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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 2/23/01

Do the Right Thing

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

The Films of Spike Lee on DVD

Do the Right Thing (Criterion)

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Do the Right Thing
1989 (2001) - Universal (Criterion)

Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A+/A/A+

Specs and Features:

Disc One: The Film
120 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 57:53 in chapter 18), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with writer/producer/director Spike Lee, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, production designer Wynn Thomas and actress Joie Lee, introduced by Chuck D of Public Enemy), animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (32 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0 surround and PCM 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Materials
NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 32:10 in chapter 6 of the documentary), dual Amaray keep case packaging, introduction of supplements by Spike Lee, "behind the scenes" footage with introduction by Spike Lee (48 mins, 6 chapters), storyboards for "The Riot" sequence with introduction by Spike Lee, The Making of Do the Right Thing documentary with introduction by Spike Lee (101 mins, 10 chapters), Back to Bed-Stuy video tour of Bed-Stuy today featuring Spike Lee (5 mins), interview with editor Barry Brown, Cannes 1989 press conference (occasionally in French with burned in English subtitles - 42 mins, 12 chapters), Fight The Power (Long Version) music video with introduction by Spike Lee, theatrical trailer, 2 TV spots, Spike Lee's Last Word outro by Spike Lee, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (see above), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none

Do the Right Thing

Do the Right Thing
1989 (1998) - Universal

Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/A-/D

Specs and Features:

120 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.66:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, production notes, cast and crew biographies and filmographies, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 2.0 surround), subtitles: English and Spanish

Da Mayor: "Doctor, always do the right thing."

Mookie: "That's it?"

Da Mayor: "That's it."

Mookie: "I got it... I'm gone."

A lot of people consider Do the Right Thing to be Spike Lee's best film. I don't know if I agree, because he was so young as a filmmaker when he made it. It's not very fair to limit someone of his talent to hitting his prime the third time out of the gate. On the flip side of that though, Do the Right Thing is arguably his most important so far.

It's the hottest day of the year, during the summer of 1989, and on a small block in the Bed-Stuy division of Brooklyn, people are starting to feel the pressure. We're slowly introduced to each of the citizenry that play into the story, and see right from the beginning what they're all about. Mookie (Lee) is counting his money. Sal (Danny Aiello) arrives at his pizzeria in a Cadillac with his two sons, Pino and Vito, who are at each other's throats about who's responsible for what chores. Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) is popping open his first can of beer of the day. We also meet Radio Raheem, who carries (via his massive boom-box) the anthem of the film: Fight the Power by Public Enemy. And who could forget Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito), a hip-hop, B-boy who has a problem with Sal's pizzeria? It seems that Sal has a "wall of fame" in the restaurant featuring nothing but American-Italians. Buggin' points out that if African-Americans eat there, then there should be some brothers on the wall too. It makes sense, but then again... it's Sal's place. But it's this seemingly trivial point that propels the film from start to finish. And when it's all over, the block will never be the same.

Do the Right Thing is an important film, because even if it seems to be a realistic view of life, it's a fable. It's a microcosmic situation where everything but the necessary point of the film is being told. Every moment is necessary for the next moment to happen. Lee shows style, form and a well-seasoned control here over the film and its outcome. But instead of receiving reckoning and praise, Lee has been attacked time and again for not showing what its really like in Bed-Stuy. Like, "Where's the drugs?" some ask. That's a bunch of bullshit to me. Let's pretend for a moment that all of the drug dealers in Bed-Stuy took the day off and went to Coney Island for a swim. So on this day, all the addicts are inside and the crack houses are closed. That's where the drugs are. If you can't let that go, then get over it. As I said, this is a fable. It's trying to make a point... and it does so very well.

