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Spike Lee
Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, John Turturro, Giancarlo Esposito
Writing Credits:
Spike Lee

On the hottest day of the year on a street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, everyone's hate and bigotry smolders and builds until it explodes into violence.

Box Office:
Domestic Gross

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish DTS 5.1
French DTS 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 120 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 6/30/2009

• Audio Commentary with Director Spike Lee, Director of Photography Ernest Dickerson, Production Designer Wynn Thomas and Actor Joie Lee
• Audio Commentary with Director Spike Lee
• “Do the Right Thing: 20 Years Later” Featurette
• 11 Deleted and Extended Scenes
• Five “Behind the Scenes” Featurettes
• “Making Do the Right Thing” Featurettes
• “Editor Barry Brown” Featurettes
• “The Riot Sequence” Storyboards
• “Cannes 1989” Panel Discussion
• Trailer and TV Spots


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Do the Right Thing [Blu-Ray] (1989)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 20, 2016)

When it appeared back in 1989, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing immediately became something of a cause celebre. Critics mainly gave it positive notices despite its gritty and controversial nature. The movie engendered a great deal of debate about its topic and although it didn’t exactly fire up the box office - Thing grabbed about $27 million theatrically - it maintained a high public profile, one that grew when the Academy failed to nominate it for any major Oscars.

In a clear statement of political beliefs, the simple-minded and pat but reassuring Driving Miss Daisy took home the Best Picture nod for 1989. Poor Thing received support during the show, but from an unlikely - and unfortunate - source in Kim Basinger; her protest at the ceremony provoked more snickers than sympathy.

How this affected Lee is anyone’s guess, but I’d imagine he was bothered by such a clear snub from the Academy. Thing received only two Oscar nominations - for Best Writing and Best Supporting Actor (Danny Aiello) - and it won in neither category. Since then, Lee has produced some decent films, but he’s not produced anything that even remotely approaches the quality of Thing.

While it clearly has flaws - as do all of Lee’s flicks - Thing remains easily the strongest film he’s made. Set in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of New York and happens on an extremely hot summer day. The film follows a fairly long roster of characters as they interact during this peruid, but it largely revolves around neighborhood restaurant Sal’s Famous Pizzeria.

Sal (Aiello) and his sons Vito (Richard Edson) and Pino (John Turturro) are white in this largely black area; there are also some Latinos and Asians as well, plus a stray gentrifying white guy. Sal employs Mookie (Lee) as his pizza deliverer, and the entire neighborhood patronizes the joint.

Due to the heat, tensions are high enough as it is, but local rabble-rouser Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito) decides to take a stand due to Sal’s “Wall of Fame”. There Sal displays pictures of prominent Italian-Americans but no blacks, although African-Americans make up the majority of his clientele.

During most of the film, Buggin’ Out’s attempted boycott stays in the background and is only one element among many. However, it becomes central during the movie’s final fourth, when push really comes to shove. I won’t go into detail about what happens, but it was these parts of the film that led some critics to claim that Lee was irresponsible and attempting to incite his audience to riot.

Lee will deny that, and I believe him, but I can also understand why some folks would see the message of Thing as being violent and aggressive. Did I interpret it that way? No, but I also have the advantage of more than two decades of hindsight. I can’t recall exactly how I saw the movie back in 1989, but I’d imagine I failed to see the nuance and depth in it.

Part of that stems from my youth at the time - I was 22 when Thing hit the screens - but a lot of it comes from the movie’s subtlety. At the time, it probably seemed absurd to call Thing a nuanced, understated film, but it really is. Lee has been accused of being a heavy-handed director, and that may well be true for some of his efforts, but it doesn’t apply here. Thing provides a stunningly complex and provocative look at real people and their concerns.

The beauty of Thing is that it features no all-good or all-bad characters. Each person clearly has strengths and weaknesses, and your sympathies may change from viewing to viewing.

As I’ve rewatched Thing - I’d guess this recent screening was probably my sixth or seventh time with the film - I’ve seen more of the positives in Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) - who seemed like a belligerent jerk the first couple of times - and have observed more of the darkness found in Sal. That latter character’s racism becomes clear toward the end of the film, but it reveals itself in more subtle ways throughout the picture. For example, in one scene Pino spouts very nasty slurs and ideas, but Sal rebuts them only in the most minor way, and in a manner that doesn’t address Pino’s way of thinking other than as a practical matter.

No one gets off easy in Thing, and that particularly applies to Lee’s own character of Mookie. As Lee recognizes in the disc’s supplements, Mookie’s pretty lazy, and his priorities aren’t in the right place. We can tell he’s not a bad guy, but he’s definitely no one’s idea of a hero.

Mookie has always been a lightning rod for discussions of Thing, mainly because he’s the character about whom we can most clearly ask: did he do the right thing? There’s no simple answer to that question, and not just because I don’t want to reveal any potential spoilers.

