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Fox Home Entertainment presents
The Five Heartbeats (1991)

"People make mistakes, y'know... I know."
- Eddie (Michael Wright)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: January 17, 2002

Stars: Robert Townsend, Michael Wright, Leon, Harry J. Lennix, Tico Wells
Other Stars: Chuck Patterson, Harold Nicholas, Diahann Carroll
Director: Robert Townsend

MPAA Rating: R for (language, some drug use)
Run Time: 02h:01m:08s
Release Date: January 22, 2002
UPC: 024543018766
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B-A D

DVD Review

The Five Heartbeats are a nineteen-sixties Motown-era singing group, made up of lead singer Eddie (Michael Wright), songwriter 'Duck' Matthews (Robert Townsend), ladies' man J.T. Matthews (Leon), bassman 'Dresser' Williams (Harry J. Lennix), and tenor 'Choirboy' Stone (Tico Wells). When the group catches the eye of manager Jimmy Potter (Chuck Patterson), who helps them launch a hit single, their fortunes take a turn for the better. But success has its price—internal conflict, drug addiction, infidelity, racism, and death all come to call on the Heartbeats before their career ends in the mid-nineteen-seventies.

Robert Townsend directed, co-wrote and starred in The Five Heartbeats (with Keenen Ivory Wayans). There's a wonderful sense of nostalgia on display here, tempered by a sobering maturity about the fate of so many pop music icons. Townsend's own performance as 'Duck' is vital and endearingly goofy—his pants never fit right, and he loves nothing more than pounding away at the piano—but he also matures and ages visibly over the course of the story, as do all of the characters. There's a minor epic quality about the film's scope—we get to share in the joys of the group's early days, and experience the bad times as well. These darker moments are rendered just as honestly and energetically as the rest of the film—one character's pathetic attempt to rejoin the group from the depths of addiction; a frightening, violent outburst from pop impresario Big Red Davis (Hawthorne James)—and they add immeasurably to its texture and impact.

Music is also an important part of the story and the Five Heartbeats experience. It is to the filmmakers' credit that the songs included here are completely in the Motown style, but are not (for the most part) recognizable standards; we aren't asked to believe that the Heartbeats originated anything we've heard before, but the songs they do perform are credible hits. There's also a wonderful scene in which 'Duck' is aided in his songwriting efforts by his kid sister (Tressa Thomas), a highly "musical" moment that still doesn't threaten the reality of the film. Anyone with a love of nineteen-sixties pop will love the music here—the film's brightest moments are when the Heartbeats take the stage.

It's not a perfect movie—the glow of nostalgia sometimes butts heads with the more serious moments, and the story resolves itself a mite too neatly at the end—but it's an intelligent effort, and much more thought-provoking than, say, That Thing You Do!. The music is powerful and fun, and so are the emotions.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Fox presents The Five Heartbeats in its original 1.85:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, with a solid anamorphic transfer drawn from a clean source print (a few minor flecks aside). The film has an inherently soft look that occasionally obscures detail, and the transfer suffers from edge enhancement in quite a few scenes, but the digital presentation is clean and solid, with good shadow detail and competent handling of the high-frequency red tones that dominate the film's visuals. A good but not great transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Five Heartbeats DVD features two soundtracks—a Dolby Digital 2.0 track representing the original theatrical Dolby Stereo presentation, and a new Dolby Digital 3.1 track that features much-improved separation of dialogue, music and ambient sound effects. Both feature strong musical bass, and the Skywalker Sound mix sounds just great in the 3.1 mode, with clear vocals, rich music and very strong imaging across the front soundstage. There are no surround effects on either track, but they're not missed—the film's "vintage" milieu seems much more at home in this front-oriented mode. A very clean presentation, and the 3.1 mix provides a definite improvement over the older ProLogic technology.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring All That Jazz, The Rose, Carmen Jones
3 TV Spots/Teasers
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:02m:10s

Extras Review: The Five Heartbeats on DVD features 24 picture-menu chapters and a number of promotional extras.

Two brief promotional segments include a four-and-a-half minute featurette, based on clips, behind-the-scenes footage and an interview with writer/director/star Robert Townsend, and a Robert Townsend Profile, with additional material from the same interview. Both are "fluff" pieces, primarily concerned with promoting The Five Heartbeats, though Townsend's modest openness provides some insight into the director's working approach and his personal feelings about the film.

A theatrical trailer and three TV spots give us a look back at the film's marketing. The trailer is in 1.85:1 anamorphic format with Dolby 2.0 Stereo audio; the TV spots are in 1.33:1 pan & scan, monaural format. The marketing material is simple but effective, evoking a sense of nostalgia without giving away too many plot points.

There are also three "Fox Flix" trailers for several other "music movies" with a serious dramatic bent: All That Jazz, The Rose, and Carmen Jones. All are presented in anamorphic format with Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural audio; the trailer for The Rose is extremely grainy, the others look solid enough.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

The Five Heartbeats is an intelligent, energetic, affecting movie about five friends and the prices they pay for pop music success. Fox's DVD features a solid transfer, though supplements are limited. Well worth a spin.


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