The Spike Lee Joint Collection – Volume 2 (Blu-ray Review)

spike lee collection volume 2 whysoblu head 2Hey, you’ve seen Brandon Peters’ review for the Spike Lee Joint Collection, Volume 1.  Now it’s time for Volume 2, are you ready?  Do you want to see it?  Well good, because apparently Disney felt the need to put together a number of Spike Lee’s Touchstone produced films into random Blu-ray packages for people to check out in glorious HD.  The results are pretty decent from a technical level and the new commentaries are a joy, but what about the films?  Volume 2 contains the underrated Summer of Sam and the overlong Miracle at St. Anna, but I am sure Spike Lee fans will be happy to finally add these films to their Blu-ray collection (Note: I’m aware that ‘Anna’ was previously released on Blu-ray, but the new commentary is a nice addition.)

Summer of Sam

spike lee collection volume 2 whysoblu posterI generally hold 1999 as a fantastic year for film all around and Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam, a period drama focused on New York’s infamous summer of 1977, was certainly a part of why.  Instead of taking a Zodiac approach of analyzing all the details of the story surrounding the Son of Sam murders, writers Lee, Michael Imperioli, and Victor Colicchio decided to focus the film on a small Italian neighborhood and how the killings affected them in various ways.  John Leguizamo and Adrien Brody lead a solid cast, as the film spends plenty of time focusing on the various relationships and how they evolve based on both fear and the state of the times, when considering politics, style, the music, and the general atmosphere, let alone the intense heat of that summer.

I have always thought of Summer of Sam as this overlooked gem of a film from Spike Lee, who seemed to clearly be channeling Martin Scorsese, which is fitting, since Scorsese released one of his most overlooked films, Bringing out the Dead, later that same year.  ‘Sam’ has plenty of energy to go with the striking visual presentation that Spike Lee knows how to capture in all of his films, along with a great 70s soundtrack (we even get a couple songs from The Who in full!), and some terrific scoring work from Terence Blanchard.

John Leguizamo and Adrien Brody are both terrific, with Leguizamo, in particular, delivering maybe a career best performance.  It comes from Lee letting the film play as very natural.  Even with Leguizamo playing Italian, the very foul language, the way these characters carry themselves, the effort put into portraying a certain 70s flair in different ways; all of that made a big difference in a film that still had time to be a pretty grisly thriller, when it focused on ‘Sam’.  The way it balances these violent moments with the ridiculous theories some in the neighborhood develop regarding their own suspicions makes for a great way to base the film in a level of historical reality, respect that scenario, and still be an entertaining film overall.

At 142 minutes, Lee continues to not make the leanest of pictures, but Summer of Sam is well worth the time, as it is one of the rare Lee films to not feature a black lead, yet still feel like a socially conscious look at New York culture, while also delivering on being an entertaining and well assembled film.

Miracle at St. Anna

Mspike lee collection volume 2 whysoblu poster 1iracle at St. Anna is an unfortunate misfire that has such obvious issues that it is a shame no one has assembled the very solid 2 hour movie that sits in this 160 minute film.  Spike Lee making a WWII film about the Buffalo Soldiers is a tremendous idea in theory (as would be a film by him depicting the Tuskegee Airmen), but while visually striking, terrifically scored by Terence Blanchard, and generally well-acted, the film ends up being far too long, with too many subplots and a bookending device that distracts more than it should.

Told in a flashback that originates from a crazy event in the present of this film, 1983 New York, the story revolves around four members of the U.S. Army’s all-black, 923nd Infantry Division, the Buffalo Soldiers, who trapped behind enemy lines in 1940s Italy.  The men form a bond with a number of the villagers there, including a traumatized little boy.  Various amounts of conflict occur, based on the circumstances of war, but ideally brotherhood and courage will help these men win out.

Winning out for the audience is a tough call, as I do think there is a lot to appreciate in this film.  For being a director focused mainly on characters and more theatrical aspects throughout his career, Lee stages some very strong action sequences, when it comes to delivering on being a war movie.  Two scenes actually measure up to what Spielberg had accomplished in parts of Saving Private Ryan.  The film also looks amazing in general, based on the production that actually took place in Italy and the effort made to really get the details right, even with the fairly minimal budget, for a film of this size.  Still, the film is overlong to the point of excess.