Honestly, I used to think the reply was a definite “no”, but I now don’t feel so strongly about that decision. Mookie’s motives have become clearer, and while I can’t say that his action was “right”, I also don’t feel it was clearly “wrong”.

Parts of Thing seem dated, mostly due to ever-evolving fashions. However, the vast majority of the film appears as powerful and as resonant as the day it was made. Some of the political elements come across as quaint - especially the movie’s semi-indirect mention of noted liar Tawana Brawley - but most of the picture doesn’t revolve around issues circa 1988-89. Instead, the film sticks with basic concerns about race relations, and unfortunately, that’s not a subject that seems any less relevant now than it did then.

In addition to Lee’s rich script and deft direction, Thing benefits from an extremely solid cast. There’s not a dog in the bunch, and each brings depth and complexity to their roles.

I’m especially fond of Ossie Davis’ turn as Da Mayor. This character easily could degenerate into a comic drunk, but Davis exposes a variety of emotions and attitudes through the role. He’s the best in a strong group.

As we find out in the supplements, the studio wanted Lee to film the movie somewhere other than New York due to cost issues, but I’m glad he stuck to his guns, for Thing clearly works better due to the realism of its world. The film shows a live, active environment that seems exceedingly true-to-life; you never doubt the reality of the situation. Upon repeated viewings, it becomes fun just to watch the activity in the background that you missed the first time; there’s a lot going on here, and it all contributes to the film’s effect.

I used to think that Do the Right Thing was overrated, but I no longer feel that way. As I’ve rewatched the film, its complexity and depth have become clearer to me, while its negatives have largely fallen by the wayside. Normally this kind of film wouldn’t stand up well through repeated screenings, but for some reason Thing actually has become more compelling as time has passed. It’s a powerful gem that deserves all of the accolades it’s received.

The Disc Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B/ Bonus A

Do the Right Thing appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. The transfer came with a mix of good and bad.

One controversy has accompanied the Blu-ray: its palette. While the Criterion DVD from 2001 went with an orange-red tint that accentuated the heat of the blazing day, the Blu-ray came across as much cooler. While it still favored reds and oranges, these weren’t nearly as heavy.

Which palette is correct? That’s a subject for debate; I strongly suspect the movie’s supposed to display the more oppressive hues of the Criterion DVD – a belief supported by comments on the disc’s extras - but I can’t say that for certain. (If you want to compare the palettes, look at the “20 Years On” program elsewhere on this disc; its movie clips feature decidedly denser tones.)

If we ignore the issue of correctness, the colors of the Blu-ray looked good. They seemed concise and vivid throughout the movie, and lacked any significant flaws other than the possibility that they should be hotter. Blacks were deep and dense, while shadows showed good clarity.

For the most part, sharpness seemed positive. I noticed some light edge haloes, and wide shots occasionally looked a bit soft, but those weren’t substantial concerns. The majority of the flick offered solid definition. I noticed no shimmering or jaggies, but minor source flaws cropped up throughout the flick. Sporadic instances of specks appeared; these weren’t a consistent distraction, but they were a periodic factor. I liked most of the transfer, but I thought it had enough concerns to make it a “B-“ presentation.

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Do the Right Thing also offered a generally pleasing experience. Although the soundfield didn’t seem especially natural, it worked fairly well for the movie. The forward spectrum dominated the proceedings with sound that spread adequately across the front speakers.

Music came across best, as the score appeared nicely delineated. The surrounds added generally positive reinforcement for the music and the effects, and the rears could become surprisingly involving at times, such as when fire raged across the screen.

Audio quality was good. Speech seemed distinct and acceptably natural with no problems related to intelligibility. Effects were reasonably clear and realistic, and they boasted nice low-end when appropriate.

Music fared nicely, as both the score and the endless repetitions of “Fight the Power” sounded deep and accurate; the bass response for these various tunes seemed rich. All in all, the soundtrack was better than expected and added good punch to the package.

The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras. Recorded for the original 1995 Criterion laserdisc, the first of two audio commentaries includes remarks from director Spike Lee, actor Joie Lee, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, and production designer Wynn Thomas, and it’s hosted by Chuck D of Public Enemy. None of the participants sat together for the sessions; as is usually the case for Criterion commentaries, each person was interviewed separately and the results were edited together for this track.

As a whole, this commentary provides a solid look at the creation of the film. Considering the personnel involved, it isn’t surprising that much of the focus is on technical matters, and both Thomas and Dickerson do a terrific job of informing us about decisions made in regard to the film’s look; their statements added a lot to my appreciation of those issues.

However, the commentary isn’t simply a compendium of dry technical details. In fact, most of it looks at creative issues, and all four participants provide nice notes that made for a strong piece.

A “20th anniversary commentary presents director Spike Lee all on his own. In this running, screen-specific piece, Lee discusses music, cast, characters and performances, sets and locations, camerawork and visual design, various influences and inspirations, and a few other production areas.

