Release Date(s)1989 (February 2, 2021)
Studio(s)40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, Universal Pictures (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
[Editor’s Note: This 4K Ultra HD review is by Bill Hunt, but portions of the film commentary are by Todd Doogan from his review of the 2001 DVD.]
“Those that’ll tell don’t know. And that know won’t tell.”
It’s the hottest day of the year in the summer of 1989. On a small block in the Bed-Stuy division of Brooklyn, the pressure is building. As the film opens, we meet some of the local citizenry and see what they’re each about. Mookie (Spike Lee) is a working man counting his money. Sal (Danny Aiello) rolls up to his pizzeria in a Cadillac with his two sons, Pino and Vito (John Tuturro and Richard Edson), who immediately start fighting over the morning’s chores. Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) is popping the day’s first can of beer. Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) strolls the block with his massive boom-box playing the film’s anthem: Fight the Power by Public Enemy. And Tina (Rose Perez) is grumbling about her child’s “bum” father. Then there’s the hot-tempered Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito), who takes issue with the fact that the “wall of fame” in Sal’s pizzeria features only Italian Americans. Buggin’ points out that it’s mostly African Americans who eat there, so they should be represented on the wall too. This makes sense, but again... it’s Sal's place. And it’s this seemingly trivial point that propels the film from start to finish. When all is said and done, the block will never be the same.
Do the Right Thing paints a realistic picture of this neighborhood, and the many ways its citizens are interconnected, but it’s also a fable. Nothing is extraneous. Each moment is necessary for the next one to happen. Lee makes all of these characters accessible and relatable. He makes their friendships, animosities, and perspectives understandable too. The cast is excellent across the board—if you haven’t seen Do the Right Thing in a while, you might have forgotten that Perez and Martin Lawrence appear here in their first film roles, and that the Giancarlo Esposito (who plays Buggin’ Out) is the same man who stole the show in Breaking Bad and more recently in The Mandalorian. The film’s style is theatrical, with moments of characters seeming to break the fourth wall by looking or speaking directly into the camera. The score is by Spike’s father, Bill Lee. And it’s hard not to love any soundtrack that features both Public Enemy and Steel Pulse. But ultimately, it’s the film’s underlying message—its exploration of the human tension between love and hate—that’s allowed it to stand the test of time. Spike is trying to make a point here… and he does so very well indeed.
Do the Right Thing was shot on 35 mm photochemical film using Arriflex cameras and spherical lenses for an intended theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. In 2019, the original camera negative was scanned in 4K and digitally remastered in a process supervised by cinematographer Ernest Dickerson (the result appeared in 1080p HD on Blu-ray via the Criterion Collection). For this Ultra HD release, that 4K scan and restoration has been additionally graded for high dynamic range (HDR10 alone is available here). The resulting image is a dramatic upgrade over the 2009 Blu-ray release (which included baked-in edge enhancement among other issues), but only a modest improvement upon the excellent Criterion BD. Nevertheless, overall image detail is excellent, with well-refined texturing—visible in diverse skin tones, in brickwork, painted murals, and cement. But it’s the colors that benefit most, thanks to HDR. The palette of Do the Right Thing serves an important purpose in telling the story—reds, yellows, oranges, golds, and other earth tones are used to emphasize the heat and tension of the daytime setting. When night falls, blues dominate, with the yellow-white of street lamps adding dimension. Shadows are deeper than ever before and the brightest areas of the frame have a hotter but still detailed appearance that enhances the effect even further. This an absolutely beautiful 4K presentation.
On the audio side, Universal improves things yet again with a fantastic new English DTS:X mix. Those familiar with the film will know that this isn’t exactly a surround sound extravaganza, but the DTS:X expands the soundstage nicely. The height and surround channels add greatly to the sense of immersion in the film’s sonic environments with music, street/city sounds, and active crowd noise in the film’s final act. The lossless dialogue clarity is excellent. Better still, Bill Lee’s jazz infused orchestral score (which includes contributions by saxophonist Branford Marsalis)—not to mention the film’s assortment of R&B, hip-hop, and rap tracks—are presented with terrific fidelity and robust bass. For a non-action film, this mix is impressive as hell. The 4K disc also includes Spanish and French audio in 5.1 DTS, along with optional English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles.
Universal’s UHD release offers the film in both 4K and 1080p (via the 2009 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, which is included in the package—the Blu-ray is not mastered from the new 4K scan). Extras on the 4K disc include the following:
- Introduction by Spike Lee (4K – 1:18)
- 20th Anniversary Audio Commentary by Spike Lee
- Original Audio Commentary by Spike Lee, Ernest Dickerson, Wynn Thomas, and Joie Lee
- Do the Right Thing: 20 Years Later (HD – 35:47)
- Deleted and Extended Scenes (HD – 11 scenes – 14:04 in all)
- Behind the Scenes (SD – 6 segments – 57:58 in all)
- Making Do the Right Thing Intro (SD – :48)
- Making Do the Right Thing Documentary (SD – 10 segments – 61:01 in all)
- Making Do the Right Thing: Back to Bed Stuy (SD – 4:49)
- Editor Larry Brown (SD – 4 segments – 9:38 in all)
- The Riot Sequence Intro (SD – 1:30)
- The Riot Sequence: Storyboard Gallery (images in HD)
- Cannes, 1989 (SD – 12 segments – 42:22 in all)
- Theatrical Trailer (SD – 2:13)
- TV Spot 1 (SD – :33)
- TV Spot 2 (SD – :32)
The Blu-ray also includes nearly all of these extras—everything except for the Introduction by Spike Lee, which is new to the 4K release. The good news is, these features are excellent across the board. They’re thoughtful and many of them were produced by Lee and his team at the time of the production, so they offer nice depth. The Deleted and Extended Scenes are of particular interest. The period documentary and 20 Years Later retrospective also complement each other nicely. Missing are the Criterion Blu-ray’s exclusive features, but serious fans of the film—and cinephiles in general—likely already own that (you can purchase the disc here). But a Movies Anywhere Digital code is included on a paper insert.
Thirty-two years on, Do the Right Thing remains a masterpiece that is as relevant as ever. As Lee himself says in the disc’s new introduction, “I don’t think any conscious person could look at that horrific footage of George Floyd and not think about ‘Ray’ Raheem.” Let’s just hope that—thirty-two years from now—this film’s relevance will be as a reminder of a tragic era we’ve grown beyond. Universal’s new 4K Ultra HD release of Do the Right Thing offers a beautiful A/V upgrade and is absolutely recommended.
- Bill Hunt with Todd Doogan