Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing receives a new Blu-ray edition from The Criterion Collection, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on the first dual-layer disc of this two-disc set. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode is sourced from a new 4K restoration scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
I didn’t realize how in need this film was of new restoration until I saw this. The old Criterion DVD hasn’t held up all that well (the artifacts are pretty bad) and while Universal’s respective DVD and Blu-ray special editions offered improvements, the age shows (and the colours are questionable on the Blu-ray). It really is incredible just what a fresh new scan, restoration, and encode can do, and the film has never looked this good. It’s a grainy film, and this has always shown through to varying degrees with every home video edition the film has received, but I’ve never seen it look anywhere near as grainy as it is here, and I’ve never seen it looking so naturally rendered.
That of course helps in better presenting the finer details, and the image is razor sharp most of its running time (ignoring some hazier scenes working to better convey the heat). I was really impressed how better the exterior shots of the neighbourhood are, with every texture and little imperfection looking clearer, giving everything a whole new life.
While textures and details have noticeably improved it’s the colours that are the stand-out. Universal’s previous edition really toned down the reds that were present on Criterion’s DVD. In the commentary on this release (recorded for the Criterion LaserDisc in 1995) director of photography Ernest Dickerson talked about the red hues in the film (an easy and effective way to suggest how hot things are) so it was of course always assumed the red tint was intentional and Universal dropping this took away some of that effect. Well, that red hue is back, though it’s not as “hot” as what was on Criterion’s DVD, still toned down a bit. On Criterion’s DVD skin tones could take a more orange-ish hue, as did shots of the sky and clouds. In both of those cases that is now toned down (skies still look blue, skin tones lean warmer but don’t look orange) but the overall look of the film is significantly warmer and the reds really do pop. Saturation is perfect, no bleeding present, and black levels are deep without killing details; the nighttime shots look great in the end.
And finally I don’t recall any significant damage at all. Criterion’s DVD still delivered a surprising number of print flaws but those have been wiped out here. This is an incredibly clean, pristine looking presentation. In all it looks great, the best I’ve seen the film, and it’s nice to get the red tint back. 10/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion originally released the film on DVD in 2001, porting all of the material over from their previous LaserDisc edition. Since then Universal has released their own DVD and Blu-ray editions, which featured most (but not all) of the material found on Criterion’s DVD. For this edition (marking the film’s 30th anniversary) Criterion manages to include most of the material found across all of the film’s previous releases, enhancing some of them while also adding some more content, creating what is easily the most comprehensive release for the film. Criterion even spreads the material across two dual-layer discs.
Things start off on disc one with the 1995 audio commentary recorded for Criterion’s LaserDisc edition, featuring Spike Lee and his sister Joie Lee, along with cinematographer Ernest Dickerson and production designer Wynn Thomas. Like most commentaries from Criterion at the time all participants have been recorded separately and edited together (Chuck D acts as the moderator). Thomas and Dickerson focus on their specific duties, Thomas on preparing the neighbourhood and the interiors, with a lot of detail about the pizzeria (and yes, it ended up being a fully functional pizzeria), while Dickerson talks about creating the look of a hot day. The two are very technical, with Dickerson getting into deep detail about setting up particular shots, his influences (like cinematographer Jack Cardiff) and the luck he ran into along the way.
Spike Lee is the primary contributor to the track, talking about the genesis of the film, casting, and goes over incidents that influenced moments in the film. Much to my surprise Lee is very open about his intentions, even going so far as explaining how he agrees or disagrees with characters in the film, which of course leads to him explaining how he intentionally wrote the film’s characters as flawed, and even made it hard to sympathize with a lot of them, which of course made the film a bit harder for some audiences because there is no clear cut good guy/bad guy. Both he and his sister talk about the social issues brought up in the film, address the “concerns” that were brought up about the film from the studio and critics, take on unfair criticisms, and talk about the other actors and their own performances (with Spike Lee dryly saying he doesn’t feel his acting “ruined the film”). I’ve listened to the track a few times now and it’s still an extraordinarily rich track, and I think newcomers to the film who are lost after their first viewing will find it invaluable.
