John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Steve Cropper, Donald Dunn, Murphy Dunne
Dan Aykroyd, John Landis
They'll never get caught. They're on a mission from God.
Comedy icons John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd star in the outrageously funny musical comedy about Jake and Elwood Blues, two brothers searching for redemption with no money but a briefcase full of soul. Hit the road with musical performances by blues legends Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Cab Calloway in the action-packed spectacular from acclaimed director John Landis.
$4.858 million on 594 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 148 min.
Release Date: 9/8/1998
• “The Stories Behind The Blues Brothers" Documentary
• Production Photos
• Theatrical Trailer
• Production Notes
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The Blues Brothers: Collector's Edition (1980)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 10, 2005)
When it appeared in 1980, I badly wanted to see The Blues Brothers. However, my evil ogre of a father refused to take me to it. Although I was only 13 at the time, this move had nothing to do with age. I’d already seen a number of “R”-rated movies over the prior two years, including Caddyshack, that summer’s semi-companion piece from Saturday Night Live alumni.
25 years later, I still don’t know why the old man refused to grant my wish to see Blues - must be one of those “tough love” deals. I eventually saw the flick when it debuted on TV a few years later, and it didn’t do much for me; I recall thinking it was okay but not worth all of the anticipation.
However, that was the “edited-for-TV” version, so I still held out hope that perhaps the uncut edition would be better. I finally viewed that rendition in 1985 during my first year at college. Accompanying me were some friends who included my roommate. He was a huge fan of The Blues Brothers who had virtually memorized the entire film.
Which I discovered to my great dismay as I watched the movie. After this screening I grew to hate Blues because a) my friend spouted the dialogue along with the film as though we were at a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which got really old after the first three minutes or so, and b) I didn’t understand how someone could get so revved up by this film. Whatever charms Blues may have possessed were totally eradicated by my friend’s geeked-up fanboy attitude; his obsessive love of it made it impossible for me to view the flick on its own merits.
As such, I’ve seen Blues as an overrated piece of junk for the last 20 years. However, I entertained the notion that perhaps I was ever-so-slightly biased by this bad movie-going experience, so I figured I should give the film another chance under more neutral conditions.
That meant a screening of the DVD, which actually offers a somewhat different experience than the theatrical release. That’s because the DVD provides an extended cut of the film; the new version’s 148 minutes expands the original by 15 minutes. I don’t know the theatrical cut well enough to comment on the differences, but the added material blended cleanly with the old stuff.
In any case, I tried to go into The Blues Brothers with an open mind. Did I succeed? I can’t say, but I do know that I still didn’t think much of the movie. It offered a moderately interesting experience at times, but it went too long and it suffered from a surfeit of flaws.
The film tells the story of the Blues brothers: Joliet Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd). At the start, Jake departs the prison where he’d resided for some time. When he and Elwood visit the orphanage where nuns raised them, they discover that if the place doesn’t raise a load of money quickly, it’ll be repossessed by the tax authorities. Inspired by a rousing church performance, they undertake their “mission from God” and reunite their band to rake in the bucks.
Along the way, a variety of forces conspire to stop them. First, they have trouble recruiting all of the musicians from their current jobs; that aspect of the tale takes up a substantial amount of the running time. They’re also stalked by: police due to Elwood’s multiple moving violations; a bar owner to whom they own money; a country band from whom they stole a job; a “mystery woman” out to kill Jake; Nazis; and probably some others I can’t remember.
All that, and it’s a musical too! Blues usually isn’t the kind of musical in which people stop what they’re doing and sing their actions, though there are a couple of scenes along those lines. The most prominent involves Aretha Franklin as a diner owner who chews out Matt “Guitar” Murphy when he wants to quit his job to rejoin the band. Otherwise, most of the performance numbers exist just in that form; they may pop up in unusual situations - like a segment in which the band members test equipment at a music store - but there aren’t many instances of “classic” musical pieces.
And that’s good, because they really slowed down the movie. Granted, I don’t care for musicals in general, but since these numbers really had little to do with the story for the most part, they seemed especially gratuitous and pointless. They existed mainly because the filmmakers wanted to use the music, and that’s fine to a point. Sure, it was nice that a number of performers who weren’t too popular at the time got some exposure – especially since this roster includes legends like Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown, John Lee Hooker and Cab Calloway - but it doesn’t make for a very entertaining film.
The over-indulgence continued in another area of Blues: car chases and general destruction. Like another flick of that era in which Belushi and Aykroyd starred - Steven Spielberg’s 1979 clunker 1941 - Blues seems to mistake mayhem for comedy and/or good storytelling. Extended sequences are devoted to collisions, wrecks, explosions, and other violent actions, and none of it adds to the film one iota. Instead, it makes the whole thing a ponderous, pointless affair that goes nowhere. The concentration on these elements actually slows down the action rather than makes it go more smoothly.
Ultimately, I didn’t feel that The Blues Brothers was a terrible movie, but it seemed awfully low on inspiration. The talents of its lead performers are almost totally obscured by all of the excesses; whether musical or violent, the wrong elements dominate this film. As such, I thought the movie had some mildly interesting moments, but as a whole it was a disappointing exercise in mindlessness.
The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio A-/ Bonus B-
The Blues Brothers appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although not without some flaws, the picture on this DVD looked surprisingly terrific, especially for its age.
