Plot: What’s it about?
Elwood: ”It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.”
Jake: “Hit it.”
By now, just about anyone who’s anyone knows of “The Blues Brothers”. It’s certainly more than two guys dressed in black, wearing hats and sunglasses. The movie, now 25 years old, was one of the first (if not the first) to feature a skit from Saturday Night Live turned into a full-length motion picture. This has been done at least a dozen times now and even the most “so-so” skits seemed to garner a movie deal. Next to “Wayne’s World”, though, I think this ranks right up there with the best of them and certainly one of the better music movies out there (note: I wouldn’t consider this a “musical” per se, but the entire movie is centered around music). The movie was directed by a red hot John Landis who was coming off the success of “Animal House” just a few years prior (also starring John Belushi). Landis proved himself again with this movie and again with “An American Werewolf in London” and further with “Trading Places” a few years later.
For those that really don’t know the plot, don’t remember the plot or for some reason haven’t seen this fine piece of filmmaking – here’s the story…Jake (John Belushi) has just been released from jail. His brother, Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) has traded their prior car for a microphone and then a police cruiser. But that’s not important right now. Jake and Elwood (with their names tattooed on their knuckles that bring memories of “The Night of the Hunter”) have a vision, actually Jake has a vision, to get their old band back together and hit the road. The trouble is that they promised money to the church to save it from foreclosure. If the taxes aren’t paid in a number of days, it will close forever. As part of a scheme, the Blues Brothers must get their band back together and put on a concert to raise the money and therefore save the orphanage. Do things work out that easy? Hell no. There’s a monster car chase, Carrie Fisher (better-known then as “Princess Leia”) hunting down Jake and musical montages with Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Cab Calloway just to name a few.
Ok, granted. This isn’t “Citizen Kane” here…it’s a lot more fun and though a bit dated now it’s just as fun to watch it on DVD as it was to see it in the theater. Any fan of music and particularly R&B/Jazz will be in heaven here. There’s an eerie subplot involving Nazi’s, cameos by John Candy and Steven Spielberg and a whole lot of polyester. After seeing this movie, it should be abundantly clear as to why John Belushi was elevated to a cult-like status. He and Aykroyd had the same kind of chemistry that David Spade and Chris Farley shared (Farley, ironically, followed a similar path that Belushi did) and it’s none more evident than in “The Blues Brothers”. There are really very few movies that are so fun to watch that the time flies by, “Animal House” is one and “Caddyshack” is another and I’d put this right up there with both of those. I can’t recommend a DVD more than “The Blues Brothers”.
Video: How does it look?
The 1.85:1 anamorphic image looks pretty similar to the previous DVD release from 1999. I found both the theatrical and extended version to look about the same, with only minor differences in both. There is some grain and the print isn’t quite as pristine as it could be, but it’s a known fact that Landis likes his movies that way (with the new release of “Animal House” he was reportedly unhappy because the film looked too good on DVD and had them scale it back a bit). Colors are rich, black levels are deep and though I saw a few artifacts it was certainly nothing to get huffy about. “The Blues Brothers” looks as good as it ever has.
Audio: How does it sound?
If ever a movie has benefited from a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack re-master it’s this one. I can remember when the first DVD came out and how blown away I was by the depth. Six years later I’m still amazed as the soundtrack really has some “kick” in the right places. The musical numbers, of which there are many, all sound great and only on a rare occasion do they sound “dated” meaning “hollow”. This doesn’t sound like an engineered soundtrack, but an updated and upgraded version of what was in theaters 25 years ago.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The main draw for this new edition is the fact that it contains the theatrical cut whereas the previous edition only contained the extended version. Now every fan of the movie should be happy. Both are shown in a good-looking anamorphic transfer that is quite pleasing to the eyes. As an added bonus, the different versions are on separate discs so space/compression isn’t an issue.
Aside from the two versions of the movie, “The Blues Brothers” doesn’t contain a wealth of supplements, as the main draw here is the theatrical version on DVD. But, Universal wisely did add some new supplements to their discs to help merit a purchase over their older special edition. First up is an introduction to the movie by actor Dan Aykroyd who shares a few of his memories with us. Obviously the film was very important to him and I do like seeing film’s with introductions. The other supplements are mainly just featurettes, but we get some interviews with John Landis, Aykroyd and “the band”. All of them share the same sentiment when it comes to the movie and again, it’s reflected here. “Remembering John” is just that – they talk about working with Belushi and the fun on and off the set and of course, his “party” tendencies, etc. There are also some musical highlights as well as “A Day on the Blues Brothers Tour” which is pretty self-explanatory. A feature that was included on most every DVD a few years back which isn’t that prevalent anymore is “Production Notes” – they’re included on this release. All in all, if you own the previous version – it’s time to upgrade to Blues Brothers 2.0. The audio and video are just about the same, but you get two different versions of the movie and some all-new supplements.