"Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!"
With that opening line shouted by Mister Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson), Spike Lee's third feature film, 'Do the Right Thing', commences his tale about the hottest day of the year in Brooklyn. Recalling the ending of 'School Daze', the words are not only meant for the listeners of WE LOVE radio, but also to the film audience in general. It foreshadows the myriad of contemporary issues displayed in poignant but humorous encounters and ultimately culminating in a single major confrontation. We don't know it yet, but we are only watching the film as if half-asleep. Perhaps much in the same way we deal with our daily lives --- never really paying much attention to the unseen and unspoken tension between different people.
Strange camera angles and bizarre close-ups add to this dream-like state and we're baffled by all the outrageousness. But like a Greek Tragedy, it all comes together in the end. And so we're asked to wake up and pay attention, while Love Daddy continues his morning announcement: "I'se play only da platters dat matter, da matters dat platter and that's the truth, Ruth." As we stare at his big smile with an alarm clock at his side as if counting down to the inevitable, the camera pulls back in a trick shot to reveal the DJ sitting behind a large storefront window. Overlooking the neighborhood, he will soon become witness to all that transpires and offers the occasional comment, alluding to the way in which we sit before a large screen and safely watch the events unfold.
Taking place in the Bedford-Stuyvesant (also known as Bed-Stuy) neighborhood of Brooklyn, the people who reside there wake up to a hot summer morning, with a forecast of the temperature rising even further. At the corner, proud owner Sal (Danny Aiello) opens his pizzeria shop while his two sons, Pino (John Turturro) and Vito (Richard Edson), argue about their responsibilities. Mookie (Spike Lee) walks to Sal's Famous, where he works as the pizza delivery man, and somehow ends up in the middle of all the bickering. It's the start of a day that seems just like any other. Except, there is something different about today. Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito) suddenly realizes Sal's "Wall of Fame" lacks pictures of prominent African-Americans and demands a change be made to his perceived injustice. This one minor incident then becomes the catalyst to a domino effect that finally ends with a trashcan and a riotous chant to the Howard Beach incident of 1986.
With an ensemble of quirky characters, Spike Lee pulls off a rarity in filmmaking. Infusing a political message with fascinating drama and situational comedy, 'Do the Right Thing' explores the ways in which people relate to one another based on ethnic distinctions. It's a confrontational tale, but one lacking a clear-cut villain or instigator. Looking back at where it all started, neither Sal nor Buggin' Out is in the wrong. But neither is also in the right. Why shouldn't pictures of celebrated figures in the African-American community grace the walls of Sal's pizzeria? A couple of pictures seem fair enough, seeing as how the clientele consists predominantly of the people in the neighborhood. But this is Sal's restaurant, and he has the right to decorate his place as he sees fit. After all, he's not offending anyone by showing pride in his Italian heritage.
It's a tricky position that Lee has set in place, one which complicates itself as the story moves on, with a truth that will always elude us. The narrative is intentionally episodic to depict how a series of disjointed events lead to one explosive incident of racial tension. And everyone is to blame (except for maybe Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) and Mother Sister (Ruby Dee)), but no one is at fault. It's a masterful, and even radical, piece of storytelling, allowing viewers varying perspectives of interpretation. This provocative cinematic achievement from a young director positions the audience on separate planes of thinking: those upset and frustrated by Mookie's actions, and those that empathize with his anger and loss. And what do we make of Smiley (Roger Guenveur Smith) posting a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X on the wall while standing in the middle of what looks like a burning house? How can everything go so wrong, when everyone is capable of doing the right thing?
In 'Right Thing', Lee also displays a more developed eye, while still exploring a unique visionary style. That's not to say 'School Daze' is terribly weak, but rather this film is a great example of show, not tell. Montages often reveal a flaw in storytelling form, but Lee uses it effectively as the camera pushes in on an actor's face and they shout a variety of racial slurs, as if giving voice to their inner thoughts. In one very subtle and genius move, the camera scans several newspapers reporting on the sweltering forecast. One such paper shows the temperature rising with every hour, suggesting that tempers in Bed-Stuy will also rise accordingly. How ironic, then, that things end up the way they do when the day finally cools down. In another brilliant move, the camera pans across the faces of Mookie and Pino as Sal flirts with Jade (Joie Lee). It's an acknowledgment to the one thing they both can agree on. The way in which Lee uses the camera to tell the story shows that he's come into his own as a film director.