Stars Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, and Omar Benson Miller are all very good here, but each of them has a lot to do in a way that is nice as far as their characters are concerned, but ultimately bring things down, when it comes to pacing and having a more effective film.  The supporting cast is great as well, with Pierfrancesco Vavino, in particular, turning in a great performance as a leader of the Italian resistance group, but it again adds a lot to this film that could be tightened significantly.

It is irritating, because Miracle at St. Anna has so much good in it, it clearly has its heart in the right place, and a lot of Lee’s politics do not feel wrongfully injected in either.  I even prefer the idea of a focused story, rather than a deep look at the Buffalo Soldiers as a whole, but this film never quite finds its footing enough to make its long running time feel worth it.

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Summer of Sam:

Miracle at St. Anna:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: Summer of Sam – 1.85:1 / Miracle at St. Anna – 2.35:1

Clarity/Detail: I am surprised that Summer of Sam looks as good as it does, but given the grittiness of the film and what Lee was working with, this film has some solid detail work, given the style of the times and stylized nature of certain sequences throughout the film.  Miracle at St. Anna is 10 years further in time and rightly looks great.

Depth:  Both films actually have a great amount of depth on display.  ‘St. Anna’ is a bit more obvious, as it is a full on widescreen film depicting the chaos of war, but the setting of ‘Sam’ apparently lends itself to some deeper scenes as well.

Black Levels:  Lots of darkness consumes Summer of Sam and it never stops being effective, as it fits the mood and is well handled for this Blu-ray.  Miracle at St. Anna is actually the brighter of the two films overall, despite a grimmer color palette, but still does a good job with the black level aspect.

Color Reproduction:  Spike Lee is great when it comes to colors in his film and this Blu-ray package does proper justice to that aspect.

Flesh Tones:  Both films are solid and consistent, with ‘St. Anna’ being the better experience overall, again, because the film is more recent.

Noise/Artifacts:  There is grain and some specs present on Summer of Sam, but that comes from the film’s age and is not really a distraction, even if this is not the definitive transfer.  Miracle at. St. Anna looks clean.

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Summer of Sam:

Miracle at St. Anna:

Audio Format(s): Summer of Sam – English 5.1 DTS HD-HDMA, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 2.0 Dolby Digital / Miracle at St. Anna – English 5.1 DTS HD-HDMA, Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles:  English SDH, French, Spanish

Dynamics:  Given all the dialogue and music, both films easily benefit from the Blu-ray treatment, as they sound great.

Low Frequency ExtensionSummer of Sam has a bit of fun with the club scenes, but Miracle at St. Anna has a lot to deliver on in the bass department, given the war action sequences.

Surround Sound Presentation:  Both films benefit from having a sound that is spread over ones surround system.  War movies and the sound of the 70s come alive well enough for this set.

Dialogue Reproduction: If there was ever an aspect to make sure sounds great on Blu-ray for Spike Lee films, it is this one and it does.  Very center focused with the dialogue.

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The only real treat for all of these Spike Lee films are the new commentaries, which makes for reason enough to get this set.

Features Include:

Summer of Sam

  • Audio Commentary by Director Spike Lee and Actor John Leguizamo – A great track to listen to. Recorded very recently and full of entertaining information about the making of this film.

Miracle at St. Anna

  • Audio Commentary by Director Spike Lee and Screenwriter James McBride – I’ve honestly not listened to this whole thing yet, but this is the ideal pairing to want to hear, in regards to this film.
  • Deleted Scenes – Oh, so there was some footage excised from this film…
  • Deeds Not Words – An interesting roundtable with Lee, McBride, and real life WWII veterans.
  • The Buffalo Soldier Experience – A look at the lives of Buffalo Soldiers, presented with images and vintage footage.

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I can only hope more of Lee’s films make it to Blu-ray soon, but between Summer of Sam and Volume 1’s 25th Hour, I am plenty satisfied already, with the bonus of Miracle at St. Anna at least having a nice presentation and new commentary to go with it.  Spike Lee fans and collectors should be plenty pleased with these sets, but it helps that the Blu-ray presentation and specially-recorded commentaries are good aspects as well.

Order Your Copy Here:

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Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS4.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com


2 Responses to “The Spike Lee Joint Collection – Volume 2 (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Gerard Iribe

    Gyeah, I’m so looking forward to both Spike Lee Joint sets!

    Great review Aaron!

  2. Aaron Neuwirth


    and feel free to listen here and then read the first sentence of this review again 😉 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3SPGnyAntk