Disc one also features a few more supplements found under the “Supplements” section of the menu. The behind-the-scenes footage found on the DVD makes another appearance. Yet again we get the same introduction made by Lee in 2000 for this footage, explaining how he likes to capture this type of material for his films. The footage itself covers a lot of the production, going from read-throughs to the finale, with some rehearsal footage thrown in (like Lee and Aiello working out one of their scenes). In whole the footage runs about 57-minutes, and features interviews from the time with various members of the cast and crew, though I was surprised how often Rosie Perez shows up. There’s a real family vibe to everything.
Criterion then includes 11 deleted scenes that were included on Universal’s special editions for the film, presented in high-definition but receiving no restoration at all. It’s easy to see why most of the material was cut, but I did like a scene where Mookie is looking for a tip after a delivery and there was another between Richard Edson and Joie Lee that is funny but paints Edson’s character in a little bit of a different light. It also presents what is an extended portion between Lee’s and Aiello’s characters that I think may have changed the tone of the ending a bit, and it’s interesting Lee put it in there in the first place only to cut it out. It’s probably more effective how he ended up leaving it. Altogether the material runs around 14-minutes.
Criterion yet again includes a section presenting the storyboards for The Riot Sequence but they have altered the presentation, which was a navigable gallery on the previous DVD. For this edition they again include Lee’s introduction (explaining how he usually doesn’t do storyboards but needed them for this part of the film because of the scale) but present the storyboards as a comparison, splitting the screen between the finished scene and the storyboards. Things changed as they filmed, which is addressed elsewhere in the supplements (like how the fight in the pizzeria was modified due to Aiello refusing to do something), so portions of the storyboards that weren’t filmed are still shown, but the comparison scene is left black. The same goes for something that was filmed but not storyboarded: the scene plays out, but the storyboard portion is left black. It appears every panel is still here, and I found it a far more effective presentation.
Disc one then concludes with the film’s theatrical trailer and 2 TV spots. They are standard-definition upscales and do show that Universal didn’t know how to market the film exactly: the second TV spot really pushes the film as a comedy.
The second dual-layer disc presents the remaining features all from the main menu. Yet again we get the lengthy 61-minute documentary, The Making of “Do the Right Thing,”, though it’s no longer sourced from video tape: it’s been rescanned at 2K and that digital presentation is presented here as-is (it appears no restoration work has been done). It still pairs nicely with the behind-the-scenes footage, but this has a better narrative push to it and covers more ground. Most of the making-of, as expected, covers the actual filming, and it gathers some wonderful interviews with members of the cast and crew (even the extras!), with my favourite being a portion with Giancarlo Esposito. But the most interesting aspect is when the film looks at how this production is impacting the neighbourhood, some people thrilled with it, others not so much. The same 48-second introduction from Lee recorded for Criterion’s DVD, explaining how the documentary came about, has again been included.
Criterion has then produced a new feature for this edition: The One and Only “Do the Right Thing”, a 32-minute program about the impact of the film featuring interviews with New York City council member Robert Cornegy, Jr., writer/director Nelson George, and filmmaker Darnell Martin. Though all three cover what aspects of the film most hit them (whether it be the use of character archetypes, the themes, the editing, or even the colours), or how the film captures the black experience, Cornegy and George share how the film had impacted them (it inspired Cornegy to get into politics, to “make a change,” for example) while Martin, who was 2nd assistance camera on the film, shares stories from working on the film and explains how it inspired her to make her own film. The last edition was missing an outsider’s perspective but this ends up filling that void nicely with the contributions from George and Cornegy.
Footage from the press panel following a screening of the film at the Cannes Film Festival appears again. This segment features Spike Lee, Joie Lee, Richard Edson, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. This lasts about 42 minutes and is yet another interesting feature as you can see how the film had an impact on the audience, and the questions (of which there are many) offer examples of what Lee has been talking about in the commentary and some of his introductions spread throughout this disc in regard to audience reactions to the film.
A couple of crew interviews follow, starting with editor Barry Alexander Brown and recorded in 2000 for the DVD edition of the film. Brown explains how he came onto the film and how structured the script was, which made editing easier. Some of the film’s stand-out moments sound to have been completely made-up in the editing room and it’s amusing to hear that Brown ended up having to film his own quick moment to fix one scene that just wasn’t working. The interview runs 10-minutes.