With a remarkable and profound plot behind it, 'Do the Right Thing' goes down as a great work in filmmaking, one that gives rise to dialogue and conversation about the way we relate to one another. Generating a great deal of controversy since its release, the films continues to garner a strong following and remains one of Spike Lee's best work. As with Radio Raheem's (Bill Nunn) flashy rings (a well-known reference to 'Night of the Hunter'), the film seems to have a love ir or hate it quality, but it should be watched and experienced by all film lovers.
Arriving on Blu-ray for the first time, 'Do the Right Thing' will go down as yet another title that may cause of bit of controversy amongst film enthusiasts. The color timing of this release has been changed from the dirty yellow hue meant to reflect the scorching summer heat to a cleaner and brighter picture that fans may or may not agree with. But on its own merits, this 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer (1.85:1 OAR) of the film looks superb despite its twenty-year age and reproduces the photography of Ernest Dickerson with excellent results, making it very difficult to complain about the change in color timing. Though missing that yellow/orange tint, the presentation still portrays the summer heat of Brooklyn effectively.
A thin layer of grain washes over the entire picture and adds an appreciable filmic quality to the presentation. Contrast runs deliberately warm to convey the sweltering heat which plays a pivotal role in the movie, with crisp, punchy whites that never bloom or wash away detail. The color palette is vivid and lively, especially the deeply saturated primaries that pop off the screen. Black levels are intense and stable throughout, providing the image with a nice depth of field. While a couple of scenes show a bit of softness in distance shots, fine object and architectural details are clear and distinct, holding up well in dark shadows and low-lit sequences. Flesh tones appear natural and lifelike with great texture in facial complexions.
Compared to its standard definition equivalents, this Blu-ray edition of 'Do the Right Thing' looks outstanding, in spite of its color timing change. Although the alteration will be apparent to fans of the original photography, I cannot deny how extraordinary this film looks on Blu-ray after 20 years.
Initially recorded in Dolby Stereo SR (Spectral Recording), I half expected this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack to be limited by its age. Fortunately for fans of 'Do the Right Thing', the sound design benefits greatly from the higher resolution audio, yielding an expansive and layered presence that doesn't overwhelm its audience.
The entire front soundstage comes alive the instant Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" commences the film, accompanied by some saxophone work by Branford Marsalis and the sound of helicopters flying above the listening area. Also, the jazz-infused musical score by Bill Lee enjoys a wide and spacious dynamic range that engages the audience with well-defined instrumentation. Although rear activity isn't always consistent, many atmospheric effects of random Brooklyn sounds are employed for decent imaging and city ambiance, extending the soundfield a bit into the background. Vocals are clear and concise throughout, delivering nice tonal distinction between the actors. The LFE-channel is not heavily active, but provides a realistic depth to those scenes which demand it, like the battle of the boomboxes. All in all, the mix offers an enjoyable, high-quality lossless track.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment did right with this Blu-ray edition of 'Do the Right Thing'. Packing the single disc to the very brim, many of the supplements from the 2-disc Criterion DVD are ported over along with some new material created for this 20th Anniversary Edition. Sadly missing is a music video of Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" and an essay-insert by Roger Ebert. Nonetheless, the supplemental package is very nice and gives fans plenty of hours of enjoyment.
For his third feature film, Spike Lee produced, starred, and directed what is arguably his most visionary and intellectually daring film. 'Do the Right Thing' is still considered one of the most controversial films ever made because of the way in which it examines racial relations. Taking place in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, the film remains just as powerful and intelligent today. Despite arriving with an obvious change in the color timing, this Blu-ray edition does the right thing with an excellent A/V presentation and an exhaustive supplemental package, making this hi-def disc a must own for fans and highly recommended for others.