The Blues Brothers appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though this wasn’t a dazzling presentation, it looked quite good for a film of its era.
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 sometimes appeared slightly drab. Otherwise, most of Blues looked rather 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 a few minor specks but nothing significant. I also detected sporadic examples of light edge haloes, but these also remained unintrusive.
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 pretty deep and rich, and shadow detail seemed appropriately thick but not excessively opaque. Overall, this was an attractive presentation that represented the movie well.
Note that the comments above addressed the film’s theatrical version and some obvious inconsistencies came with the movie’s extended cut. You’ll detect the changes pretty easily, as they tend to look rather pale and flat. They’re not terrible – they shouldn’t throw you out of the movie – but they’re obviously a drop from the theatrical scenes.
It seems unlikely that The Blues Brothers ever sounded better than it did via the disc’s DTS 5.1 soundtrack. 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 heard other songs - like those of Sam and Dave - the quality definitely dipped, 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 Blu-ray compare with those of the 2005 25th Anniversary release? The audio is a little peppier due to the higher bit rate the DTS mix uses compared to the DVD’s Dolby Digital track, but it’s not a big difference; this is still a lossy mix.
Visuals offer more obvious improvements. While I thought the DVD looked quite good, it lacks the detail found on the Blu-ray. The latter also gives us brighter colors and a more appealing overall impression. I will say the higher quality of the Blu-ray makes the differences between the theatrical and extended editions more obvious, though; the added scenes are much more apparent on Blu-ray, as they don’t blend as well. Still, this is a good transfer that works notably better than the DVD.
The Blu-ray includes most of that DVD’s extras, including two editions of the film. We get both the movie’s theatrical cut (2:12:49) and the extended version (2:27:46). I’ve only watched the longer take on the flick, so I can’t detail the differences, but it’s good both appear here.
For an extended documentary, we go to 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.
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.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we get a featurette called Remembering John. It lasts nine minutes and 38 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.
What does the Blu-ray drop from the 25th Anniversary release? It omits a pretty worthless musical performance from a modern version of the Blues Brothers, a Dan Aykroyd intro, and some text production notes. We also still fail to get items from the original 1998 DVD: a collection of 276 “Production Photos” as well as “Cast and Filmmakers” biographies. None of these are major omissions, though it’d be nice to get those still pictures back on the disc.
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.
This is a generally strong Blu-ray, though. It delivers good quality picture and audio along with a decent set of supplements. 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 visuals make it a nice upgrade over the old DVDs.
To rate this film, visit the 25th Anniversary review of THE BLUES BROTHERS