urban Gothic: Bones and Its Influences") that's mostly about Bava's vibrancy, sexuality, and legendary cinematography making its way into Bones. Its refreshing to see a director talk in detail about a filmmaker he reveres, indeed devoting a small documentary to him rather than dropping his name a few times on a commentary track. But Dickerson is a serious filmmaker, and its no surprise that he's influenced by masters (Nosferatu is also a favorite for him). And with a picture that appears on first glance to capitalize on the undeniable charisma of its lead, rapper Snoop Dogg ("Unleash the Dogg" the cover art teases), it's hard not to be impressed with what Dickerson was at least trying to achieve. Bones is an atmospheric, gory, sometimes disgusting urban gothic that's more than just Snoop slashing some heads, so those picking up Bones solely for the Snoop Doggy Doggness may actually learn something from this disc, and that's to be recommended. But the film itself? Well, it's one of those unfortunate examples of an idea that could have been great, but is not. Bones mixes horror, blaxploitation, and retro filmmaking to tell the story of Jimmy Bones, a 1979 super-pimp who controlled a gritty Chicago neighborhood with both blood and benevolence. In the film's terrific title sequence, we see Jimmy Bones driving up in his Cadillac, and adorned in the finest, dandy-ish pimpin' clothes with shoulder length locks and a Mack daddy chapeau. He's part Don Corleone, part Superfly, part Oscar Wilde. The film then flashes forward to a group of urban kids who plan to transform a creepy, run-down Victorian house (Bones' former crib) into a nightclub. When learning the notorious Jimmy Bones was killed there, they continue on with glee after all, Bones' death gives the place more street cred. A specter hangs over the house, especially after Jimmy's ex girlfriend (Pam Grier) warns of danger to come, but they continue on. Quite a lot happens in Bones, actually. Jimmy's past betrayal and death (a great Julius Caesar-like flashback); the stress of a father never wanting to revisit his crooked, rundown roots; the advent of rock cocaine, leading to an '80s crack-addled neighborhood. Social commentary and urban horror is an intriguing mix. Nevertheless, Bones just becomes too ridiculous to merit either terror or solemnity. Dickerson clearly wanted something sexy, meaningful, scary, and funny, but these elements are not well balanced, and without a good screenplay Dickerson simply should have relied on his own artistic cinematography (some grainy Super 8, a beautiful color spectrum of reds, greens and blacks, and ominous shadows and spirits rising over walls), and of course Snoop, who's impressive in every scene. Potently menacing (as he was in John Singleton's Baby Boy) but also sympathetic and yes, beyond cool, you just want more of his story. If Dickerson reads this, may we suggest a prequel? New Line's Bones: Platinum Series presents a pristine anamorphic transfer (1.85:1), while the excellent audio comes in both DTS and Dolby Digital EX 5.1, which are terrific for crackling fires, noisy bloodletting, and thumping music (English subtitles are also on board). The many notable and fun supplements include the production documentary "Digging Up Bones" and the Bava-filled spot "Urban Gothic: Bones and its Influences," some terrific deleted scenes with optional director commentary, two bang-up Snoop Dogg music videos, and trailers. Also included is a commentary track with director Dickerson, writer Adam Simon, and Snoop Dogg, which is less interesting than one would expect although one of the highlights is when the incredibly soft-spoken Snoop admits to being afraid during filming, fearing a fire blowing behind him could be a "Michael Jackson" moment. Snap-case.