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School Daze – 30th Anniversary (Blu-ray Review)

Director Spike Lee is having a great 2018, even if it means putting a spotlight on the same issues he’s been tackling since he began as a filmmaker. With BlacKkKlansman on its way to (hopefully) earning its fair share of awards, the director’s previous joins continue to make their way to HD formats slowly. A few years back we saw some of his films arrive in double packs. Kino Lorber has a few more coming next year. And now Sony has the 30th Anniversary release of Lee’s second film, School Daze. The film provided a look at black college life, and how the film plays into challenging viewpoints and self-identity continues to resonate today.

Film:

Wake up! This ensemble comedy puts a focus on the students of Mission College, a historically black college in Atlanta. Lee based the film, in part, on his experiences at various black colleges, choosing to center the story around the rivalries between different fraternity and sorority members. Laurence Fishburne stars as Dap, a politically-minded student who faces challenges from the other locals. Giancarlo Esposito plays Julian, the head of the Gamma Phi Gamma Fraternity, an organization emphasizing what an imbalanced system is in place in regards to how the men of this fraternity view those around them, particularly women.

Lee has a role in the cast as well. He plays “Half-Pint” one of the Gamma pledges who deals with the abusive rituals required to join. Tisha Campbell is one of the members of the Gamma Rays, a sorority mostly made up of light-skinned black women, which leads to confrontations with other co-eds when it comes to skin tone and hair. The rest of the cast is filled out with recognizable faces such as Ossie Davis, Bill Nunn, Kadeem Hardison, Joe Seneca, Art Evens, Roger Guenveur Smith, Kasi Lemmons, Joie Lee, and Samuel L. Jackson.

School Daze is hardly about the plot, as the film is too sprawling to focus on one particular character and tell a simple story. Instead, we follow several of the lead actors mentioned, as the film does what it can to explore their lives on campus over the course of several days. It’s often hilarious, generally very insightful, and shows what kind of incredible creative energy Lee had as a filmmaker.

When people think of Spike Lee, I don’t believe enough credit is given to the sense of energy and joy he has in bringing characters and scenes to life. Most picture someone who is angry and criticizing the world, particularly American black culture, which is not the case. He has a point of view, for sure, and it reflects the nature of black people, but it’s hardly criticizing if it’s a portrait of the truth. The key is the tone he puts behind it all.

School Daze was only Lee’s second film, but you can see why he’s endured. Between the handle on comedy, the layering of social commentary and drama, and the big musical numbers, here’s a filmmaker that knows how to adapt to different genres, never forgetting how to be entertaining, let alone add plenty of color. Do the Right Thing would be Lee’s follow-up, which is a masterpiece in filmmaking and continued to show how Lee evolved as a stronger filmmaker.

With School Daze, however, much like his debut, She’s Gotta Have It, the film puts a high focus on what black relationships are like, and what black people are like, without having to make an issue-based story involving drugs, violence, or other social issues that were mainly seen when concerning American minorities. It’s strange to think of how revolutionary that kind of concept for a film was, but here Lee is continuing to make films that deal with issue-based topics because of the lack of change. Whatever the case may be, School Daze is a fine feature, with a strong young cast, and plenty of that raw Lee energy.

 

Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail: Never having been on Blu-ray before, School Daze arrives with a solid transfer that does well to highlight the use of color throughout the film. From a clarity standpoint, while this isn’t a 4K remaster, there’s a lot to admire in seeing a low-budget Spike Lee film in HD. Outdoor scenes tend to work very well thanks to the contrasts between the environment and the characters/costumes. Scenes inside dorms/offices allow for plenty of detailed looks at the rooms as a whole. Musical numbers show off the costume designs quite well.

Depth: The spacing of the characters never registers as flat. Dimensionality is clear enough for this to work.

Black Levels: Shadows and black levels are only so deep, but they don’t ruin the experience by any means. Very minimal crushing.

Color Reproduction:  Colors are presented decently enough, with a lot of the strongest moments coming from the costumes and scenery found in some of the big musical numbers and a couple of dance party sequences. The abstract ending is also a big time for the film to shine, as it adds an interesting, colorful filter that emphasizes both characters as well as the backgrounds in a unique way.

Flesh Tones: Facial textures register well enough. A fresh scan of the film would have made this element stand out more, but for what it is, this is fine.

Noise/Artifacts: Some digital noise in places, but nothing major.

 

Audio:

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, French Mono DTS-HD MA, Spanish DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish

Dynamics: The lossless track does a great job of bringing the sounds of School Daze to a modern world. Especially given the use of music and musical numbers, it’s great to get a robust audio transfer to represent the bigness of this feature better.

Low-Frequency Extension: The film has a little pickup when it comes to the LFE channel thanks to the use of musical moments.

Surround Sound Presentation: There’s not much reach to be found in all of this. The center channel gets the most to work with, while the other channels do what they can to create the appropriate atmosphere.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone is heard loud and clear, so wake up.

 

Extras:

This disc brings over all of the features from the previous DVD release, except for a bonus CD soundtrack, which would have been nice. Still, we get two commentaries and more, plus an all-new Q&A celebrating the 30th anniversary of the film.

Features Include:

  • Spike Lee Commentary – Lee is at his best when paired with someone, so this track runs a bit dry. He offers interesting insight, but spends a lot of time quiet or pointing out who some of the actors are.
  • Cast Commentary – Tisha Campbell, Bill Nunn, Rusty Cundieff, Darryl Bell, and Kadeem Hardison sit down to talk about the making of the film and have fun doing so.
  • Anniversary of School Daze Q&A with the Cast & Crew (HD, 33:20) – The only new feature here is this retrospective Q&A filmed after a screening of the film. It’s a good conversation between Lee and some of the actors, along with some special appearances in the crowd.
  • Birth of a Nation (SD, 24:08) – A decent EPK featuring lots of interviews with the cast and crew.
  • College Daze (SD, 18:37) – A look at how the film reflected actual college experiences.
  • Making a Mark (SD, 21:03) – This is a look at the technical side of making the film.
  • Music Videos
    • “Be One” – Phyllis Hyman
    • “Da Butt” – EU
    • “Be Alone Tonight – The Rays
  • Digital HD Copy of the Film

 

Summary:

School Daze is an excellent addition to anyone’s collection who is seeking Lee’s films or smaller features that had something of an impact in their time. It’s an entertaining movie that capitalizes on what a young Lee was bringing to the table when he was first starting. The Blu-ray transfer is strong as it needs to be for a feature such as this, with enough in the way of extras to satisfy (though a new Lee commentary would have been welcome). Wake up and get this disc.

Order Your Copy Here:

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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