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Do the Right Thing(1989)
Visionary filmmaker Spike Lee is at the top of his game in this film about a racially divided neighborhood facing a scorching summer heat wave. On the hottest day of the year, the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn becomes a crucible for the wide-ranging racial, social and economic beliefs of its residents. During a 24-hour period that changes lives forever, the neighborhood’s tenuous equilibrium boils over into a showdown between longtime business owner Sal (Danny Aiello) and the neighborhood’s African-American majority. In a slyly funny and riveting expose of racial tensions in the inner city, Lee unflinchingly confronts profoundly sensitive issues as violence threatens to explode against a throbbing musical backdrop.
For more about Do the Right Thing and the Do the Right Thing Blu-ray release, see the Do the Right Thing Blu-ray Review
Starring: Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Rosie Pérez, John Turturro
Director: Spike Lee
» See full cast & crew
Do the Right Thing Blu-ray Review
Yo! Hold up! Time out! Time out! Ya'll take a chill.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, June 10, 2009
"In the year of our Lord, 2009," as Spike Lee would say, things are different. For one, there's an African-American president in the White House. A huge percentage of voters rallied behind Barack Obama last November in ways that, forty, thirty, or even twenty years ago would have seemed like a pipe dream, a naïve and overly optimistic hope for racial equality. America, stalwart Lady that she is, seems primed for change—last year's buzzword—but this in no way means that racism has been magically eradicated. Take the violent distrust, for example, that was thrust on the Arab-American population after 2001's grim terrorist attacks. Or the hostile attitudes many still hold toward migrant workers, attitudes that go beyond border control and well into the realm of hateful ideology. I'm even sad to report that the Klan, despite local protest, still holds an annual parade in a town near mine. So no, America has not yet joined hands in a "We Are the World" style sing-a-long. Misconceptions still exist, fear still thrives, and people still pit themselves against one another in out-dated and illogical ways. We are, however, on the right path, and the scenery is starting to change. If Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee's radical look at 1980's race relations, is any indication—and it is—we've come a long way, and the film, 20 years later, also reminds us of how far we have left to go.
Shot on location in Brooklyn's infamous Bed-Stuy neighborhood, featured more recently in Dave Chappele's Block Party, Do the Right Thing is the quintessential summer- in-the-city film. Fireplugs are uncorked, the unemployed laze on sunny concrete stoops, and ever so subtly, tensions rise with the temperature until the mercury boils and shatters the cultural thermometer. The film takes place within 24 hours on the hottest day of the year, and centers around Sal's Famous, an Italian pizzeria in a largely black community. Sal, played with can-do vigor by the always-reliable Danny Aiello (Jacob's Ladder), is a fixture on the block. Neighborhood kids have grown up eating his pizza, and he feels a certain parental pride in this small but nourishing accomplishment. His sons Vito (Richard Edson) and Pino (John Turturro) help man the shop, while the sole black employee, Mookie (a wiry and energetic Spike Lee), handles all of the deliveries. When Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito), a young radical, complains that there are no "brothers" on the pizza joint's Italian-centric Wall of Fame, the small conflict nevertheless escalates throughout the day, and ends with a riotous, destructive, and unexpected series of racially-charged events.
Do the Right Thing is populated with an entertaining cast of street characters who play witness to, and sometimes directly affect, the day's swift undercurrent of hostility. Ossie Davis is Da Mayor, a tattered old drunk who sees himself as the neighborhood's unofficial head-of-state. Ruby Dee plays Mother Sister, a street-watcher who knows the comings and goings of everyone on the block. A young Martin Lawrence whiles away the day as Cee, a name that alludes to his lisping speech impediment. The most interesting and volatile of these characters, however, is Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn), a boom-box toting tough who sports brass knuckles inscribed with L- O-V-E and H-A-T-E, a direct reference to the surreal classic Night of the Hunter. He even goes so far as giving the "let me tell you the story of left hand, right hand" speech, but updated for a new and slang-heavy decade.
