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Spike Lee
Laurence Fishburne, Spike Lee, Giancarlo Esposito
Writing Credits:
Spike Lee

Various factions conflict with each other at a Historically Black University.

Box Office:
$6.5 million.
Opening Weekend:
$1,802,656 on 220 Screens.
Domestic Gross:

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 120 min.
Price: $14.99
Release Date: 11/13/2018

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director/Actor Spike Lee
• Audio Commentary with Actors Tisha Campbell, Rusty Cundieff, Bill Nunn, Darryl Bell and Kadeem Hardison
• Anniversary Q&A
• “Birth of a Nation” Featurette
• “College Daze” Featurette
• “Making a Mark” Featurette
• Music Videos


-LG OLED65C6P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV
-Marantz SR7010 9.2 Channel Full 4K Ultra HD AV Surround Receiver
-Panasonic DMP-BDT220P Blu-Ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


School Daze [Blu-Ray] (1988)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 19, 2023)

After the success of his first feature film - 1986’s She’s Gotta Have It - the major studios inevitably pursued writer/director Spike Lee to produce his next effort. Once Columbia grabbed him, Lee turned his eye toward a subject foreign to most moviegoers: the atmosphere at America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Lee attended Morehouse, so his interest in this subject seemed logical. 1988’s School Daze became the result, an erratic but generally interesting look at the subject.

Daze focuses on the events at fictional Mission College during Homecoming Weekend. Vaughn “Dap” Dunlap (Laurence Fishburne) pursues a political agenda that raises the ire of school administration.

Dap also butts heads with Julian "Dean Big Brother Almighty" Eaves (Giancarlo Esposito), the leader of Gamma Phi Gamma fraternity and Dap’s rival/opposite.

Dap’s cousin Darrell "Half-Pint" Dunlap (Lee) eagerly pledges Gamma, much to Dap’s disapproval. Along with romantic concerns, the conflict between Dap and Julian comes to a head with major repercussions.

Lee’s look at HBCUs, Daze seems to be equal parts celebration and condemnation. The former appears evident through Lee’s emphasis on much of the pageantry of the occasion.

A variety of events like step shows and parades receive much more screen time than one would expect, and though these scenes feel somewhat self-indulgent at times, I suppose they become necessary to provide viewers unfamiliar with the events the appropriate background.

Actually, Daze functions as a pseudo-musical, though it really only includes one true production number: a fantasy battle over hairstyles between the “Wannabes” - who allegedly want to look white - and the “Jigaboos” - who prefer more natural appearances - that seems to take West Side Story as its inspiration.

Other than that scene, we find some musical performances but all become more realistically integrated into the film. For example, a performance by go-go group EU occurs during a dance, and some ballads are sung at similar functions.

Daze turns into a hard film to categorize, and not just because of the musical scenes. It incorporates comedy and drama in such a way that neither truly dominates. In fact, certain scenes come across as both funny and harsh at the same time, such as some of the fraternity initiation sequences.

Despite the synopsis I offered, Daze really doesn’t follow much of a story. Instead, the film becomes more about conflicts.

Of course, we get the issues I mentioned in my overview. We also see the antagonism between the Jigaboos and the Wannabes, between the fraternity brothers and the pledges, between townsfolk and college students, and between specific characters.

Like Oliver Stone, Lee has always been an extremely erratic filmmaker, and those tendencies are clearly on display in Daze. In many ways, it’s a weak movie.

Though it’s character-based, the participants seem poorly-drawn and lack much development. We find them as thinly-rendered stereotypes and that’s largely how they stay.

Despite the presence of solid actors like Fishburne and Esposito, some of the performances are fairly bad as well. For some reason, the lesser work seems to fall on the female side of the fence.

Tisha Campbell and Kyme both make for weak female leads, as neither shows much acting talent as they deliver characters both wooden and uninteresting. Granted, some of the blame may lie on Lee, as he’s never shown much of an affinity for female roles, and Daze is mainly a boy’s club other than the production number for “Straight & Nappy”.

Then there’s the ending. Lee also never seems to know how to conclude his films, and that problem occurs once more during Daze. I’m going to reveal the ending of the movie, so if you’re terrified of spoilers, look away. However, I can’t imagine that the knowledge of the conclusion will ruin the experience for anyone.

After some provocative events happen, the film ultimately concludes with shots of Dap as he runs around campus, yells “wake up!” and rouses everyone. The movie finally stops after Dap and Julian stand together while Fishburne looks into the lens and utters, “Please - wake up.”

