It’s hard to believe it’s only been 10 years since John Singleton released his groundbreaking “”Boyz N the Hood.”” Maybe because it has automatically ingrained itself in the public’s mindset as the quintessential tour of L.A.’s toughest neighborhoods, or because so many films since then have begged, borrowed or stolen from it, but it just seems like we’ve been talking about “”Hood”” for decades.
THE MOVIES:It’s hard to believe it’s only been 10 years since John Singleton released his groundbreaking “”Boyz N the Hood.”” Maybe because it has automatically ingrained itself in the public’s mindset as the quintessential tour of L.A.’s toughest neighborhoods, or because so many films since then have begged, borrowed or stolen from it, but it just seems like we’ve been talking about “”Hood”” for decades. What’s more surprising is that since then, Singleton has only completed 5 other films, and not one has made even a sliver of the impact “”Hood”” did. Not that Singleton hasn’t been working. He’s turned out a film every two years, transitioning from “”Hood”” to the musical road trip “”Poetic Justice”” and then hitting the campus in the controversial but heavy-handed “”Higher Learning.”” Now, Columbia TriStar has gathered Singleton’s three earliest works into one box set, allowing you to witness the birth of a semi-relevant filmmaker. The three films share various viewpoints, but tend to approach them from completely different angles. “”Hood,”” set in L.A.’s infamous South Central, follows several youths who work toward different ends in the ghetto. Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.) dreams of a better life outside of the hood, while the tough-as-steel Doughboy (Ice Cube) works with what he has, wallowing in the lucrative drug trade. For his second feature, Singleton cast Janet Jackson as the dreamy Justice, who shares a ride up the California coast with opinionated thug Lucky (the late Tupac Shakur). The two opposites attract, of course, but the relationship meets immediate hardship when they reach their destination. And in “”Higher Learning,”” Singleton takes his radical views to the birthplace of controversy, the college campus. Omar Epps, Kristy Swanson, Ice Cube and Michael Rapaport play freshman who receive a crash course in racism and sexuality in a charged (yet exaggerated) college environment.These films have their own messages – “”Justice”” tackles tough relationships and senseless street violence in Oakland, “”Learning”” discusses everything from segregation and racial hate crimes to sexual experimentation in school – but “”Hood,”” which practically picked you up by the short hairs and shook you around, remains the director’s most accomplished work. “”Poetic”” was ambitious, “”Learning”” convoluted. After “”Hood,”” Singleton’s work progressively slipped downhill. His films remained interesting to a point, until he released the senselessly violent and bombastic “”Shaft”” remake in 2000. Though I haven’t seen “”Baby Boy,”” early word says it too misses the mark established by “”Hood”” a decade ago. Singleton has talent and a distinct viewpoint. These films, and not his later works, prove it.Grade: B-THE EXTRAS:Considering this box set uses the “”Director’s Signature Series”” name, you’d expect special treatment from said director. Yet only two of the three films come with commentaries, and the one that’s missing is the most sough after: “”Boyz N the Hood.”” Could it be that Singleton grew tired of talking about his most celebrated film? Does he feel that everything that needs to be said has been said? Or does he just want the film to stand on its own? Considering how insightful he is on the tracks for “”Learning”” and “”Justice,”” I’d hoped he would do one for “”Boyz,”” but now such luck. In fact, save for the trailer, “”Hood”” comes with no extras. It’s disappointing. The “”Learning”” disc and the “”Justice”” disc both feature commentaries, though neither appear recorded just for this collection. They also feature trailers, bios and filmographies, but little else. For a “”Signature Series,”” this collection seems to have gotten very little help from the director. One can only assume that Singleton was busy with his recent “”Baby Boy,”” but considering how important these films are to Singleton’s reputation and legacy, you’d think he’d give them a little more attention.Visually the three films look great, having been digitally mastered. The lack of valuable extras does hurt, though.Grade: C-OVERALL EXPERIENCE:Of his 6 movies, these are Singleton’s best. In fact, the decision the leave out “”Rosewood”” and “”Shaft”” makes this collection all the more valuable. Fans of the director should be happy to pick up these decent movie on DVD, especially the fantastic “”Hood,”” but anyone hoping to learn more about Singleton and what makes him tick may have to look elsewhere.Final Grade: C