A Great Film Gets an Updated DVD Edition and Also Comes to Blu-ray
The year 1989 saw the theatrical release of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, arguably the best film ever made about race relations in America. In 2001 Criterion Collection put out an excellent two-disc DVD set containing the movie and a generous selection of bonus materials. On June 30, 2009, Universal Studios Home Entertainment released a 20th Anniversary Edition two-disc DVD set that carries over all the major extras from the 2001 version and provides 50 minutes of additional video supplementary material along with a new audio commentary by director Spike Lee. On that same day, Do the Right Thing comes for the first time to Blu-ray with the same extras as the 20th Anniversary Edition DVD set plus BD-Live access.
A Race Riot Erupts on the Hottest Day of the Year
Spike Lee wrote, directed and produced Do the Right Thing, and he is memorable on screen in the role of one of the film's major characters. His earnest, daring vision gave the movie great emotional and intellectual power, and he avoided making a boring political tract. Although the film has a violent climax, it's often entertaining with many comic moments, quirky characters, an arresting visual style and lots of music.
Do the Right Thing chronicles a 24-hour period on a street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Much of the story centers on a pizzeria owned and operated by an Italian-American named Sal (Danny Aiello), but most of the people who live on the street are poor blacks, including Mookie (Spike Lee), who works for Sal as a deliveryman. When one of the young African-American residents complains to Sal that no photos of black people hang on the pizzeria walls while another blasts hip-hop on a boom box, a shouting match breaks out. Then racial slurs are exchanged, leading to murder and the pizzeria being burned down. The film ends enigmatically with a pair of quotes, one by Martin Luther King, Jr., the other by Malcolm X.
Spike Lee was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and his most intriguing character was Sal, the pizzeria owner. Danny Aiello gave an outstanding performance in the role of Sal and got an Oscar nomination for it. The cast of Do the Right Thing was large and featured several well-known actors, including Samuel L. Jackson, John Turturro, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Rosie Perez, Frank Vincent and Martin Lawrence.
New Bonus Materials
For the 20th Anniversary Edition, Universal added a few new supplements. One of these is the enjoyable 36-minute "Do the Right Thing: 20 Years Later," in which Spike Lee and some of the film's cast and crew reunite at Manhattan's Lincoln Center in February 2009. Lee blames Ed Koch, mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989, for escalating the racial polarization depicted in the movie. But for much of the documentary, Lee talks one-on-one with actors. For example, he reminisces with Rosie Perez about how he met her at a nightclub, where she recalls he was conducting a butt contest. Also, Lee tries to get actor John Savage to admit he has been fibbing for years about the origins of a Larry Bird shirt he wore in the film.
Another new extra consists of 11 deleted and extended scenes that have a total runtime of 14 minutes. Ten of these are simply vignettes about neighborhood daily life. For example, "Mookie Delivers Pizza" shows Spike Lee's character in an amusing hassle with a Puerto Rican customer over whether he gets a tip. The 11th scene, titled "Sal and Mookie Finale," is an alternate take of the film's last conversation between the pizzeria owner and his former deliveryman. In this version Sal points to the burned-out ruins of his business and tells Mookie, "they would never give me insurance for this place."
The only other new bonus material is a 20th-anniversary feature audio commentary by Spike Lee. The information he gives is largely redundant with other extras, but he is sometimes interesting and entertaining anyway.
Bonus Materials Carried Over From Previous Edition
The 20th Anniversary Edition Do the Right Thing DVD set carries over all the major supplements from the 2001 Criterion Collection version. This includes about three hours of video extras.
"Behind the Scenes" is almost an hour of footage Spike Lee shot while filming the movie in 1988, from read-through to block party, at which Lee is presented with the Larry Bird shirt. "Making Do the Right Thing" is an hour-long 1988 documentary about shooting the film on location in Bed-Stuy, which among other things involved bringing in the Fruit of Islam to close crack dens and provide security. The 42-minute "Cannes 1989" is an interesting press conference at the world's most prestigious film festival where Spike Lee and four of the film's actors respond to questions posed by journalists. (Do the Right Thing won no awards at Cannes; the Palme d’Or went to sex, lies, and videotape.)
Also carried over from the 2001 DVD set to the 20th Anniversary Edition is the audio feature commentary by Spike Lee, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, production designer Wynn Thomas and actress Joie Lee (Spike's sister). Recorded in 1995, it is chock full of information, and if you have time for only one of the two audio commentaries, make it this one.
Not present in the 20th Anniversary Edition, although it was on the 2001 DVD set, is a music video of Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," heard repeatedly as a theme song in Do the Right Thing. Also, Roger Ebert supplied a good printed essay on the film that was packaged with the Criterion Collection DVD set, but has not been carried over to the updated edition.