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Warner Home Video presents
Heat Wave (1990)

"It was August 13, 1965. Watts was burning. My best friend, J.T., was burning too. Burning with hatred, with a rage fueled by so many years of harassment, discrimination, and intolerance. We were separated by choices. How did this happen? How did so many fall prey to this despair?"
- Bob Richardson (Blair Underwood)

Review By: Nate Meyers   
Published: February 01, 2006

Stars: Blair Underwood
Other Stars: Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones, Margaret Avery, David Strathairn, Glenn Plummer, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Paris Vaughan, Harold Pruett, Adam Arkin, Robert Hooks, Michael Greene, Charlie Korsmo, Sally Kirkland, T.E. Russell
Director: Kevin Hooks

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, language, adult subject matter)
Run Time: 01h:31m:38s
Release Date: January 10, 2006
UPC: 053939746921
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B+CB D-

DVD Review

Heat Wave chronicles the true story of Bob Richardson, the first black reporter for The Los Angeles Times, during the tumultuous Watts riots. Using Richardson as the centerpiece, director Kevin Hooks and writer Michael Lazarou attempt to examine the culture of hate leading up to Watts, as well as the event's effects on society. There's a good amount of anger and compassion at work here, giving the film a sincere tone even while some of the scenes border on melodrama.

Moving from Alabama to Los Angeles in 1959, Bob (Blair Underwood) and the Turpin family are filled with the hope of a better tomorrow. Taking up residence with Bob's grandmother, Ruthana (Cicely Tyson), things turn sour quickly. While walking with his best friend, J.T. (Glenn Plummer), Bob is chased by white boys when he accidentally walks into the wrong part of town. Despite being a competent and experienced carpenter, J.T.'s dad (Vondie Curtis-Hall) cannot find good work and must settle for a meager income as a janitor. Between being harassed by the police and having school officials discourage the young boys' dreams, Bob and the Turpins come to realize that the Golden State is no more tolerant than the South.

The vast majority of the film is completely unrelated to the Watts riots. Bob is struggling to make his way in the world, refusing to embrace a fatalist attitude like J.T. Taking a post at the Times as a messenger, he works hard and takes the advice of his community's sage, Junius (James Earl Jones), in trying to tell the truth. This is more a story about a boy's journey into adulthood. Once the riots begin in response to a traffic stop gone horribly wrong, Richardson is the only man the paper can send in without fear of harm. Hooks stages the scenes effectively, though the production's TV origins are apparent, allowing the film's concluding act to be both insightful and intense. Using his unique position and circumstance, Bob exposes the hatred of both the rioters and the environment leading up to it.

Movies searching to confront racial issues are a difficult undertaking, easily falling victim to superficial messages and stereotyping. To some extent, Heat Wave suffers from this problem when it stops the story so its characters can give speeches to one another. When Ruthana's employer buys a gun out of fear, there's no need to have her explicitly state that such behavior will only escalate the situation. Thanks to the excellent cast, however, these scenes play out fairly smoothly. Underwood is assured as Bob and sells the character's transition from youthful dreamer to hard-hitting journalist. Tyson and Jones are also quite good, lending a strong sense of legitimacy to their parts. Neither really seems to be acting, but rather conveying their own experiences of that era.

Viewed in light of the recent French riots, not to mention those surrounding Rodney King, Heat Wave may have a stronger ring to it than when it originally aired on TNT in 1990. Some of Hooks' directorial decisions may feel too theatrical, such as his use of slow-motion and awkward inter-cutting of documentary footage, which keep the film from being a knock-out. But it still packs a pretty good punch.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The original broadcast ratio of 1.33:1 is preserved here, but the picture doesn't look that great. Numerous scratches and print defects permeate and the images themselves never come across as striking. Blacks are acceptable, but detail and colors come across as bland.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Played in ProLogic, the Dolby Stereo 2.0 mix has some nice sound separation and even a few instances of directionality. Dialogue is always audible and the track is balanced well, with music and sound effects coming across clearly without overwhelming the senses. Apart from a few instances of an irritating hiss, this is a solid mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: No supplemental materials have been assembled for this DVD release. Apart from the expected inclusion of chapter stops and subtitle options, this is a barren single-layer disc.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Heat Wave is a fine television drama that makes an earnest attempt to unravel the complex issue of racial intolerance. This barebones DVD features a solid sound mix, but only a marginal image transfer. Perhaps a rental is more in order here than an outright purchase.


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