The Blues Brothers appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this double-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.
How do the picture and sound quality of this 25th Anniversary DVD compare with those of the original 1998 release? To my eyes and ears, they seem identical. I compared the pair and observed no differences in audio or visual quality.
This double-sided disc mixes in a few extras. Some appeared on the original release. I’ll specify new ones with an asterisk.
One difference relates to the presentation of the movie itself. While the first DVD included solely the 148-minute extended version of the flick, this one also presents the original 133-minute *theatrical cut. I didn’t watch it – the extended edition offered Dolby Digital audio, whereas the theatrical one presented only Dolby Surround sound, so I preferred to go with the former. (Both offer anamorphic 1.85:1 transfers, though.) In any case, I think it’s good that Universal finally made the theatrical cut available for fans, as they’ll now have a choice.
On Side One, the main supplement comes from a new documentary called The Stories Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers. This 56-minute and 17-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.
Side One also includes *Musical Highlights. Also found on a few other Universal DVDs, this is simply an alternate version of chapter search. It lets you skip to any of 18 tunes featured in the film. I think it’s useless, but I guess its presence doesn’t hurt.
The DVD opens with some ads. We find previews for The Big Lebowski, Unleashed, The Interpreter, and The Ring Two.
Heading to Side Two, we start with an *Introduction to the Film by Dan Aykroyd. What does he tell us in this 20-second clip? Not much.
Next comes a featurette called *Going Rounds: A Day on the Blues Brothers Tour. It fills seven minutes and two seconds. I thought it’d show us some behind the scenes with the band, but instead it simply offers a few poorly-shot songs from a performance at the San Diego House of Blues. It’s a waste of space.
*Transposing the Music runs 15 minutes and 16 seconds. It includes comments from Aykroyd, Shaffer, Landis, film and TV composer Howard Shore, costume designer Deborah Nadoolman, John’s widow Judy Belushi-Pisano, John Goodman and Jim Belushi. They discuss the origins of the Blues Brothers as well as a few notes about the movie. We learn a little about the budget and the enormity of the production, the costumes, some favorite moments and continued popularity. The latter element shows us a lot of obsessed fans.
A few good moments pop up here, and we see some SNL footage, though not of the Blues Brothers; we get John Belushi as he does “I’m a King Bee” in a bee costume. Some material repeats from the longer documentary. Unfortunately, much of the program feels self-congratulatory, especially during the second half when we’re told of the Blues Brothers’ impact and legacy. I think this piece inflates their importance and it becomes obsequious and tedious.
For the final featurette, *Remembering John lasts nine minutes and 39 seconds as it offers thoughts from Landis, Belushi-Pisano, Jim Belushi, Nadoolman, Aykroyd, Shaffer, and Shore. We learn about how John met his wife, his time in high school and his development into a performer, his interest in music, and Belushi’s work. A few good anecdotes pop up here, but as expected, the tone emphasizes praise and fawning, so don’t anticipate a lot of substance.
The Production Notes add some good text details about the project. Lastly, we get the movie’s exceedingly long - four minutes, 25 seconds! - theatrical trailer.
Does the 25th Anniversary release lose anything from the prior disc? Yes, but not much. It drops a collection of 276 “Production Photos” as well as “Cast and Filmmakers” biographies and a booklet.
Like The Jerk, 1980’s The Blues Brothers is a project thought of as a “comedy classic” with an appeal that simply mystifies me. The movie lacks coherence and it seems excessively indulgent; many scenes appear 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 good extras, the high quality of the featured documentary helps make up for that. It’s also nice that this package presents the original theatrical version of the film.
Obviously I don’t like the movie enough to recommend a blind buy for anyone not already fond of The Blues Brothers. If you do like the flick, you’ll be happy with the quality of this release. The big question for fans who own the prior version: should they “upgrade” to this 25th Anniversary release? I’d say no, mostly because the new supplements aren’t very interesting. I thought picture and sound were identical for both DVDs. However, the inclusion of the film’s theatrical cut makes the set more appealing. If it interests you, then this set’s worth your time. Otherwise, stay with the previous DVD.