The love/hate dichotomy is a fitting symbol for the film's somewhat shaky message, and is further elucidated by the inclusion of two quotes that end the film. In the first, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. says, "Violence, as a way of achieving racial justice, is both impractical and immoral." The second and—importantly—final quote, from Malcolm X, gives a somewhat contrasting view. "You and I have to preserve the right to do what is necessary to bring and end to that situation," he says, "and it doesn't mean that I advocate violence, but at the same time I am not against using violence in self-defense. I don't even call it violence when it's self-defense, I call it intelligence." And while Spike Lee seems to be saying that there are times when fighting back is preferable to turning the other cheek, the film's ending doesn't really jive with this assessment. Yes, the citizens of Bed-Stuy fight back, but their aggression is aimed in the wrong direction entirely. Though this could be construed as a philosophical oversight on Spike Lee's part, I prefer to think that Do the Right Thing's misplaced anger exists to show the irrationality of the mob and the absurdity to which racism inevitably leads.
Whatever your take on the somewhat controversial ending, Do the Right Thing exists and succeeds as a cultural touch-stone by which to measure our changing racial attitudes. It's a relief to look back twenty years and see that yes, we have matured as a society, for the most part. Though racism is still readily present, its violent elements have largely been internalized and hushed. While Do the Right Thing may seem radical and over-impulsive by today's standards, it does serve to remind that desperate times often do call for desperate measures.
Do the Right Thing Blu-ray, Video Quality
For a twenty-year old catalog title, Do the Right Thing's AVC 1080p 1.85:1 transfer pops and sizzles like an egg frying on the hood of a Cadillac. As a film about the hottest day of a New York summer, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson was charged with finding a way to convincingly portray heat on the screen. His solution? Color psychology. The film is awash in big, bold, sun- drenched hues that make other films' warm tones seem flat out cold. Morning light streams through windows in saturated yellows, the late-afternoon sundown swelter burns with almost violent oranges, and the films Greek chorus—a trio of loquacious corner men—sits in front of a brick wall painted a vibrant fire-truck red. The lighting is highly stylized at times and immensely effective at transforming the screen into a virtual thermometer.
Other elements of the picture are equally impressive. Check out the inkiness of Sam Jackson's sunglasses, for example, or examine the dynamic lighting of Mookie's shower scene. Deep black levels and strong, but rarely too hot contrast go a long way in giving Do the Right Thing a palpable sense of depth. And while it's not the sharpest transfer I've encountered, the film fares well for its age and budget. Medium and long shots can look a bit soft at times, but close-ups are crisp and well textured. I was particularly impressed by the macro shot of Mookie running an ice cube over his girlfriend Tina's lips. The film has a pleasing grain field that suits the gritty summer tone, and although there are some specks on the print, I didn't notice any evidence of sloppy DNR or the hello-I'm-here halos of over-zealous edge enhancement. There are a few small staircases of digital banding in Tina's apartment and surrounding some bright light sources, but you'd have to sit fairly close to your screen to even notice them. The only other qualm I have is with the occasional sense of stutter when the camera pans quickly. These really are negligible complaints though. Overall, I'm sure this transfer sits very close to Spike Lee's intentions for the film, and the visual acumen on display here is a joy to watch.
Do the Right Thing Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" plays something like fifteen times during the course of Do the Right Thing and this DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless track handles each appearance (and the whole film) with a capable, if somewhat ironically under-powered aplomb. For a film that takes place smack in the center of a busy city block, I was hoping for a bit more immersion from the rear channels. Granted, I don't want or need to hear every car whiz by cleverly or feel the Doppler effect of sirens wail in cross-channel glory, but a slight boost in ambience would've been appreciated. I don't mean that to sound disparaging, because I really did enjoy the audio experience of Do the Right Thing and the sound is likely exactly as intended. And what the track does, it does quite well. Dueling boom-boxes blare with LFE-heavy bass-lines, the climax is especially frenzied and involved, and the film delights in Robert Altman-esque levels of overlapping but never muddled dialogue.
Do the Right Thing Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
This 20th anniversary edition of Do the Right Thing arrives with a comprehensive and quite literally exhaustive supply of supplements. While most of the features are recycled from the prior Criterion Collection DVD release, there are some notable additions, including a retrospective, a new commentary by Spike Lee, and deleted scenes available in high definition for the first time.