To follow that Criterion then provides a new interview with costume designer Ruth E. Carter, running 16-minutes.Though it sounds as though Lee came up with his own style for Mookie (which I’m guessing reflected Lee more than anything), Carter explains the design work for a number of characters in the film, having to work them in with the overall style of the film.
Another feature from the DVD edition is the 5-minute return to Bed-Stuy, featuring Lee and producer John Kilik revisiting the shooting location to see how it’s holding up (the murals, for example, are still there but heavily faded) while also sharing some stories from the time (like how Universal was very concerned they were filming in that area). I like these types of features but a more up-to-date one would have made sense: it’s been 19-years or so since this one was filmed, a longer span of time than what passed between when the feature was filmes and the actual film was shot.
This release then ports over a small documentary made for the 20th anniversary Universal DVD edition of the film, Twenty Years Later, featuring interviews with members of the cast and crew following a 20th anniversary screening of the film, including Dickerson, Chuck D, actors Richard Edson, Frankie Faison, Rosie Perez, Luis Ramos, Roger Guenveur Smith, John Savage, John Turturro, propman Kevin Ladson, coproducer Monty Ross, and line producer Jon Kilik. This ends up being a fun addition to the release as it gathers together some great interviews from everyone listed above. Perez, Edson, and Turturro probably get most of the screen (and the story behind how Lee “discovered” Perez is charming as hell, and I don’t recall ever hearing before), but I think it was some of the smaller interviews that charmed me most, like Savage recalling how he quickly got involved, and then hearing how Roger Guenveur Smith worked his way into the film. Impressively this edition is loaded with a lot of interviews and behind the scenes material yet none of it really repeats itself.
Public Enemy’s music video for Fight the Power shows up again, opening with the same introduction by Spike Lee explaining the development that went behind the song, all of which was also found on the DVD Criterion. Added here is a photo gallery presented as a self-running slideshow running 11-minutes and featuring pictures around the making of the video along with the handwritten lyrics. There is also an alternate audio track featuring Chuck D, who goes over being approached by Lee (at a restaurant where he ate a nasty European dish), the inspirations behind the song, and the problems he and other black artists have had to deal with in the music industry (which segues a bit into what is currently wrong with the industry today).
Finally, like the DVD, this edition closes with a final word from Lee: “Spike’s Last Word.” In this 6-minute conclusion Lee addresses the hysteria that arose around the film’s release from white critics and provides quotes from articles stating how this film will cause violence (cue Ron Howard’s narrator voice: “It didn’t”), while expressing frustrations over how some reacted to the film’s conclusion.
This edition then comes with a bulky 100-page booklet that first features a lengthy essay by Vinson Cunningham. But the draw to this will be the extensive number of excerpts from Lee’s journals covering the making of the film, from December of 1987 to August of 1988. Throughout the supplements Lee and crew explain the development but this offers a far more detailed look at the creative process around the film, including how it morphed over time. I’ll admit that due to the length, limited time, and my kids just not letting me sit and read in peace, I didn’t read everything, but even randomly sampling all I got was gold level material. It opens with how Lee envisions the film (first stating he wants the audience to feel like they’re suffocating, ala. In the Heat of the Night) and then he comments on the script and trying to keep the focus (like keeping the eye of the film on the Italian-Black American conflict, while also keeping the humour). There are also notes about the characters, details about him dealing with issues around School Daze’s release and recalling going to studios about Do the Right Thing. He charmingly recounts meeting Rosie Perez for the first time (covered in that one feature) and also mentions going after Robert De Niro for the role of Sal (it appears De Niro was interested but decided he had played that type of character too many times and turned it down). There are then details about shooting and dealing with marketing at Universal, and more. And again, that’s just a small sampling. Sprinkled throughout are references to other films, giving you an idea behind Lee’s influences. Based on what I went through this may be the release’s stand-out addition.
Not everything available on previous editions is available here: the introduction from Lee that opened the supplements of the Criterion DVD is missing (though it was pretty specific to the changing of the new millennia, so maybe it was seen as dated), as is the Roger Ebert article found in the insert of that edition. There was also a solo audio commentary recorded by Lee for the Universal release. Despite that, though, this is easily the most comprehensive and satisfying edition for the film so far, expanding upon the already impressive DVD edition. 10/10