When I see this scene, all I can think of is that Lee should have dropped a cow. That’s a method used on 1970s Saturday Night Live when they couldn’t come up with a conclusion to a skit.

At an appropriate time, a fake cow would fall from the ceiling and that would end the piece. It made no sense, but it covered the absence of a good conclusion. Lee could have used a similar device.

Despite the many negatives against it, Daze actually provides a fairly interesting experience because it’s something different. Not only do we see a world that’s largely unknown to non-Blacks, but also we also find someone willing to urge African-Americans to settle their differences among themselves.

At times it seems like leaders and others are so eager to pin all of their race’s problems on whites, authority and other people that they refuse to acknowledge the divisiveness at home. Lee shines a bright light on the stupidity of these arguments and many other needlessly antagonistic aspects of Blacks relationships with each other.

Nowhere does Lee condemn a group more than he does the Black fraternities. Although I’m largely with him on this point, I think his portrayal of these organizations feels too one-sided.

Essentially Lee shows all of the harmful aspects of the fraternities but doesn’t demonstrate anything positive about them. Frankly, I’ve always thought fraternities - Black, white, or whatever - were silly, and the excessive nastiness of the pledging process never made much sense to me. To debase yourself so just to join some little club is dopey.

Nonetheless, there must be something positive about these groups other than the fact they seem to make it easier for members to meet women. Lee should have balanced his viewpoint.

As I already mentioned, virtually all of Lee’s films have flaws, and School Daze is probably more erratic than most. From the lack of a story and a focus to largely weak acting and characters, the movie’s a bit of a mess.

Nonetheless, it does provoke thought and it offers a look at a side of life unseen by most of us. Those aspects make it worth a screening.

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

School Daze appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Although the movie displayed some minor concerns, as a whole it looked good.

For the most part, sharpness seemed clear and accurate. Some wider shots showed moderate softness, but these occasions remained in the minority. Most of the film appeared nicely detailed.

Moiré effects and jagged edges showed no concerns, and I detected no edge haloes. Grain felt natural, and in terms of print flaws, I witnessed a couple tiny specks but nothing more.

Colors generally seemed nicely bright and bold. The grain meant the hues could appear a bit flat at times, but the tones usually felt pretty rich.

Black levels also looked deep and dense, and low-light shots displayed appealing clarity. This never became a visual showpiece, but it seemed to represent the film well.

The film also provided a solid DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. This mix showed its age but it largely seemed positive.

The soundfield stuck largely to the forward channels, where it offered good separation of music. The score and songs seemed vividly spread across the speakers.

Effects also showed nice breadth in the front at times, and the imagery integrated acceptably well. The surrounds mainly bolstered the score, and they did so nicely. Some effects also came from the rears, but these remained a minor component.

Audio quality appeared slightly dated but generally seemed strong. Dialogue showed some thinness but speech largely sounded fairly natural and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility.

Effects were also a little flat, but they seemed fairly clean and accurate without distortion. Music worked best, as the score and the songs appeared acceptably bright and clear, plus they featured decent low end. All in all, the soundtrack worked well for its material.

How did the Blu-ray compare with the Special Edition DVD from 2005? The BD’s 5.1 expanded the DVD’s 2.0 to a moderate degree and showed stronger range and fidelity, but this remained a music-oriented track without a lot of real pizzazz.

Visuals looked better defined and cleaner, as the BD lost the DVD’s print flaws. Colors and blacks also fared better, so this turned into a nice upgrade.

The Blu-ray offers most of the 2005 DVD’s extras as well as a new one. We find two separate audio commentaries, the first of which comes from director Spike Lee, who offers a running, screen-specific discussion.

This means we hear lots of statements that tell us who the actors are when they appear. Spike also adds gems such as “the character I play is called ‘Half-Pint’”.

Thanks, Spike - what an insightful bit of information! Lee seems to be under the impression none of us have ever seen the movie, as he often just relates the names of characters and narrates the story.

To be fair, he occasionally adds some interesting tidbits, such as the fact the production was booted from Morehouse College three weeks into the shoot. Lee also talks about some of his own college experiences and his attitudes toward the black fraternities.

However, such morsels are rare. Most of the commentary offers silence, though Lee also occasionally laughs at his work. Early in the track, he tells us he hasn’t watched the movie in years, and I get the impression he barely remembers it. While the commentary improves slightly as it continues, it never becomes consistently interesting, and it remains a dull disappointment.