Two versions of this film are available on DVD - the original Universal release and a new 2-disc special edition from Criterion. The original Universal disc looks pretty good, even if it's not anamorphic or even properly framed (the film is 1.85:1, but what you get here is 1.66:1). Because the Criterion disc has a more film-like look, the original disc just looks too digital in comparison. The colors are nice, but blacks hold noticeable artifacting. It's not a bad picture, but it pales next to the Criterion transfer. The sound, on the other hand, is about as good as it is on the Criterion disc (more on that in a minute). The standard fare of production notes, filmographies and a theatrical trailer round out the Universal disc. Not bad I suppose... if you aren't looking for bells, whistles or top of the line presentation.

Thankfully, the Criterion edition is luscious. Disc One presents the film in anamorphic widescreen, at the proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Colors are beautiful, the detail is comb-tooth fine and you'd have to go a long way to see this film looking any better. The sound is also ideal, even though (as I said) it's not too much of an improvement over the Universal disc. It's in both Dolby Digital 2.0 surround and a flatter-sounding PCM 2.0 mix. Both are good, but if you're looking for a theatrical sound in your home, stick with the Dolby track.

Extras on Disc One amount to nothing but a commentary track (introduced by Public Enemy's Chuck D). The track features Lee, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, production designer Wynn Thomas and Lee's sister/actress Joie. They talk mostly about the making of the film, but every once in a while you'll hear some political statements as well, which is fun. Note that the track is the same one used for the earlier Criterion laserdisc release. How do I know? Because Lee mentions that he's in pre-production on the Jackie Robinson film, that has since fallen through. Spike set the deal up with Lorimar in 1987, and then moved it to Turner Pictures in 1995, but the project mysteriously died a year later. If someone reads this and knows why it failed to happen, let me know. I think it can only be one of two things: Denzel bowed out at the last minute (thus killing the deal) or Spike's treatment didn't wow the Turner brass. Anyway, back to the commentary - it's very good and is well worth listening to.

Disc Two is all about supplements. We're greeted by a brief video of Spike, who introduces the supplements... and these are some great extras. All of it appeared on the previous laser, except now we get the long version of the Fight the Power music video, instead of a "making of the video" piece that appeared on the laserdisc. Of the extras available here, two things really stand out. The first is a bunch of "behind the scenes" video footage, shot by Spike and his brother. It's an interesting look at the making of the film, and has a great moment where Danny Aiello tells Spike that he doesn't think Sal's a racist (and isn't playing him that way)... but Spike gets the last word in editing, cutting back to himself to say that Sal IS a racist. This goes back to what I was saying with School Daze - Spike's got an opinion on everything and it isn't up for discussion in his mind. But that raises an interesting question - if the nature of Sal's character seems questionable even to Aiello, did Spike fail as a filmmaker? Or, in attempting to make a "villain", did he accidentally create a better character - a real, three-dimensional person who can be viewed from different perspectives? Lee himself sets up the footage in a video introduction, and the piece runs for some 48 minutes.

The other great bonus is a beautiful documentary, The Making of Do the Right Thing, that runs 101 minutes and shows the atmosphere of the production from start to finish. This is a seldom-seen gem, and it's brilliant. You have to check it out. There's also another video intro that lets us know that Spike seldom storyboards his films. But the treat here is that we actually get to see a rare storyboarded sequence for "The Riot" scene that climaxes the film (with 2 different viewing options). Rounding the supplements out are a short clip of Spike (and his production designer) going back to Brooklyn for a "then and now" tour of the filming location, a set of capsule interviews with editor Barry Brown, a 1989 press conference on the film from Cannes, the theatrical trailer, 2 TV spots and something called Spike Lee's Last Word, which sort of closes out the disc and features a beautiful rant by the director about critics.

Of the two available versions, the obvious way to go is the new Criterion DVD edition. And if you already have the original Universal disc, it's definitely time to upgrade. Criterion's Do The Right Thing belongs in every DVD fan's collection. The set not only gives you the film in great quality, but also provides a way to gain a deeper understanding of it. The second disc alone is worth the upgrade price. Absolutely don't miss it.

Todd Doogan

The Films of Spike Lee on DVD

Do the Right Thing (Criterion)

Do the Right Thing

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