Malcolm X 4k Blu-ray Review

Malcolm X 4k Blu-ray Criterion Collection
Malcolm X (1992) 4k Blu-ray 3-disc edition Buy on Amazon

Malcolm X (1992) has been restored for release in 4k to celebrate 30 years since its debut in theaters. The Criterion Collection has packaged the new presentation on 4k Blu-ray along with the newly remastered film on 1080p Blu-ray and a second Blu-ray containing extras. The 3-disc edition released on November 22nd, 2022. A new 2-disc 1080p Blu-ray edition was released simultaneously with the 4k Blu-ray. 

“I aims to please sir, I’m pleased to aim.” 

The Movie

A Spike Lee Joint and what some consider to be his finest accomplishment, Spike Lee’s Malcolm X incorporates history and storytelling in his unique signature style. Denzel Washington was Oscar-nominated for Best Actor and Ruth E. Carter for Best Costume Design at the 65th Academy Awards. Washington did win the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor for his performance. In 2010, Malcolm X was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”


Malcolm X movie still 4 HD

On 4k Blu-ray, Malcolm X is presented in 2160p resolution with Dolby Vision and HDR10 High Dynamic Range specs. The new 4k digital restoration was supervised by Lee’s long-time collaborator and cinematographer, Ernest Dickerson.

Malcolm X was filmed on Arriflex cameras in 35mm at 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The 4k disc is in the original aspect ratio, whereas the previous Blu-ray was in 1.78:1. The 1.85:1 ratio fills up most a typical 16×9 4k or HD TV with only a slice of “letterboxing” on the top and bottom. The video played at an average of about 50Mbps with higher runs up to 63Mbps. We saw the video hit 90Mbps during a couple of quick instances, but was generally in the 50s for most of the TRT. 

The restoration of Malcolm X has maintained a vintage film quality, meaning there is no excessive brightening, sharpening, or other digital manufacturing to create a more contemporary cinematic image. It’s true to its nature, albeit soft when compared to other film movies from the 80s and 90s. Unfortunately, we can’t say the image is as sharp some of its contemporaries that have been upgraded. 

Some of the sharpest imagery can be seen at 53 minutes when Red is playing Russian roulette with his new partner Rudy, and shortly after at the robbery of an elderly man while he is sleeping his wedding band glistens like never before. 

Dolby Vision has given Malcolm X the capability of up to 10 bits of color under the BT.2020 spec. When Red and Shorty are dressed in their red and green zoot suits at 18 minutes we really get a taste of what HDR can do for color depth. Another scene that shows off color is at 22 minutes when Red is laying with his girlfriend as Laura (Theresa Randle) during the golden hour. His blue suit is as colorful as a Crayola. 

“He’s puttin’ a hurt on my vision.” 

Even more extreme color is at 30 minutes when Red is dressed in his red suit with matching hat and accidentally bumps into someone at a club. The color is so extreme it’s almost as if he’s glowing, a stark difference from the rest of the patrons who are dressed in more drab colors. But that was obviously the point of the lighting strategy, and Lee was certainly not interested in toning it down for this restoration. 

Still from Malcolm X (1080p) film still


The soundtrack to Malcolm X plays in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 channels, the same format as the previous 1080p Blu-ray release from 2017. Subtitles are offered in English SDH for the feature film (not the extras). The 48kHz audio streamed at an average of 4.2 to 4.6Mbps, with a decent range of lows to brights. 

The DTS-HD track is not a surround sound reference disc by any means, but there is good balance in the dialogue, ambient sound, and music. There is an occasional pop in the audio presentation when louder sound effects such as gunfire are introduced. There is some ambient, immersive sound when Malcolm X is speaking in large crowds. 

2-time Oscar-nominated musician/composer Terence Blanchard created the music for the film, which is interwoven elegantly into the 202-minute film, in which the trumpet (his main instrument) becomes another integral character.

Packaging and Extras

Criterion’s packaging of Malcolm X on 4k Blu-ray is reason enough to buy the edition. A handsome 3-disc presentation in clear plastic trays with black and red color palette gives it a distinctive look. An included 44-page photo book talks about the legacy of Malcolm X (the person) and the making of the biopic. A second Blu-ray disc contains bonus material such as new conversations and interviews, a feature-length documentary, a program about the making of the film, and deleted scenes.

Malcolm X movie still 5 HD
Still from Malcolm X (1080p) film still


Malcolm X is a transcending film that was well deserving of a 4k upgrade, even if soft at times and not as detailed as one might hope in the shadow areas. The Dolby Vision HDR is probably the jewel of this presentation, displaying rich color as if saturated gelatin emulsion film. The package itself is a welcome addition to any collection, and for those who follow Spike Lee and the art of filmmaking, the included booklet is a real bonus. We’re looking forward to more Spike Lee films getting restored and upgraded to the best of today’s home media standards. 





Bonus Material

Special Features

  • New 4K digital restoration, supervised by cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
  • One 4K UHD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR and two Blu-rays with the film and special features
  • Audio commentary from 2005 featuring director Spike Lee, Dickerson, editor Barry Alexander Brown, and costume designer Ruth E. Carter
  • New conversation between Lee and journalist and screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper
  • New interviews with actor Delroy Lindo and composer Terence Blanchard
  • Program about the making of the film, featuring Lee, Dickerson, Brown, Blanchard, Carter, filmmaker Martin Scorsese, actor Ossie Davis, Reverend Al Sharpton, former Warner Bros. executive Lucy Fisher, producers Preston Holmes and Jon Kilik, production designer Wynn Thomas, casting director Robi Reed, and Malcolm X’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz
  • Malcolm X (1972), a feature-length documentary produced by Marvin Worth and Arnold Perl and directed by Perl, narrated by actor James Earl Jones
  • Deleted scenes with introductions by Lee
  • Trailer
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by Cooper, excerpts from Lee’s 1992 book By Any Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of the Making of “Malcolm X” . . ., and Davis’s eulogy for Malcolm X
  • New cover by Eric Skillman