Blu-ray Review
by Kevin Carr

    MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    BLURAY EXPERIENCE: ***** (out of 5 stars)

    Danny Aiello as SAL
    Ossie Davis as DA MAYOR
    Ruby Dee as MOTHER SISTER
    Richard Edson as VITO
    Giancarlo Esposito as BUGGIN OUT
    Spike Lee as MOOKIE
    Bill Nunn as RADIO RAHEEM
    John Turturro as PINO
    John Savage as CLIFTON

    Rated R
    Studio: Universal

    Directed by: Spike Lee

    Back to DVD Review Home


In 1989, Spike Lee released his most influential and most polarizing film of his career, the Oscar-nominated “Do the Right Thing.” Now, it has been given and 20th Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray by Universal.

The story follows a neighborhood in Brooklyn on the hottest day of the year. Several stories weave together, following a pizza delivery kid (Spike Lee), the pizza shop owner (Danny Aiello), the neighborhood drunk (Ossie Davis) and a bunch of kids on the street. As the day wears on, racial tensions mount between the citizens of the neighborhood, the Italian family running the pizza joint and the New York police, culminating in a violent display of defiance.

Whether you find yourself in the camp of Spike Lee fans, or if you’re like myself who doesn’t particularly like his work and finds movies like “Do the Right Thing” pushy and preachy, it is impossible to deny the impact this film has had on American cinema.

A glance at the cast list of “Do the Right Thing” seems like a who’s who list of modern stars. Even names that were big at the time – like Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee – have even more respect today. And at the time, there were virtual unknowns – like John Turturro, Samuel L. Jackson, Martin Lawrence and Rosie Perez – who launched careers from this film. It’s hard to believe that Danny Aiello was the biggest star Lee hooked for this film, considering the rest of the cast.

From a filmmaking perspective, leaving the racially polarizing story out of the mix for the moment, “Do the Right Thing” is a brilliant film. The cinematography is crisp and looks more like that of a big budget motion picture than a small indie film in the late 80s. The use of color and sound to demonstrate the literal heat of the moment is genius work. Similarly, the dynamic shooting of the film mixed up the sets enough that it’s hard to believe everything in the two-hour-plus film took place on the same block.

For the right audience, “Do the Right Thing” is a classic through-and-through. It seizes the racial issues of the day and throttles them around for everyone to see. A hyper-realistic look at racial tensions in the world of 1989, “Do the Right Thing” did the right thing at its particular moment in time for Spike Lee’s career.

While I can appreciate the filmmaking of “Do the Right Thing,” even on viewing it anew 20 years after its release, I still don’t like being preached at. Lee points the fingers of blame at everybody but himself and whom he’d consider friends and family on his block. Sure, the movie opens up the racial problems of everyday life in New York, but it also has a very forgiving tone to what one could label as the oppressed. Spike Lee’s pretentious nature is magnified with this film and its adoration, and he incites more racial unrest by holding close to the belief that a lot of the behavior in this film is justified, even if it is misdirected.

To me (and to most white reviewers, Lee might argue), “Do the Right Thing” is a film of contradictions that does not inspire people to do the right thing but rather react like a caged animal to unfair behavior, even if those who get hurt are not the culprits. Even the final quotes on the film feature contradicting philosophies of the non-violent Martin Luther King and the vengeful Malcolm X. As a film reviewer from the Midwest, it seems that Lee clings harder to Malcolm X’s early beliefs and often rejects the peaceful message from Dr. King.

It is not uncommon for a Blu-ray or DVD release to promise hours of special features, only to lump multiple commentary tracks into that bloated estimation. Commendably, the 20th Anniversary Edition of “Do the Right Thing” promises more than four hours of bonus features, and every minute of that is included in additional features.

Even those who do not like this movie for its message can get lost in the immersive features and extra material on this release.

Eleven deleted and extended scenes are presented, along with two commentary tracks. The first is the feature commentary with Lee, director of photography Ernest Dickerson, production designer Wynn Thomas and actor Joie Lee. The other commentary features Spike Lee in a modern recording for the 20th Anniversary Edition.

A feature-length, hi-def documentary “Do the Right Thing: 20 Years Later” gives a retrospective of the cast and crew. This is in addition to the feature-length “Making Do the Right Thing,” which gives a then-contemporary look at the film’s production. Spike Lee has a strong love for the documentary style, and this comes out in these extended looks at all aspects of the production.

Additional features include Lee’s personal video footage from the set, an interview with editor Barry Brown, a storyboard comparison gallery of the riot sequence and a press conference from the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, where “Do the Right Thing” made such a splash.

Spike Lee devotees, fans of the film and anyone who wants to lather up in the racial drama of 1989.

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