Movies from the Eighties are notorious for muddy and flat film stock, and Blues occasionally betrayed those tendencies. However, these concerns seemed minimal and mainly affected interior shots, which appeared slightly drab. Otherwise, most of Blues looked surprisingly crisp and detailed, with few signs of soft or hazy images. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no significant concerns, and the print seemed fairly clean. I saw some grain plus intermittent examples of grit and speckles, but these remained pretty minor throughout the film, and no more substantial defects reared their ugly heads.
Colors largely appeared bright and vivid. Some red lighting came across as a smidgen heavy, but that was unusual, as the majority of the movie provided clear and fairly vibrant hues. Black levels were very deep and rich, and shadow detail seemed appropriately thick but not excessively opaque. At times The Blues Brothers indeed displayed the flaws typical of its era, especially during those interior scenes, which became marginally flat and bland. However, much of the movie appeared very crisp and clear, and as a whole it presented a solid visual experience.
Even better was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack found on this DVD. It seems unlikely that The Blues Brothers has ever sounded better than it does here. Not surprisingly, the soundfield showed off music to the best advantage, as the film’s many tunes displayed excellent stereo separation, and the songs also spread nicely to the rears; the latter offered good reinforcement of the tracks.
Effect usage on the sides and the surrounds was more limited, but I found the mix to provide a generally satisfying sense of atmosphere. They did contribute a lot of good information when appropriate, though. Cars zoomed around convincingly, and gunshots flew about the room well. It wasn’t a soundfield that would compare with modern releases, but for the film’s age and its scope, it worked very well.
Audio quality seemed good. Dialogue often came across as fairly natural and distinct, but a few lines could appear a little edgy and brittle. Nonetheless, most of the speech sounded relatively crisp and warm, and I detected no problems related to intelligibility. Effects generally worked acceptably well, but they displayed a smidgen of distortion at times.
Music continued to be the highlight of the soundtrack. The vast majority of the songs appeared rich and vibrant. The highs were clear and well-defined, and the mix provided some nicely deep and tight bass. These qualities applied only to material recorded for the film itself; when we hear other songs - like those of Sam and Dave - the quality definitely dips, likely because the sound technicians who remixed the track wouldn’t have had access to high-quality masters of those tunes. Nonetheless, most of the film’s music was done for the movie, so most of it sounded great. All in all, the audio showed its age at times but I still found it to offer a very solid track. I flip-flopped between an “A-“ and a “B+”. Despite the flaws, I thought the mix was so much better than average for its era that it deserved the higher grade; this really was a very satisfying piece of work.
As a “Collector’s Edition”, The Blues Brothers includes some supplements. However, this set isn’t as “packed” as many others from Universal and it seems a little light in the area of extras.
First we find a documentary called The Stories Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers. This 56-minute and 20-second program features interviews with director John Landis, musician Paul Shaffer, producer Robert K. Weiss, executive in charge of production Sean Daniel, editor George Folsey Jr., director of photography Stephen M. Katz, stunt performer Eddie Donno, special effects artist Art Brewer, production designer John Lloyd, and actors Dan Aykroyd, Tom Malone, Alan Rubin, “Blue Lou” Marini, Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Murphy Dunne, Frank Oz, Aretha Franklin, Kathleen Freeman and Henry Gibson. It combines these with archival interviews from the set, film clips, and some shots taken during the production. Overall, I thought this was a highly informative and entertaining piece. It detailed the origins of the Blues Brothers and filled in how the pair made it to the big screen. We also get into the assembly of the band, crafting the characters and the story, selecting the film’s songs and the use of music in the flick, choreography and shooting many of the musical numbers, the Bluesmobile, scenes cut from the original version, locations and production design, stunts, complications connected to shooting in Chicago, and the film’s reception and legacy.
The show offered a terrific number of fun anecdotes; you’ll learn why original band member Paul Shaffer isn’t in the film, and you’ll also find out which singer can’t lip-synch. The documentary’s producers keep the pacing lively and light. The only disappointment is that we don’t find any Blues Brothers clips from Saturday Night Live. Otherwise, it’s a terrific program that kept me consistently entertained and involved.
Other than this great documentary, however, the DVD is short on extras. The Production Photos area offers a nice selection of stills from the shoot; we find a whopping 276 pictures here. The Production Notes add some good details about the project. Note that the DVD’s booklet includes some duplicate material, but most of its comments are unique to it. The booklet also tosses in an interesting “Note From John Landis” that discusses the differences between the theatrical cut and the expanded version.
Lastly, we get the movie’s exceedingly long (four and a half minutes) theatrical trailer plus listings for Cast and Filmmakers. The latter area includes brief but decent biographies for Landis and performers Belushi, Aykroyd, Carrie Fisher, Cab Calloway, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Henry Gibson, and the Blues Brothers Band. Look closely and you’ll find a premature credit for Ghostbusters III in Aykroyd’s filmography; that flick was allegedly supposed to appear in 1998.
Although The Blues Brothers is a weak film, it does make for a solid DVD. The movie lacks coherence and it seemed excessively indulgent; many scenes appeared to exist just for the filmmakers’ own amusement. That means that parts of it are fun, but most of it plods along and goes nowhere. The DVD, however, offers very nice picture and sound, and although it doesn’t include a slew of extras, the high quality of the featured documentary helps make up for that. The Blues Brothers has become a cult classic, but I can’t figure out why. If you’re curious to check it out for yourself, give the DVD a rent, but I can’t endorse anything more than that unless you’re an already-established fan of the flick.
To rate this film, visit the original review of THE BLUES BROTHERS: 25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION