School Daze appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the movie displayed some minor concerns, as a whole it looked quite good.
For the most part, sharpness seemed clear and accurate. Some wider shots showed moderate softness, but these occasions remained in the minority. Most of the film appeared nicely detailed. Moiré effects and jagged edges showed no concerns. Print flaws were minor but they cropped up on occasion. I saw a few nicks, some speckles and grit, and a little grain, but no more significant defects like tears, blotches, scratches or hairs could be seen.
Colors generally seemed nicely bright and bold, with tones that appeared accurate and solid. At times, some hues looked slightly oversaturated, especially when we see red light; those instances came across as somewhat heavy. However, most colors were strong.
Black levels also looked deep and rich, but contrast could be a little weak and shadow detail was a bit thick. Some low light situations were somewhat difficult to discern. The film also used some diffused sunlight that made a few scenes look murky; for example, the shots in the Kentucky Fried Chicken showed these concerns. However, these issues - plus others, like the golden tint on the film’s climax - were clearly stylistic choices and not problems with the transfer. Ultimately I found School Daze to offer an attractive image.
The film also provided a very solid Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack. This mix showed its age but it largely seemed quite positive. The soundfield stuck fairly strongly to the forward channels, where it offered very good separation of music; the score and songs seemed vividly spread across the speakers. Effects also showed nice breadth in the front at times, and the imagery integrated acceptably well. The surrounds mainly bolstered the score, and they did so nicely; some effects also came from the rears, but these were a minor component.
Audio quality appeared slightly dated but it was generally strong. Dialogue showed some thinness but speech largely sounded fairly natural and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects were also a little flat, but they seemed fairly clean and accurate without distortion. Music worked best, as the score and the songs appeared acceptably bright and clear, plus they featured decent low end. The bass could sound a bit loose, but it seemed pretty deep for a mix of this era. All in all, the soundtrack worked very well for its material.
How did the picture and audio of this new School Daze special edition compare with those of the original 2001 DVD? To my eyes and ears, the pair seemed identical. The new Daze appeared to sport the same picture and audio as the old one.
This 2005 special edition does expand the meager supplements from the prior DVD. It includes two audio commentaries, one of which repeats from the prior release. That one comes from director Spike Lee, who offers a running, screen-specific discussion. This means we hear lots of statements that tell us who the actors are. Spike also adds gems such as “the character I play is called ‘Half-Pint’”. Thanks, Spike - what an insightful bit of information! Lee seems to be under the impression none of us have ever seen the movie, as he often just relates the names of characters and narrates the story.
To be fair, he occasionally adds some interesting tidbits, such as the fact the production was booted from Morehouse College three weeks into the shoot. Lee also talks about some of his own college experiences and his attitudes toward the black fraternities. However, such morsels are rare. Most of the commentary offers silence, though Lee also occasionally laughs at his work. Early in the track, he tells us he hasn’t watched the movie in years, and I get the impression he barely remembers it. While the commentary improves slightly as it continues, it never becomes consistently interesting, and it remains a dull disappointment.
For the second commentary, we hear from actors Tisha Campbell, Rusty Cundieff, Bill Nunn, Darryl Bell and Kadeem Hardison. All five sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. That factor makes it a raucous affair, as the participants tend to talk over each other at times. At least this means the track rarely slows down, as it comes packed full of chatting.
Much of the material stays anecdotal, but the crew deliver an interesting impression of the production. We get notes about how they got their roles, the discrepant ways Lee treated different groups, Lee’s terse style as a director, and many stories from experiences during the shoot. I definitely found value in the notes about how Lee increased the tension between various factions, and the track also delves into semi-off-topic but still fun topics like a comparison of Lee and Robert Townsend. We also hear interesting comparisons between the realities of fraternities and black college life and their depiction in the movie.
Despite the size of the group and their frequent raucousness, the track rarely becomes chaotic and incoherent, and it also hardly ever loses steam. The participants slow down a bit during the second half, but not to a detrimental degree. Overall, the commentary is a lot of fun, as it provides an amusing and informal look at the production.
Three featurettes follow. The 24-minute and eight-second Birth of a Nation comes first, as it presents movie clips, behind the scenes shots, and interviews. The latter mix new and old sources, and we hear from Lee, Cundieff, Hardison, Bell, Campbell, Nunn, costume designer Ruth E. Carter, casting director Robi Reed, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, cultural critic Nelson George, editor Barry Alexander Brown, and actors Jasmine Guy, Roger Guenveur Smith, Cylk Cozart, Giancarlo Esposito, and Larry Fishburne. The program covers the origins of the story, the relationships among crewmembers and the growth of Lee’s core group, location problems, casting and various relationships, character development and issues connected to the fraternities, Fishburne’s presence on the set and his influence on others, and Lee’s move from independent film to a big studio release.
As a synopsis of the production, “Birth” is a little weak. It repeats a moderate amount of information from the commentaries and it doesn’t cover the flick in a complete manner. However, it presents a nice slice and consistently offers an entertaining view of things. “Birth” goes over enough useful material to make it worthwhile, and it does so with wit and charm.
Next we find the 18-minute and 37-second College Daze. It includes notes from Lee, Dickerson, Reed, Carter, Esposito, Cozart, Nunn, Hardison, Bell, Smith, George, Brown, and actor Samuel L. Jackson. “Daze” follows the participants’ college experiences, how the movie reflected reality, the flick’s perspective and what it’d be like to try to make it today. I’d have liked more stories from college, but there’s still a lot to like about this piece. It gets into subjects beyond the movie and provides a nice look at various elements that influenced the flick.
For the final featurette, we get the 21-minute and three-second Making a Mark. It includes comments from Lee, Smith, Cozart, Brown, Hardison, Cundieff, Bell, Nunn, Esposito, Dickerson, Campbell, Guy, George, Jackson, and actor Branford Marsalis. They discuss the collaboration between Fishburne and Lee, shooting the step sequences and other favorite scenes, the movie’s moments of sex, dancing and party shots, and thoughts about the movie’s ending and themes. Largely anecdotal in nature, “Mark” gets into many fun tales about the shoot. It balances out “Birth” and helps give us a nice examination of the flick.
Three music videos also appear. We find clips for “Be Alone Tonight” from the Rays, “Be One” from Phyllis Hyman, and “Da Butt” by EU. The first two are nothing more than compilations of movie snippets, and that makes them pretty useless. “Da Butt” consists entirely of new footage that shows a lot of dancers and some lip-synching by EU. It’s not anything special itself.
For more music, we head to a bonus CD that presents the movie’s soundtrack. It focuses on the tunes played in the flick. Unlike a companion piece in the recent Easy Rider reissue, the Daze soundtrack appears to include all of the songs from the movie, which makes it a nice addition.
Lastly, the Previews area includes some trailers. We find ads for She Hate Me, Badasssss!, Ali, Poetic Justice, Doing Hard Time, Higher Learning and Trois: The Escort. It seems odd that we find no trailer for Daze itself, as Sony DVDs usually provide ads for the movie on the disc. However, it should be noted that the original release of Daze also lacked the flick’s trailer.
After the rousing success of his first film, She’s Gotta Have It, Spike Lee went through his sophomore slump with School Daze. However, despite a number of flaws, the movie has enough going for it to merit a viewing; it’s inconsistent but provocative. The DVD offers generally solid picture and sound along with a pretty solid set of extras marred mainly by one crummy commentary.
If fans of the film hoped for an improved transfer of School Daze, they’ll go away disappointed. Since the movie always looked and sounded good, however, I don’t see that as being an issue. It does mean that anyone looking to upgrade will do so solely due to its extras. The new Daze includes a nice set of supplements, as it adds a good commentary, informative featurettes and a CD soundtrack. If those elements interest you, then this new version of School Daze will merit your attention.