Boot camps have become a movie cliché, as have competitive art schools, but by wedding the two in a film of surprisingly convincing authenticity, Charles Stone III's Drumline managed something distinctive and compulsively entertaining. It's a most unusual musical, with halftime shows performed on football fields functioning as top-notch production numbers and a charismatic breakthrough performance by Nickelodeon star Nick Cannon.
Cannon plays Devon Miles, a freshman phenom recruited with a full scholarship to join the fictional Atlanta A&T University's much-lauded marching band. Cocky and hugely talented, Devon nevertheless harbors a damaging secret that threatens to end his skyrocketing ascent within the A&T Marching Panthers. His coach, Dr. Lee (Orlando Jones), also finds himself under tremendous pressure. The university's president won't settle for less than domination, and Lee's tendency to cling to his Earth, Wind and Fire and "Flight of the Bumblebee" while everyone else wants hip-hop numbers doesn't sit well with anyone. Perhaps Lee can teach Devon some discipline, while Devon can model for his new mentor a way to "bridge the gap" between old school and new school. Caught in the middle is Lee's previous top student, section leader Sean "Iron Man" Taylor (Leonard Roberts), who thinks he owns the drumline; like Devon and his fellow newbie "crabs," Sean has yet to learn Lee's primary principle of teamwork: "One band, one sound."
Stone's energetic direction extends from the cool routines into the seriocomic character scenes and romance between Devon and upperclass(wo)man Laila (Zoë Saldana). Terrific ensemble work seals the deal, with Cannon and Jones giving especially revelatory performances. Generally considered only a comic actor, Jones here proves he's capable of impeccable dramatic work. Learning something from his subject, Stone gives the picture a snappy rhythm; before you know it, you've arrived at the greatest show on earth: the B.E.T. Big Summer Classic. While it's true that Drumline won't win any awards for unconventional narrative, it's definitely got a good beat.
Though Drumline is already seven years old, Fox's Blu-ray edition is surprisingly flawless in its A/V transfer. The film's visual impact is undiminished: color leaps off the screen, and contrast and detail are well defined in light and shadow. The sound mix puts the "master"ful in DTS-HD Master Audio: it doesn't get much more musically exciting than the big, big marching band sound in uncompressed 5.1 sound. Drumline's new special edition (mirrored on Blu-ray and DVD) features both the Theatrical Version (119m) and Extended Cut (123m).
An audio commentary by director Charles Stone III ("Theatrical Version" only) allows the director to wax enthusiastic about the bands and their leadership, and explain how the film came together, including the details of his specific visual approach.
In "Half-Time Heroes" (14:02, SD), oddly, none of the participants are identified, but they are mostly the same as in "The Real Battle of the Bands," including co-screenwriter Tina Gordon Chism and actor Leonard Roberts. This featurette puts the focus on real-life college musicians.
"The Real Battle of the Bands" (9:01, SD) explains what it takes to compete in the "Honda Battle of the Bands: Stompin' at the Dome." Participants include Charles Stone III; Orlando Jones; Chism; Nick Cannon; Cecil H. Houston II and Chuck Irving of the Atlanta drumline; Clark Atlanta University assistant director of bands Thomas G. Warner, Jr.; Tiffany Todd, Dexter Bailey, Jr., Oscar Wright, Leebrian Walker, Naquia Denson, Franklin Holmes-Brooks and Byron Cogdell of Bethune-Cookman University; Jamie Cooley, Devin Barkley, Shadé Hyche, and Brandon Owens of Clark Atlanta University; executive band consultant/technical advisor Don Roberts; Bethune-Cookman University's director of bands Donovan V. Wells; and Clark Atlanta University band technician Cassell Gray.
"Anatomy of a Drumline" (9:28, SD) deals a bit more with the film itself, and its inspiration. The interviewees are Stone, Jones, Leonard Roberts, Chism, Barkley, Don Roberts, Hyche, producers Wendy Finerman and Jody Gerson, executive producer Dallas Austin, GQ, Beverly Greene of the Atlanta drumline, and Tony Dowe of Bethune-Cookman University.
Four "Deleted Scenes" come with optional commentary by Stone: "Dr. Lee Conducts" (1:53, SD), "Battle of the Bands" (1:59, SD), "A&T Alternate Performance A" (1:02, SD), and "Devon and Laila Drive Off" (1:21, SD).
Last up is a "Theatrical Trailer" (2:08, HD). It's a shame that a number of bonus features offered on the original DVD have disappeared, but what's here still comprises a solid special edition.
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