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Spike Lee
Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis
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
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 120 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 7/23/2019

• Audio Commentary with Director Spike Lee, Director of Photography Ernest Dickerson, Production Designer Wynn Thomas and Actor Joie Lee
• “Behind the Scenes” Footage
• 11 Deleted and Extended Scenes
• “The Riot Sequence” Storyboards
• Trailer and TV Spots
• “Making Do the Right Thing” Documentary
• “The One and Only Do the Right Thing” Panel Discussion
• Cannes Press Conference
• Interview with Editor Barry Brown
• Interview with Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter
• “Back to Bed-Stuy” Featurette
• “20 Years Later” Featurette
• Music Video
• “Spike’s Last Word”
• Booklet


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

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 18, 2019)

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. Thing received support during the show, but from an unlikely - and unfortunate - source in Kim Basinger, as her protest at the ceremony provoked more snickers than sympathy.

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 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”. 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 these parts of the film that led some critics to claim that Lee was irresponsible and wanted 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 violent and aggressive. Did I interpret it that way?

No, but I also have the advantage of three 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 presents strengths and weaknesses, and your sympathies may change from viewing to viewing.

As I’ve rewatched Thing multiple times over the years, 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 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, so 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 A-/ 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 excelled.

Sharpness worked well. Some softness emerged due to the photographic choices, but those remained minor and the overall impact seemed tight and precise.

Neither jagged edges nor moiré effects marred the presentation, and I saw no edge haloes. Print flaws didn’t appear.

In terms of palette, the film went with an orange-red tint that accentuated the heat of the blazing day. The hues came across with the appropriate punch and power.

Blacks were deep and dense, while shadows showed good clarity. This became a terrific rendition of the film. .

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Do the Right Thing also offered a pleasing experience, and the soundfield worked well for the movie. The forward spectrum dominated the proceedings with sound that spread well across the front speakers.

Music came across best, as the score appeared nicely delineated. The surrounds added 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 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, so 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.

How did the Criterion Blu-ray compare to the Universal BD from 2009? Audio felt a bit better integrated and more natural.

Visuals demonstrated an even bigger upgrade, especially in terms of palette. The Universal version offered a cooler color timing that stripped away the oppressive sense of heat, so I much prefer the Criterion’s warmer tones.

In addition, the Criterion version looked a bit tighter and cleaner, and it also lost the Universal disc’s smattering of print flaws. The Criterion release became an obvious upgrade.

The Criterion Blu-ray mixes old and new extras. Recorded for the original 1995 Criterion laserdisc, we get an audio commentary with 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 was usually the case for Criterion commentaries in the 1990s, 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.

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.

Shot by Spike Lee and Cinque Lee on a camcorder, Behind the Scenes fills 57 minutes, 59 seconds. The footage focuses 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 compelling to hear the performers talk about their roles and work on them, and we also get to witness some unused material via a rehearsal of a “deleted scene”. It’s a nice little section that provides some great material.

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.

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.

Including Lee’s intro, this area fills 16 minutes, 59 seconds. The boards on the top of the screen with the film on the bottom. This becomes a useful way to examine the sequence.

To finish Disc One, 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.

As we head to Disc Two, we locate Making Do the Right Thing, offers a one-hour, one-minute, two-second look at the film. Also from the 1995 Criterion LD, 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.

I find the show to be very entertaining and compelling. It features 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 seems consistently compelling and informative.

Shot in 1989, a Cannes Press Conference fills 42 minutes, six seconds. This affair apparently followed a press screening of Thing and offers a panel of Spike Lee, Joie Lee, Richard Edson, Ossie Davis, and Ruby Dee.

Despite the additional participants, Spike Lee dominates. 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, as 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 thought processes as the film was about to hit screens.

An interview with editor Barry Brown goes for 10 minutes, Brown discusses his history with Lee and some of his specific work on Thing in a series of comments that are mildly interesting but not particularly fascinating.

The four-minute, 49-second Back to Bed-Stuy 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 changed between the shoot of Thing and 2000, and we hear a few good production tidbits from the two men.

New to the prior Blu-ray, we go to the 35-minute, 46-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.

The set also includes a music video for Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”. It’s a good tune and a mildly interesting Spike Lee-directed video.

Along with the video, we find photographs via a 10-minute, 48-second montage. This becomes a nice collection of shots from the music video production.

The photos can be viewed along with two commentaries from Chuck D. He gives us useful notes about the song and the video.

Spike’s Last Word goes for six minutes, 26 seconds and offers Lee’s valedictory thoughts circa 2000. Lee discusses the reactions to the film and directly addresses many of the movie’s critics in this appealing reel.

A few extras new to the Criterion Blu-ray follow, and The One and Only Do the Right Thing runs 31 minutes, 46 seconds. It features NYC Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr., writer/director Nelson George, and filmmaker Darnell Martin.

They examine the movie’s impact/influence as well as its meaning and relevance 30 years later. Though not the tightest show, it offers some interesting perspectives.

An interview with costume designer Ruth E. Carter takes up 16 minutes, 34 seconds. As expected, Carter discusses her work on the film as well as her collaboration with Spike Lee. Carter gives us a good series of notes.

Finally, a massive 108-page booklet wraps up the set. It includes photos, credits, an essay from critic Vinson Cunningham and excerpts from Spike Lee’s production journal. It concludes matters well.

After 30 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, as it’s a deep, resonant piece. The Blu-ray boasts terrific picture, very good audio and a deep roster of supplements. Criterion make this a stellar release for a great film.

To rate this film, visit the prior review of DO THE RIGHT THING

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main