The setting is a prestigious black college, and the set-up is along the lines of what you would expect in a college-set musical: conflicts between the black-uniformed frat brothers and the political activists (of which the leader is a young Laurence Fishburne), gender wars and misunderstandings right, left and centre, and plenty of music. It’s all very lively, but not nearly as funny as Lee clearly thinks it is (see notes on commentary below). The bigger question is whether the satire and po…nted politics are able to survive the knockabout gags, and whether the movie actual works as a cohesive whole.
The sound is limited to 2.0, but this isn’t a huge surprise or disappointment for a 1988 film. The surround effects are decent, and most importantly the music has a very big, enveloping sound. Solid work, in other words.
Also a decent, but not spectacular, transfer. The colours are fine, and the image is sharp enough, but the print is showing its age. There is a certain degree of grain throughout, and there is also some minor dirt and print damage, which could have been cleaned up prior to release as a “Special Edition,” if you ask me.
Spike Lee’s commentary has far too much endless pointing out who is who as each individual or credit appears on the screen. There are also plenty of silences interrupted by guffaws as he laughs at his own jokes. The information is still there, though. You get yet more in-crowd laughs on the other commentary track: here you have cast members Tisha Campbell, Rusty Cundieff, Bill Nunn, Darryl Bell and Kadeen Hardison. Good luck keeping track of who is who. Better is a the set of three featurettes – “Birth of a Nation,” “College Daze” and “Making a Mark” – together create a 64-minute documentary. Also on the DVD are three videos (“Be Alone Tonight,” “Be One” and “Da Butt”) and a bunch of trailers, but the set also comes with the complete soundtrack CD. The menu’s main screen is animated and scored.
Interesting in that we see how Lee returns to similar topics again and again, yet the forms his films take are extremely varied.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentaries
- 3 Featurettes
- 3 Music Videos
- Soundtrack CD