The Blues Brothers Blu-ray ReviewJuly 25, 2011
The Blues Brothers is a film that can teach us all a very important lesson: Everything we know about the world today might be different tomorrow, but cool is cool in ANY era.
Six years after the movie's 25th anniversary DVD release, Universal will bring Jake and Elwood Blues to Blu-ray on Tuesday, July 26, and it's a sight to behold.
The movie follows the Blues Brothers (Dan Aykroyd as Elwood and the late John Belushi as Jake) on their "mission from God," a quest to get their old band back together to raise enough money to keep open the orphanage in which they grew up. Along the way they have to avoid the Illinois State Police (led by John Candy), an annoyed white supremacist (played by the unfairly underrated Henry Gibson), and an angry ex-girlfriend of Jake's (Carrie Fisher) with inexplicable access to rocket launchers and flame throwers.
It's a flimsy plot at best, but charm, humor, and (again) sheer coolness can sometimes make up for the weakest of plots.
And the music. Oh my God, the music.
The movie features performances from Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and a few sets from the Blues Brothers themselves. It's like porn for R&B lovers.
Frankly, the best way to describe this movie would be to call it pornography where the sex scenes are blues music and bad-ass car chases. The only difference? The scenes in between are funny and engaging enough to keep you interested.
Director John Landis gets cited a lot for giving birth to the R-rated comedy with Animal House and for helping to reinvigorate make-up effects in An American Werewolf in London, but he never gets the props he deserves for putting together one of the best balancing acts ever captured on film.
The Blues Brothers is a comedy, an action flick, a redemption story, and a flat-out musical, all rolled into one. And somehow, everything is served up in perfect proportions from beginning to end.
Belushi and Aykroyd are phenomenal in the title roles. They're a comedy team that, had Belushi not died, might have gone on to rival Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy. They both played off one another extremely well on Saturday Night Live (where the Blues Brothers' act was born) and in the famed Spielberg bomb 1941 (yes, I dare to speak its name) but their collaboration is perfect here.
These guys were pros, especially considering comedy (in particular ensemble comedy) is a genre where a performer has got to be willing to give up the good lines to his/her co-star. Their ability to bounce off one another is most evident in a scene early in the film where they're being taken to task by the Penguin, the nun who practically raised them in the orphanage.
Just sit back and enjoy Belushi playing straight against Aykroyd's comedy, only to have them switch roles in the middle of the scene seamlessly.
As for the musical aspects of the film, it's expertly-choreographed but never over-the-top in the style of the 40s and 50s. It somehow manages to maintain an air of subtlety even when people spontaneously break out into song.
Also, when I say this is part-action movie, I should be more specific. The Blues Brothers is a car-chase movie, and it's one that should be required viewing for any aspiring stunt driver or stunt choreographer, in particular a scene where Elwood and Jake try to ditch the cops by driving through an indoor mall.
This review is starting to come off like an absolute love fest for this movie, and with good reason: It is. Granted, this is a 31-year-old movie, so a 15-year-old sitting down to watch it for the first time would likely be bored to tears during certain parts.
There ARE things to criticize, such as the flat performances from some of the musicians and some choppy editing, but the story (again, flimsy though it may be) is more than engaging enough to keep any audience interested.
But I guarantee you they'll laugh like crazy at Frank Oz's cameo in the opening scene, they'll marvel at the Bluesmobile doing a mid-air back flip, and they'll rock out to the soundtrack. All because it's just that cool.
Universal has given The Blues Brothers a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that is absolutely glorious. It doesn't look like it was shot yesterday, but it's a very clean and clear picture. This was something that worried me as soon as I put the disc into the player.
The Blues Brother is a film that mixes a variety of visual elements. Landis and Director of Photography Stephen M. Katz are fond of rapidly switching between colorful settings and dark and grimy ones. The transition from one to the other was seamless in standard def, and I worried that a high-def presentation wouldn't hold up as well.
I was wrong.
An image of Jake and Elwood wandering through the sewer is void of murkiness but still retains its dark edge while a dance number in a church is insanely vibrant with bright blues, reds, and greens but it never becomes too much for the eye to handle. For a 31-year-old movie, it looks as close to new as is humanly possible.
As for the sound, the 5.1 DTS mix brings an already lively soundtrack to life all over again, which is no easy feat considering this is a soundtrack that combines rocket launchers, gunfire, squealing brakes and soul music. It's not an HD Master Audio track, but if I didn't tell you (and if it didn't say so on the box) you'd never notice. Every line of dialogue is clear, every car crash is powerful, and every note is pitch-perfect.
The mix does seem to have some problems when it comes to keeping balance when dialogue and explosions or crashes are going on simultaneously, but it's only in issue in one or two scenes. It's barely a blip on the radar for what is, essentially, a brilliant sound mix.
Beyond the Feature
Here's where Universal really skimped out on us.
All bonus features on this disc have already been released on the 25th anniversary DVD . Frankly, there were MORE features on that DVD.
Stories Behind the Making of the Blues Brothers (Approx. 1 hour, 1998) – An extensive documentary covering all aspects of the production from conception to filming. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this doc is the section chronicling the gathering of the Blues Brothers band. Definitely worth a look if you've never seen it.
Transposing the Music (Approx. 15 minutes, 2005) - The box describes this feature as a look at spin-offs that were inspired by the film. In actuality, it's 15 minutes' worth of information you already got from the hour-long documentary. The only exception is a brief bit of footage from SNL. And when I say "brief," I mean brief.
Remembering John (Approx. 10 minutes, 2005) – Belushi's friends and family (mainly his brother Jim, his widow Judy, and Aykroyd) reflect on Belushi's life and career. Worth a look, but again, it's nothing new.
Considering the fact that Universal and NBC are companies that operate under the same umbrella, the fact that the characters' SNL roots weren't explored further is an absolute shame. Granted, it's smart business to keep the Blues Brothers' TV performances on one disc and their feature film on another, but just a little taste would've have killed them, would it?
All bonus features are presented in 480p standard definition and come with a DTS 2.0 mix.
Weak bonus features notwithstanding, The Blues Brothers remains a great film after 31 years, and its presentation in hi-def does it justice. Just putting it on your shelf will automatically make the Blu rays surrounding it that much cooler.
- Jason Jarman
Shop for The Blues Brothers on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com (July 26, 2011 release date).
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