Why does Eminem seem, like, so five years ago to me? I know he is poised for a comeback, with a new album on the way, but the era when he reigned the airwaves and ignited talk show controversy feels absolutely ancient. I was never a particular fan (though I can appreciate his talent), and I also missed his big motion picture debut in '8 Mile,' which proved to be quite a sizable box office hit. So watching the film for the first time on this Blu-ray was a strange experience -- I couldn't really separate Eminem as I view him now (fairly or unfairly), which is as a past-his-prime artist, from the character he was playing in the film, who was supposed to be an up-and-coming rapper barely out of his teens.
The story of '8 Mile' reminds me of a rap version of 'Purple Rain' meets 'Flashdance.' Eminem stars as Jimmy "B-Rabbit" Smith, a kid from the trailer park, raised by his single mom (Kim Basinger) and hoping to realize his big dream of being a rapper. He spends his night at a dirty warehouse, competing in "rap battles," while also wooing Alex (Brittany Murphy) and hanging out with his more-or-less low-life friends. The film is set-up right from the beginning as a come-from-behind tale: Rabbit will mess up the film's early rap battle, only so he can spend the rest of the movie planning his last one, which will win the big competition and get him out of his go-nowhere predicament.
'8 Mile' is a pretty darn conventional film. Many were surprised that director Curtis Hanson tackled this material, he of the Oscar-winning 'L.A. Confidential' and 'Wonder Boys.' And that he cast Eminem, who had never acted before outside of his Slim Shady persona in music videos. Unfortunately, I didn't think Hanson really elevated the basic story to the level of truly inspired drama. Sure the film looks gritty, and there are some good performances (Eminem acquits himself admirably), but the script, by Scott Silver, never rises to the occasion.
All the beats of the movie are predicable. We have no doubt there will be a big rap-off at the end of the movie, let alone that Rabbit will win it. Rabbit fights a lot with his mom, and is even all sweetie-pie with his little sister (if only to leaven out how misogynistic he is to every other female in the movie?) And forget his relationship with Alex -- though the movie threatens to give Murphy a character to play, eventually there is just the obligatory sex scene, and then she doesn't factor in much to the rest of the story. If Rabbit has any meaningful relationship in '8 Mile,' it's probably with Future (Mekhi Phifer), an ambitious fellow rapper. But '8 Mile' sets up just about everything and everyone as merely an obstacle to Rabbit -- it's all there to give him something to triumph over, which ultimately leaves '8 Mile' feeling manipulative in all the wrong ways.
There is also a pseudo-cultural subtext lurking in '8 Mile' that feels undernourished. Paralleling some of the critical reaction to Eminem himself, there is a suggestion throughout '8 Mile' that Rabbit is a white boy playing rapper in world where he doesn't belong. This could have been grounds for a very interesting examination of "white versus black" in rap, but it doesn't cut as deep as I hoped. The film also touches too lightly on homophobia, with a minor aside with Rabbit sticking up for gays despite being beaten by the bad rappers. Just when the film seemed to be going in an interesting direction, the conventional nature of the script kept veering back into safe, 'Flashdance'-simplistic territory.
Yet, I still kinda enjoyed '8 Mile.' Seeing the film a few years past its release, I can appreciate its undeniably admirable attempt to give a humanity to rap, a genre that still was being dismissed by snooty music critics and historians. I like that Hanson was always earnest in his filmmaking, and that Eminem, if clearly fresh as an actor, makes his character genuine and three-dimensional. '8 Mile,' if cliched as a story, attempts to bring authenticity to a world rarely, if ever, treated to any dignity in commercial Hollywood cinema.
'8 Mile' comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1), spread on a BD-25 single-layer disc. It's a sometimes messy-looking film, but still comes across sharply on high-def.
Director Curtis Hanson and his cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto, have done a fine job of giving '8 Mile' an attractive sheen but still allow for some grit. The source looks great, with natural film grain but no blemishes or imperfections. Colors are usually realistic, but sometimes slightly desaturated if always stable and smooth. Depth and detail are strong, with rich blacks and only a slight flatness to contrast in the mid-range. Also a plus is that the Blu-ray does not suffer from the edge enhancement that marred the DVD, so if perhaps a tad soft, at least it doesn't look artificial. This is a strong encode, and if not a fantastic high-def demo disc, it certainly presents the film as intended.
Universal offers a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit) soundtrack. The attraction here is the music, not explosions, and on that level this mix delivers the goods.
'8 Mile' is largely a dialogue-driven drama. It always sounds natural and well-recorded, with dialogue balanced well. The straightforward parts of the track don't overwhelm with intense low bass or noticeably expansive dynamics, but it suits the material perfectly well. The music is where the DTS-MA track really kicks in, and the pre-recorded songs sound terrific. Surround use is not extensive, but the spare discrete effect is effective when need be. Again, it's really the music that's important, and it shines here.
Extras on '8 Mile' mirror the previous DVD release, and are minimal. Despite the film's considerable box office, it looks like Universal has little interest in producing a true, full-featured special edition.
'8 Mile' surprised me. I expected to feel little about the film, as I'm rather indifferent to Eminem. But it's got a strong story and good performances, so it may appeal to even those who aren't fans of Eminem or rap music. This is a solid Blu-ray, too, with very good video and audio. Sadly, the supplements are lame as can be. So pick this one up for the film only.