Visceral, challenging, immediate, and uncomfortable, Do the Right Thing hasn’t lost any of its bite over the last 20 years. Often considered Spike Lee’s masterwork — I’d say it’s definitely in the top three — it will likely endure better than any of his other films. The racial questions the film provokes are still relevant now even if the circumstances surrounding most issues of race aren’t quite as inflamed as in the film. Lee himself certainly thinks the questions still need to be asked.
Do the Right Thing works because despite the over-the-top nature of many of the events (even this is debatable), it’s not purely a message movie. Well-drawn characters fuel the story, and there’s hardly anyone who can be seen as fully blameless. The “hottest day of the year” motif that Lee carries through the film and the cast that give intense performances make Do the Right Thing a stunning achievement, and one that has been well-served by this 20th Anniversary Blu-ray edition.
At the center of the boiling racial turmoil is Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, an Italian-owned pizza shop in a predominantly black neighborhood in Brooklyn. Owner Sal (Danny Aiello in the performance of his career) seems to be in racial harmony with those around him, employing slacker pizza delivery man Mookie (Lee) and likening him to his own son. His real sons, Vito and Pino (Richard Edson, John Turturro) aren’t in quite so much harmony, especially Pino, whose racist diatribes are always lingering just below the surface.
Things threaten to explode many times all over the block throughout the film, and by the time they finally do in the film’s gripping and out-of-control climax, everyone seemingly owns some share of the responsibility. Do the Right Thing is not a film which puts easy answers at your fingertips, but it is an engrossing one thanks to superb direction from Lee and various excellent supporting performances from the likes of Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Giancarlo Esposito, Rosie Perez, Bill Nunn, Samuel L. Jackson, Frankie Faison, and Robin Harris.
Do the Right Thing is a tapestry of points of view, and it’s hard to say if any of them are correct. That’s not really the point — Lee doesn’t look to assign blame, although there’s plenty to go around, he just wants to provoke. This is certainly one of his best provocations.
The Blu-ray Disc
Do the Right Thing is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This is a rich visual presentation that looks solidly clear and crisp for a film its age. The picture has a very textured look, which comes off well in this transfer. The most overwhelmingly positive aspect of it is the earthy tones, especially the reds that dominate the visual motif to suggest radiating heat. Red objects seem to pop off the screen whenever they’re in the frame. There’s a bit of natural grain to the picture, but it’s appropriate, and never reaches an obnoxious level.
The audio is presented in Dolby DTS-HD, which handles the mix nicely. This is a dialogue-centric film, but the ubiquitous Public Enemy anthem “Fight the Power” makes good use of the subwoofer in its many, many appearances throughout.
This 20th Anniversary edition is packed with extras, many of which have been previously available on various incarnations, but there are several new bonuses. Do the Right Thing: 20 Years Later is a 35-plus minute retrospective on the film, with interviews that Lee conducts with much of the principal cast as well as quite a few crew members. Full of anecdotes, it’s a nice piece. Also new are 14 minutes of deleted scenes, which were apparently just rediscovered. Both of these extras are in high def. Also new is a 20th Anniversary commentary track by Lee.
Extras that have been available before include Lee’s personal footage from the set of the film, a making-of doc, several interviews, a storyboard sequence, footage from the 1989 Cannes Film Festival where the film debuted, and the old commentary track. The old extras are still in standard def.
The Bottom Line
Do the Right Thing holds an important spot in the history of American cinema, and the 20th Anniversary Blu-ray is an excellent treatment of it.