For some, particularly his younger admirers, Bob Marley has become the face of marijuana. However, more than thirty years after his death, Marley is much more than that: the face of reggae, the spirit of Jamaica, an international symbol of the struggle against oppression.

Given Bob Marley’s immense popularity, it’s amazing that it took this long to get a film about his life completed. Directed by Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland, One Day in September) came to the project after Martin Scorsese and then Jonathan Demme withdrew, in the early stages of production. Made with the full cooperation of family and closest associates, maybe the most complete and intimate portrait of Marley fans will ever get.

Bob MarleyFrom the opening shots, MacDonald does a great job of establishing Bob Marley’s Jamaica. The aerial shots of Jamaica are absolutely stunning, and set the perfect mood. Bob Marley was born on February 6, 1945, in the hamlet of Nine Mile in St. Ann Parish, Jamaica. His mother Cedella was just 18; his father, Norval Sinclair Marley, 60 was a white captain in the Royal Marines. Though Norval married Cedella and provided some monetary support, he was not an active part of their lives. As he grew up, Marley was largely viewed as an outcast because of his bi-racial status.

Using interviews with those who knew Bob Marley as a teen, the film recreates his entry into the world of music. Of particular interest is the interview with Neville “Bunny” Livingston, Marley’s longtime collaborator and an original member of the Wailers. He recalls how Marley began performing as early as grade school, and recorded his first singles as a teenager in 1962. Though Marley formed the original Wailers with Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh back in 1963, Bob would only experience global superstardom in the few years leading up to his 1981 death.

Any true Bob Marley fan will tell you that the singer’s conversion to Rastafarianism was a seminal moment in his life. A man of deep philosophical and religious convictions, Marley used his music to convey his beliefs to people throughout the world. Quite a bit of time is taken explaining what the religion meant to him and exactly how it influenced his life and work.

While there is a good deal of live concert footage, some may feel there’s not enough; this is not a concert film. MacDonald includes a complete performance of “Kinky Reggae,” but it’s used as the soundtrack for a discussion of Marley’s well known infidelity. His wife Rita and daughter Cedella, one of Marley’s 11 (acknowledged) children with seven women, offering some interesting and occasionally surprising thoughts on Bob and how he chose to conduct his personal life.

The other concert footage used is from very difficult times. We see Marley performing in 1976, when political tensions in Jamaica were at their height and just days after he barely escaped an assassination attempt. MacDonald’s greatest success with the film is the fact that he’s able to delve into Bob Marley’s life without turning the project into a fan letter. Marley presents the performer warts and all, allowing viewers to form their own opinions about the reggae legend.

Presented in 1.78:1, Magnolia’s 1080p transfer switches between older footage and modern interviews throughout the runtime. Footage and photographs are in both black and white and color.  Despite the mishmash of video sources, the video looks remarkable good, with colors reproduced as faithfully as possible.

The DTS- HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround track does a fine job with the material. Music, whether it’s live or in studio, takes advantage of the surrounds and sounds clean and clear. Directional effects were a bit lacking at times but all of the interviews are clean and crisp.

English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.

The following special features are available:

  • An Audio Commentary with Director Kevin MacDonald and Ziggy Marley: Ziggy arrives a bit late to the proceedings. MacDonald discusses what he hoped to convey in certain scenes, provides some background information on interviewees, and discusses the logistical issues of making sure those involved would participate. Ziggy provides a son’s perspective on things; an even asks MacDonald a few questions about how a certain look or sound was achieved.
  • Around the World (18:36, HD) An extended look at the end credits, people from Brazil, Tunisia, Tibet, Jamaica, and Japan (among others) discussing the profound affect Bob Marley’s music has had on their lives.
  • An Extended Interview with Bunny Wailer (19:03, HD) He discusses meeting Bob, what it was like to tour with him, being in the studio, etc.
  • Children’s Memories (10:03, HD) further remarks from Bob’s children Ziggy, Stephen and Cedella about Bob Marley, ‘the dad.’
  • Listening to “I’m Loose” (HD, 3:48) A private recording of Bob Marley, seducing some young women via song.
  • Stills Gallery (HD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:56)
  • SiriusXM “Ziggy Marley’s Legends of Reggae” (2:07) A brief clip of an interview with Jimmy Cliff from his radio show.
  • Visit Jamaica (SD, :47) Promo
  • TV Spots for the Soundtrack (SD, :23)