Tupac Shakur’s Memorable Performance
In the parlance of the street, “juice” means power and respect, often from the barrel of a gun. It’s hard to believe that one of the early classics of hip-hop cinema is already 25 years old this year. Having cut his teeth working as Spike Lee’s cinematographer, director Ernest Dickerson made Juice his powerful debut as a filmmaker. Four black teenagers living in Harlem, led by a young Tupac Shakur, go down a tragic path when a gun enters their lives and changes everything for the childhood friends.
Mostly remembered today for Tupac Shakur’s memorable performance, Juice has far more going for it. Tupac is great as a confused, violent teenager looking for respect. But Dickerson’s movie is one of those cases where everything came together perfectly to make a lasting cultural touchstone for a certain generation. For teenagers back in the 1990s into urban movies and hip-hop, Juice will always be a classic. It is their Goodfellas.
Juice’s fluid script and tight direction often took a backseat to its legendary rap soundtrack in popularity, loaded with songs from Eric B and Rakim, Cypress Hill, EPMD, Big Daddy Kane, and more. Hank Shocklee of the Bomb Squad, producer behind Public Enemy, provided a uniquely street-inspired score that owed more to hip-hop than Hollywood’s traditional scores.
Four close friends are getting fed up with their status in Harlem’s dangerous streets. Bishop, Q, Raheem, and Steel are known as the Wrecking Crew. They’re drifting through life spending their days cutting high school, fighting and shoplifting for fun. Q dreams of becoming a DJ. Bishop is the bad apple in this group, increasingly frustrated by his lack of status. Bishop pushes the friends into a robbery, thinking it will make the group more respected. Bishop and Q are on a collision path that won’t end well for anyone with devastating consequences.
A cult classic in its day with hip-hop fans, it’s a movie worth catching again
A cult classic in its day with hip-hop fans, it’s a movie worth catching again
Juice holds up surprisingly well after all these years, bolstered by strong performances from a young Omar Epps and Tupac Shakur. Everyone remembers Tupac’s larger than life music career that ended in tragedy but Juice proved he was a charismatic actor capable of much more. His portrayal of Bishop is intense, a wild teenager in over his head that makes the wrong choices. Bishop’s push for respect is what propels Juice’s narrative after its more upbeat beginning showing these young men enjoying life. The chemistry between the four young leads is completely natural.
Cameo roles by Samuel Jackson, Queen Latifah and other hip-hop celebrities add some spice to this potent mix. Look out for rappers Special Ed, EMPD, and others in background shots. Cindy Herron of En Vogue fame also has a role as Q’s older girlfriend.
The real revelation is Omar Epps. Having now gone on to a long and productive career in Hollywood, his talent is already evident in Juice. Omar Epps plays Quincy Powell, a nice kid into DJing and music, known as “Q” to his friends. We see the world of Juice’s mean streets through Q’s eyes, drawing us into the senseless tragedy that swiftly unfolds in its sobering second half.
Juice remains a well-crafted urban movie of what I would call street noir. A cult classic in its day with hip-hop fans, it’s a movie worth catching again. Watching it today makes one wonder how Tupac’s acting career would have developed if he hadn’t been gunned down in Las Vegas. An immensely talented performer, Tupac may have well returned to acting at some point.
Paramount is back in the business of issuing their own catalog properties on Blu-ray and one of the first efforts is this 25th anniversary edition for Juice. It’s a top-notch presentation, fairly remarkable in definition and pure HD resolution.
This is a nearly perfect film transfer for the 1992 production, receiving some of the best color correction I’ve seen lately. The film was never super-sharp but everything in the film elements have been brought out in crisp clarity. Improved contrast, solid black levels, appropriate saturation and flesh-tones, Juice looks relatively great for its source.
The 94-minute main feature is encoded in stout AVC on a BD-50. It is presented in its preferred 1.78:1 aspect ratio. This is flawless compression, capturing every nuance with fluid grain reproduction. The negative must be in fantastic shape. The new transfer possesses excellent fine detail. This is film-like video that represents a massive improvement in Juice’s picture quality.
The classic hip-hop soundtrack to Juice is presented in a solid 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. This isn’t a flashy mix with an array of discrete cues. Everything is nicely spread across the front soundstage with some ambient support. The bass is tight and kicks in when necessary.
The rap songs by such acts as Eric B and Rakim, Cypress Hill, EPMD, Big Daddy Kane, and other big names are perfect for the gritty street drama. Rolling Stone magazine actually named this one of the 25 greatest soundtracks of all time.
A Spanish dub is included in 2.0 Dolby Digital. Optional English, English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles display in a white font.
Juice has never received anything like this treatment on prior home editions. Paramount went all out with this 25th anniversary release, digging up extensive behind-the-scenes footage and securing new interviews with the cast. This is a truly loaded special edition with invigorating special features of real interest to Juice’s fans.
Slipcover collectors take note, the one for Juice is extra special. It features a mixture of gold ink and slick graphic design, separating itself from ordinary slipcovers.
- Audio Commentary by director Ernest R. Dickerson – The director recalls anecdotes, gives insight into his creative process, and generally deconstructs his film in this solo commentary. Informative but gaps in the discussion make it an uneven listening experience.
- You’ve Got the Juice Now (19:12 in HD) – A look back at the making of the film featuring brand new interviews with director Ernest R. Dickerson, producer David Heyman and actors Omar Epps, Khalil Kain and Jermaine Hopkins. The piece details Dickerson’s struggle to remain true to his original vision, his desire to cast fresh new talent, the challenges of shooting on location in Harlem, and the reasons why the film’s ending was changed.
- The Wrecking Crew (23:44 in HD) – The film’s surviving lead actors talk about how they came to be cast in the film and the bonds they immediately formed with one another. They share stories about working with Tupac Shakur, as well as their amazement at working with Samuel L. Jackson, Queen Latifah and Cindy Herron.
- Sip the Juice: The Music (12:51 in HD) – This featurette explores the essential role that music plays in the film. Features vintage interviews with Hank Shocklee and his brother of the Bomb Squad fame about their score, as well as Erik B, EPMD, and members of Cypress Hill speaking about their contributions to the unforgettable soundtrack.
- Stay in the Scene: The Interview (22:43 in upscaled HD) – An archival interview with the four lead cast members on set. The piece demonstrates their tight rapport as they discuss the importance of the film and its message. Taken around the time Juice was in production, the four teens look so young.
- Photo Gallery (HD) – Unit photographer Adger Cowans’ photos taken on the set.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not influenced DoBlu’s editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
A young Tupac Shakur and Omar Epps give this urban street thriller added juice, backed by an electrifying hip-hop soundtrack.
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