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DVD Three Stars
Notorious B.I.G. has become a legend after leaping to the top of the rap scene with the help of P-Diddy, or whatever he's calling himself these days, and then being murdered by an unknown gunman before his second album could be released.

Some fifteen days after he was murdered that double album was released, it hit the number one spot, and three years later the album was certified as diamond in terms of sales, one million copies.

While his murder remains a mystery, his life has been chronicled in a film about the man, called Notorious. The film follows him from a young boy through to the night of his death, and with the backing of his mother and those that new him, it promises to deliver a faithful story.

Notorious.jpgPlot.pngThis is the biographical story of Notorious B.I.G. aka Christopher Smalls and how he worked his way from being a street corner drug dealer from the vicious circle of drugs and violence and became one of the biggest stars in hip-hop with his first album, only to be shot as he found his fame. Notorious traces his path and tries to show the man and his life.

TheFilm.pngAlthough I am a fan of hip-hop I hadn't really heard much of Notorious B.I.G., or rather I had heard of his music but not realised the influence of his music. I knew about the east-west coast trouble and I do remember the British press stories of the time, but more was made of the Tupac murder than of his.

So that's where I entered the film, but from the moment the menu appeared on the DVD I knew I was going to enjoy it, the music kicked in and I could feel myself starting to get hooked.

Notorious is a good film that doesn't present BIG as a completely good guy, something that many films about people who have a somewhat chequered life do. They often turn around the character and present them as a victim of events around them, here though, the character isn't as pearly white as the film could present him, and well done to all those involved for showing the bad with the good.

To be fair though, while they do present some of his wrongdoings in the past, it still does feel as if his story has been lightened and the character seems drawn into events that he can't really escape from. Although there are some rather powerful moments where the character does become involved in something very morally wrong and highly illegal, the moment doesn't have the impact that you would have expected, and the character still feels as though he's not really that bad.

It's interesting that later on we see Tupac come to congratulate Biggie on his success and we are shown that Tupac is hanging around with some nefarious characters, a moment that seems to have more weight and builds more brooding tension in that moment than with the early events in Biggie's life.

Apart from the opening and closing scenes where we see the moment of the shooting, the darker moments of the film lack the same pressure and impact. They are still strong, but the impact feels lesser than they could have been.

Looking back on it I think I was rather disappointed with the opening as it doesn't feel as tough and as gritty as I had hoped, and as these key sequences certainly did.

Another issue I felt popping up throughout the film was the tendency it had to drop characters and move on with the rest of the story, only to pop back in unexpectedly later on without a real understanding of what stage their relationships were, even if they still had a relationship. This was often rather confusing and I wasn't entirely sure where they were in the story. It often took some time to catch up with where their story was, and all the time I was pulled out of the story.

However it really is hard to argue with the film and how the story plays out because, after all, people who knew, lived with, and worked with the man himself. These people were part of the events that the film portrays, so it's incredibly hard to say anything against the story as it shows the events.

It's therefore rather surprising that the film doesn't leap into an investigation of the events and try to root out who was really to blame for the shooting of either Tupac or B.I.G., although it does allow the characters and the story to point us in the direction of the media who built the east coast-west coast hip-hop battle out of all proportion. If indeed they were responsible for creating it.

Performances were surprisingly good, especially considering that the man playing Biggie, Jamal Woolard, was not an actor when he walked into the auditions, and he really took over the character.

However I felt that Faith Evans, played by Antonique Smith, 'Lil Kim, played by Naturi Naughton, and above all Angela Basset playing Biggie's mother, were the best on screen. Naughton's performance was superb, and her attitude was more powerful than any of the gangsters and rappers in the film, but Basset really took the performances from the rest of them.

A special mention has to go to Christopher Jordan Wallace who played the young Christopher Smalls, for he is actually Smalls' son and seemed to take to the camera extremely easily.

Filming was strong throughout, but particularly in the scenes in clubs and studios. The picture held well through these darker scenes although it looked a little washed out in the lighter, outdoor daytime scenes.

Audio.pngDolby Digital 5.1
The soundtrack as excellent and really drew me into the music of B.I.G. and 'Lil Kim, the performances were captured well and sounded strong. During some of the performances the audio really pulled you into it and you did feel, at least audio wise, a part of the show. However there's not really much to stretch the audio apart from ambient sounds that ramp up during the musical moments.

Extras.pngMenu, Behind the Scenes: The Making of Notorious, I Got a Story to Tell: The Lyrics of Biggie Smalls, Notorious Thugs: Casting the Film, Biggie Boot Camp, Anatomy of a B.I.G. Performance, Party and Bullshit, Deleted Scenes
I don't often talk about the menus, only when they offer something a little different, and with this DVD it did. The movement of images coupled with a longer than average looping soundtrack had me listening to it for a good few repeats.

Behind the Scenes: The Making of Notorious
There's loads to be had in this featurette with plenty from behind the scenes and more from the real people in B.I.G.'s life talking about every aspect of the film from the casting through the to the film and the real people themselves. Excellent making of that added loads to the film and was well worth watching.

I Got a Story to Tell: The Lyrics of Biggie Smalls
This featurette looks at the star, his talent, and what he brought to hip-hop through the actors, the crew, and those that knew him.

Notorious Thugs: Casting the Film
Surprisingly another interesting featurette that looks at the casting of all the characters, mixing in some footage from their audition tapes with plenty of input from the stars, director and once again the real people who the actors portrayed. Add to that more behind the scenes and this is another excellent featurette.

Biggie Boot Camp
In this featurette the director talks us through the process of making the actors appear like their real life counterparts and the work that went into their performances to make them seem the real deal.

Anatomy of a B.I.G. Performance
The director talks us through the concert scenes in the film, sections of which are shown side by side with the footage from the actual concerts on which they were based. What is amazing is the amount of work that has gone into making sure that the performances in the film are very close to the actual performances in the show.

Party and Bullshit
To demonstrate how close the film performances are to the actual concert footage we get the actual performance by Notorious B.I.G. singing Party and Bullshit live in concert.

Deleted Scenes
There are a number of deleted scenes, each opening with a portion of the script describing the opening moment and closing with a place holder from the film. Here you can get a sense of some of the missing scenes that put a little more context into the relationships throughout the film instead of concentrating on one and dropping the rest.

We also get to see more of the assassin preparing, which feels like it might have been a countdown and constant reminder through the film of what was to come, something that I'd like to have seen.

Overall.pngI was surprised just how engaging and interesting the film was, and how much I became invested in a couple of the main characters. Excellent performances from the newcomers and the seasoned actors alike.

There are some flaws in the film itself, I would have liked to have seen the relationships progress more through the film and for us to understand more about them.

The extras give the DVD a strong offering too, and with the multiple featurettes filled with content from all the people behind the scenes and those whom the characters are actually based on.

However I do feel that in this day and age a DVD without an audio commentary is at a loss already, and here there was a lot of scope for multiple commentaries, one from the director and perhaps one from the people in Biggie's life.

Buy or rent from Lovefilm
Buy from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
UK IMDB Film Details



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