The other Lee commentaries I’ve heard tend to be spotty at best, and this one continues that tradition. Much of the time, Lee does little more than name characters and actors or quote the film and laugh. The smattering of actual informational nuggets tend to be redundant, as we already heard them in the prior commentary. Lots of dead air appears, and the track gets worse as it progresses. As long as you stick with the other track, you can safely skip this inconsistent commentary.

For another new component, we go to the 35-minute, 47-second Do the Right Thing: 20 Years Later. It offers notes from Spike Lee, Dickerson, third assistant prop master Kevin Ladson, musician Chuck D, co-producer Monty Ross, line producer Jon Kilik, and actors Rosie Perez, John Turturro, Richard Edson, Steven Park, Luis Ramos, Roger Guenvuer Smith, John Savage, and Frankie Faison. The show looks at the origins and development of the film, its visual design and photography, cast, characters and performances, the movie’s music, and some general thoughts about the production.

Expect a lively look at the movie here. It’s not the most concise investigation of the production, but it moves well and throws in a lot of good tales. We get a nice program.

11 Deleted and Extended Scenes run a total of 14 minutes, 14 seconds. Most of these offer short character snippets. Jade gets a bit more play, and we see more from Cee and Punchy. I particularly like Mookie’s attempts to get a tip from a cheap customer, and some of the others offer minor character information. I think the pizza delivery scene could’ve worked in the final film, but the others would’ve slowed down the tale too much.

Making Do the Right Thing offers a one-hour, one-minute and one-second look at the film; it also appeared on the original Criterion release. Helmed by director St. Clair Bourne, this program provides an excellent overview of the production. It starts with the entry of construction crews into the neighborhood where they shot the film, and it ends with the dismantling of a variety of sets; in between we learn a lot about various aspects of the process.

When I got the LD in 1999, I watched this documentary but I didn’t especially like it. Why?

I have no idea. On another go-round, I found the show to be very entertaining and informative. It featured a fine peek at lots of elements of the production, from rehearsals to the effect on the community to fine-tuning on the set and many other areas. All in all, the program was consistently compelling.

Under Behind the Scenes, we get five featurettes that fill 57 minute, 59 seconds. Though the content doesn’t differ radically from what we saw in the “Making of…” program, “Behind the Scenes” nonetheless offers a lot of interesting material.

The focus is strongly on the actors, as we watch them during their introductions to each other and the initial read-through of the script and then progress through character discussions and alterations made. It’s quite compelling to hear the performers talk about their roles and work on them. It’s a nice little section that provides some great material.

Back to Bed-Stuy appears within the menu for “The Making of Do the Right Thing”. This four-minute and 49-second clip shows Spike Lee and line producer Jon Kilik as they tour the film’s locations. It’s a moderately interesting piece that shows how the neighborhood’s changed, and we hear a few good production tidbits from the two men.

A Cannes, 1989 press conference apparently followed a press screening of Thing and offers a panel of Spike Lee, Joie Lee, Richard Edson, Ossie Davis, and Ruby Dee. The program lasts for 42 minutes and 22 seconds and it seems to include the entire conference.

Despite the additional participants, this essentially is a Spike Lee interview. The other four folks get to answer a question or two, but the majority head toward Spike.

It’s interesting to watch just because this was probably Lee’s first strong taste of the controversy that would greet him; the points raised would be discussed to death in the months to come. In any case, the program is fairly compelling and it provides a nice snapshot of Lee’s though process as the film was about to hit screens.

More interviews can be found in a section devoted to editor Barry Brown. Here we find discussions with the film’s editor, and these are split into four separate subdomains. As with the “Behind the Scenes” footage, each can be watched on its own or back-to-back via the “View All” option. The snippets run a total of nine minutes and 38 seconds of clips. Brown discusses his history with Lee and some of his specific work on Thing in a series of comments that are mildly interesting but nothing particularly fascinating.

A series of storyboards appear in the Riot Sequence area. According to his introduction, Lee rarely storyboards his films, but he did so for this particularly complex part of Thing, and all of these images can be found on the disc. The boards are presented three to a screen, but you can easily enlarge any of them.

Finally, we find the film’s theatrical trailer plus two TV spots. The former is entertaining if just because of the awkwardly-dubbed substitutions used to cover some profanity.

The Blu-ray drops only one disc-based component from the Criterion DVD: a music video for Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”. I don’t know why it goes missing, but I’d assume it’s a rights issue.

After more than 25 years, Do the Right Thing remains provocative and gripping. Despite some flaws, it’s still Spike Lee’s best movie, and it keeps that title without much argument; it’s a deep, resonant piece. The Blu-ray boasts good audio and mostly great supplements, but picture quality is an issue due to potential palette problems. If you don’t mind what appear to be incorrect colors, you’ll be very happy with this release, but I think it’s a disappointment, as I don’t believe it accurately represents the filmmaker’s original choices.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.6 Stars Number of Votes: 5
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