Well, here it is at last – the trailer to Tim Story’s 2019 take on Shaft. When New Line announced the movie back in July 2015 it was promoted as an action comedy sending fans, including myself, running for the hills. As a Shaft purist – I mean the Shaft of the novels… Ernest Tidyman’s Shaft – I didn’t want to see John Shaft given the Black Dynamite approach, otherwise why not call it Black Dynamite? Whilst the trailer doesn’t suggest the movie has descended the series into camp, it does confirm that the main selling point will be the comedy rather than the plot. Sometimes trailers can be misleading, selling a film the producers believe people want to see rather than the one that has been made. I fear that will not be the case here, so any lingering hopes I had of this being a serious attempt to relaunch the franchise with any semblance of authenticity have all but vanished. That doesn’t mean to say Shaft won’t be a fun movie, I did laugh a couple of times during the trailer – the contrast between the politically incorrect first two Shaft generations (Roundtree and Jackson) and the latest (Usher) also has some interesting possibilities, more than hinted at here. It just doesn’t look and feel like my Shaft… Ernest Tidyman’s Shaft.
ComicBook.com reports New Line has released the official synopsis for their Shaft sequel to be released next summer. The synopsis reads as follows:
“Shaft is the next chapter in the film franchise featuring the coolest private eye on any New York City block. JJ, aka John Shaft Jr. (Usher), may be a cyber security expert with a degree from MIT, but to uncover the truth behind his best friend’s untimely death, he needs an education only his dad can provide. Absent throughout JJ’s youth, the legendary locked-and-loaded John Shaft (Jackson) agrees to help his progeny navigate Harlem’s heroin-infested underbelly. And while JJ’s own FBI analyst’s badge may clash with his dad’s trademark leather coat, there’s no denying family. Besides, Shaft’s got an agenda of his own, and a score to settle that’s professional and personal.”
The film is a follow-up to 2000’s Shaft and again stars Samuel L Jackson as John Shaft, nephew of Richard Roundtree’s original John Shaft. Roundtree reprises his role and they are joined by Jessie T. Usher playing Jackson’s son. Tim Story directs the screenplay by Kenya Barris and Alex Barnow.
Although filming wrapped on Tim Story’s Shaft sequel in February, the cast have been assembled for some re-shoots in Atlanta. Casting agencies are on the lookout for extras who are former or current police or military. The call has also been made for an African American/Black Female with Gray Hair and extras of all ethnic backgrounds for a 1990s flashback scene. Filming will take place this weekend.
Christopher Lennertz is named by IMdB and Film Music Reporter as the man tasked with writing the score to the latest Shaftmovie, due out in the summer of 2019. Lennertz has worked on a host of films and TV series since 1994, including the recent Lost in Space TV reboot. He previously worked with director Tim Story on 2014’s action comedy, Ride Along and its 2016 sequel. He also scored Pitch Perfect 3 and the recent remake of Baywatch. He won an Emmy in 2006 for his score for Supernatural. He has also scored several video games including the James Bond release From Russia With Love, for which he received good reviews for the way he recalled John Barry’s style. An adaptable composer, it will be interesting to see if he can add a distinctive feel to his score for Shaft.
Well, here we are again. Another year on and it seems to have gone so quickly. At this time last year I gave a summary of activity in the world of John Shaft. It came at the end of an exciting two years, which saw the publication of two original comic books as well as a new novel, all written by David F Walker, relaunching Ernest Tidyman’s detective in literary form.
Walker had done a superb job at introducing the character to a new audience. His work proved to be a real treat for fans of the original books and films. Despite critical acclaim, these books did not sell in sufficient quantities to satisfy publishers Dynamite Entertainment and a planned reprint of Tidyman’s original novels stalled after the first release. The Italian reprints through SUR, however, did at least continue with the publication of the second book, Shaft Among the Jews, in January (retitled Shaft Tragli Ebrei).
Also in January, further news on the proposed new Shaft movie emerged when Tim Story was announced as director. The fact that Story has a string of comedic action tales to his credit added further fuel to the fire that the producers were moving away from the original concept.
In February, Walker’s Shaft: Imitation of Life comic book was nominated for the 2017 Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity. Whilst the book failed to win the award, it was further acknowledgement of Walker’s achievements. The writer would go on to produce high profile work away from Dynamite with a new Luke Cage series for Marvel along with Power Man and Iron Fist and Occupy Avengers and a comic series book series of Planet of the Apes for Boom.
All went quiet in the Shaft world until August, when in an interview Story confirmed, “My Shaft movie is going to be definitely not straight action. We’re going action-comedy or comedy-action, I’m not exactly sure which one comes first. We’re going to definitely make sure the stakes in the world are real, and then you’ve got these characters who are dealing with kind of a father/son situation, we’re going to see them put a family back together.”
Pre-production was mobilised and casting commenced with Jessie T Usher confirmed as the son of Samuel L Jackson’s John Shaft, who in turn is the nephew of Richard Roundtree’s original. The film, provisionally titled Son of Shaft, is therefore a sequel to John Singleton’s 2000 Shaft, which starred Jackson and was a belated sequel to the original Shaft trilogy from the early 1970s. What modern audiences will make of these nods to the character’s cinematic legacy remains to be seen, but it feels like this is Shaft in name only. Usher’s character is described as being at odds with the old-school methods of detection employed by his father – being a more tech-savvy sleuth working for the FBI. With the tone set for an action-comedy, the result is likely to be far-removed from Tidyman’s gritty novels and Gordon Parks’ iconic 1971 interpretation.
Alexandra Shipp and Regina Hall, the latter as Shaft Jr’s mother, were also added to the cast and shooting commenced in Atlanta in December with a scheduled move to New York planned in early 2018. A June 2019 release date has also been slated and a distribution deal has been agreed by New Line with internet movie provider, Netflix.
So, with 18 months to wait before we get to see any new Shaft on screen, what else is happening? Well the answer is not much. Whilst the original Shaft was finally released on Blu-ray in the UK in October, we still await BD releases of Shaft’s Big Score! and Shaft in Africa anywhere in the world. My guess is these will be released in 2019 to coincide with the new movie. Whether, Dynamite will follow suit by reprinting the remainder of Tidyman’s novels remains to be seen.
I remain hopeful hype around the movie will bring the Shaft legacy into the public eye once more – despite my reservations about its tone and subject matter. Dynamite still owns the literary rights, so maybe interest will be rekindled in commissioning more original literary work whether in comic book form or prose, hopefully with Walker on board.
A number of websites and trade papers are reporting New Line’s negotiations with actress Alexandra Shipp to join the cast of Tim Story’s new Shaft sequel. What role Shipp (who recently appeared as Storm in X-Men: Apocalypse) will take is not yet known. Jessie T. Usher has already been signed to play the son of Samuel L Jackson’s John Shaft – the nephew of Richard Roundtree’s original John Shaft.
In addition DenofGeek.com report a newly released synopsis for the movie provisionally titled Son of Shaft:
Working for the FBI, estranged from his father and determined not to be anything like him, John Shaft Jr. reluctantly enlists his father’s help to find out who killed his best friend Karim and bring down a drug-trafficking/money-laundering operation in NYC.
Production is due to commence in December, meaning a winter shoot emulating the original Shaft movie which started shooting in January 1971. Larry Blanford who worked with Story on Ride Along and Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, will be the director of photography.
Well, after months of silence on this project, director Tim Story has given some clues as to the tone of the upcoming Shaft reboot. Story was interviewed at Showtime’s Television Critics Association party (reported by SlashFilm.com) where he said, “My Shaft movie is going to be definitely not straight action. We’re going action-comedy or comedy-action, I’m not exactly sure which one comes first. We’re going to definitely make sure the stakes in the world are real, and then you’ve got these characters who are dealing with kind of a father/son situation, we’re going to see them put a family back together.”
Story goes on to say, “We’re still paying an homage to the original, so [Shaft] still means what it means. At the end of the day though, it does mean just a strong figure. We also have Shaft’s son’s mom in it as well. She’s a strong figure as well. It’s not even specific to the male. It’s specific to just strong people.”
This news is not what fans of Ernest Tidyman’s creation were wanting to hear. David F Walker showed how the character could be made relevant again to a modern audience with his comic book series, Shaft: A Complicated Man, which in my view would have made for a great movie adaptation to re-introduce a cultural icon. What it seems like we’re going to get instead is something that is perceived to be more acceptable to an undemanding movie-going public, trading off a brand name.
Whatever it turns out to be, I hold no confidence it will be add anything positive to the Shaft legacy.