For the second commentary, we hear from actors Tisha Campbell, Rusty Cundieff, Bill Nunn, Darryl Bell and Kadeem Hardison. All five sit together for this running, screen-specific chat.

That factor makes it a raucous affair, as the participants tend to talk over each other at times. At least this means the track rarely slows down, as it comes packed full of chatting.

Much of the material stays anecdotal, but the crew delivers an interesting impression of the production. We get notes about how they got their roles, the discrepant ways Lee treated different groups, Lee’s terse style as a director, and many stories from experiences during the shoot.

I definitely find value in the notes about how Lee increased the tension between various factions, and the track also delves into semi-off-topic but still fun topics like a comparison of Lee and Robert Townsend. We also hear interesting comparisons between the realities of fraternities and Black college life and their depiction in the movie.

Despite the size of the group and their frequent raucousness, the track rarely becomes chaotic and incoherent, and it also hardly ever loses steam. The participants slow down a bit during the second half, but not to a detrimental degree. Overall, the commentary is a lot of fun, as it provides an amusing and informal look at the production.

Three featurettes follow. The 24-minute, eight-second Birth of a Nation comes first, as it presents movie clips, behind the scenes shots, and interviews.

The latter mix new and old sources, and we hear from Lee, Cundieff, Hardison, Bell, Campbell, Nunn, costume designer Ruth E. Carter, casting director Robi Reed, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, cultural critic Nelson George, editor Barry Alexander Brown, and actors Jasmine Guy, Roger Guenveur Smith, Cylk Cozart, Giancarlo Esposito, and Larry Fishburne.

The program covers the origins of the story, the relationships among crewmembers and the growth of Lee’s core group, location problems, casting and various relationships, character development and issues connected to the fraternities, Fishburne’s presence on the set and his influence on others, and Lee’s move from independent film to a big studio release.

As a synopsis of the production, “Birth” is a little weak. It repeats a moderate amount of information from the commentaries and it doesn’t cover the flick in a complete manner.

However, it presents a nice slice and consistently offers an entertaining view of things. “Birth” goes over enough useful material to make it worthwhile, and it does so with wit and charm.

Next we find the 18-minute, 37-second College Daze. It includes notes from Lee, Dickerson, Reed, Carter, Esposito, Cozart, Nunn, Hardison, Bell, Smith, George, Brown, and actor Samuel L. Jackson.

“Daze” follows the participants’ college experiences, how the movie reflected reality, the flick’s perspective and what it’d be like to try to make it today. I’d have liked more stories from school days, but there’s still a lot to like about this piece. It gets into subjects beyond the movie and provides a nice look at various elements that influenced the flick.

For the final featurette, we get the 21-minutem three-second Making a Mark. It includes comments from Lee, Smith, Cozart, Brown, Hardison, Cundieff, Bell, Nunn, Esposito, Dickerson, Campbell, Guy, George, Jackson, and actor Branford Marsalis.

They discuss the collaboration between Fishburne and Lee, shooting the step sequences and other favorite scenes, the movie’s moments of sex, dancing and party shots, and thoughts about the movie’s ending and themes.

Largely anecdotal in nature, “Mark” gets into many fun tales about the shoot. It balances out “Birth” and helps give us a nice examination of the flick.

Three music videos also appear. We find clips for “Be Alone Tonight” from the Rays, “Be One” from Phyllis Hyman, and “Da Butt” by EU.

The first two offer nothing more than compilations of movie snippets, and that makes them pretty useless. “Da Butt” consists entirely of unique footage that shows a lot of dancers and some lip-synching by EU. It’s not anything special itself.

New to the Blu-ray, we get an Anniversary Q&A. Shot after a 2018 screening of the film, it goes for 33 minutes, 16 seconds and includes a panel with Lee, Reed, Campbell and Hardison.

The Q&A looks at “colorism” in the Black community, casting, thoughts about HBCUs, and some production notes.

Inevitably, some material repeats from the commentaries and featurettes, and Lee seems really obnxious here. Nonetheless, we find enough fresh insights to make the Q&A useful.

After the rousing success of his first film, Spike Lee went through his sophomore slump with School Daze. However, despite a number of flaws, the movie has enough going for it to merit a viewing, as it seems inconsistent but provocative. The Blu-ray delivers largely positive picture and audio as well as a solid collection of bonus materials. While not a great film, Daze comes with a punch.

To rate this film visit the DVD of SCHOOL DAZE

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