Do the Right Thing: 20 Years Later (1080i, 35:47)
Image Nation held a celebratory 20th anniversary screening of Do the Right Thing, drawing together a good number of the cast and crew, and Spike Lee took the opportunity to interview them about their experiences. This piece is one of the most entertaining supplements, namely because almost everyone involved has some sort of crazy story about the production. Rosie Perez, who planned on becoming a biochemist, had a chance encounter with Spike in a reggae club that would change her life. John Turturro was concerned, after he saw the dailies, that he might get beat up on the subway. And John Savage, who had claimed for years that Larry Bird gave him the Celtics jersey he wears in the film, has this claim refuted hilariously by Spike, who says he bought the shirt himself.
Deleted and Extended Scenes (1080p, 14:14)
Note that while these eleven scenes are indeed broadcast in high-def, they haven't been mastered to the level of the finished film and are generally marred by ample scratches and flecks.
Recorded in 2005, this track will be familiar to owners of previous DVD incarnations of the film. The commentary features Spike Lee, Director of Photography Ernest Dickerson, Production Designer Wynn Thomas, and Actor Joie Lee (though not all at the same time). While the track provides some interesting technical and cultural insights, the participants are generally subdued and soft-spoken, and so the track tends to drag in parts.
20th Anniversary Edition Feature Commentary
This new track proves to be a bit livelier story-wise than the previous one, and although there's some topical over-lap between the two, the new commentary is certainly welcome. Be forewarned though, there are several scenes where it seems like Spike is content to just sit back and watch the film.
Behind the Scenes (480p, 57:59)
Featuring a series of Hi-8 tapes shot by Spike Lee and his brother, this lengthy section is broken, by theme, into a number of smaller pieces. Highlights include an early meet-and-greet read- through with the principles actors, Giancarlo Esposito generating a ridiculous back-story for his bug-eyed character, and the crew presenting Spike with some gag gifts during the film's wrap party. While only die-hard fans will manage to sit through the whole affair, the tapes have some enlightening moments that are there for those who want them.
Making Do the Right Thing (480p, 1:01:01)
As Spike says in his intro, this is not one of those "regular, bullshit EPK things." Directed by St. Clair Bourne and shot during the film's production, this documentary chronicles the creation of Do the Right Thing, focusing especially on the Bed-Stuy neighborhood in which the film takes place. At the time, Bed-Stuy was a moderately dangerous place to shoot, and a few crack houses were even shut down by the production before filming took place. The production spent six weeks prepping the neighborhood, tried to hire as many local workers as possible, and even invited the whole community out for a massive block party to herald the start of filming. While some community members were thrilled by the film's presence, others were annoyed by having to tip-toe around their own neighborhood. Though it runs a little long, the documentary is worth watching, if only for the slice-of-life look at Brooklyn in the mid-1980's.
This section also includes a "Back to Bed-Stuy" segment that follows Spike as he walks through the neighborhood and reminisces about shooting.
Editor Barry Brown (480p, 9:38)
Barry Brown discusses how he met Spike, the pacing of the film, and problems that were encountered during the filming/editing process.
The Riot Sequence
This small section includes an introduction by Spike Lee, in which he briefly talks about doing storyboards for the riot scene, and a 1080p gallery of the storyboards themselves.
Cannes, 1989 (480p, 42:00)
This Q&A panel session was filmed, appropriately enough, on Malcolm X's birthday, and Spike Lee provides some illuminating answers regarding the use of the Malcolm X quote at the end of the film. Taking part in the panel are Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Spike Lee, Joie Lee, and Richard Edson. While many of the questions and answers are interesting, the session is presented untrimmed and it gets occasionally tiring to wait in silence while the journalists' inquiries are translated for the panel members.
The package also includes a theatrical trailer and two TV spots, all in standard definition.
Do the Right Thing Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Prefiguring the Rodney King beating and LA race riots that would come later, Do the Right Thing, as a cultural document, is both foreseeing and astute in its brash indictment of racism in America. As a film, it's entertaining and pointed, a sweltering fever-pitched melting pot that boils over a long, slow burn. And as a package, this Blu-ray disc delivers the cinematic goods, with excellent picture, clear sound, and a set of supplementary features that puts other films to shame. This one comes highly recommended, and that's the double-truth, Ruth.
Do the Right Thing: Other Editions
Do the Right Thing Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Do the Right Thing Headed to Blu-ray - April 2, 2009
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring the Spike Lee film 'Do the Right Thing: 20th Anniversary Edition' to Blu-ray on June 30th, day-and-date with the DVD re-release. The film will be presented on a BD-50 featuring 1.85:1 1080p ...
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