DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

The Blues Brothers, 25th Anniversary Edition (2005)

Filled with 15 minutes restored footage plus new extras, it's the Hummer of musicals!

Published on September 25, 2005

The Blues Brothers, 25th Anniversary Edition (2005)
The Blues Brothers, 25th Anniversary Edition (2005)

Starring: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Cab Calloway, James Brown
Directed by: John Landis
Studio: Universal
Video: 1.85:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 on director’s cut, English, French or Spanish 2.0 on theatrical version (2-sided disc)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers, Interviews with the
cast and crew plus behind-the-scenes footage, Aykroyd introduction to
the film, Going Rounds: A Day on the Blues Brothers Tour, Transposing
the Music (on spin-offs), Remembering John Belushi, Musical Highlights,
Production Notes
Length: Dir. Cut: 2 hrs, 28 min.; Theatrical: 2 hrs., 13 mins.
Rating: ****

Although some wouldn’t think of it as a musical at all, The Blues
Brothers has more continuous music than some standard Hollywood
musicals. And it’s most certainly not a standard musical by any means.
It’s like a drawn-out chase movie such as Its a Mad Mad Mad World,
crashed noisily into a comedy about two down-and-out bros who are
trying to save the orphanage where they were brought up by making a
bundle on a big concert with their blues band, interrupted occasionally
for wonderful toe-tapping bigtime musical numbers by such as Aretha
Franklin, Cab Calloway, James Brown, Ray Charles and John Lee
Hooker.  It may seem all pretty insane, but it works!

Belushi and Aykroyd basically expanded their characters from Saturday
Night Live with a detailed back-story: The prison time at Joliet that
Jake Blues (Belushi) is being released from at the start of the film
was due to his getting caught in a gas station holdup trying to get
money to pay his band. Both comics were great fans of the blues and saw
the film as an opportunity to share their love of the music with a
larger audience.  Director Landis reveals in the extras that there
was no difficulty getting Franklin, Calloway, Hooker and Brown, because
they weren’t performing much at all at the time.  Only Ray Charles
was. And following the film’s release all of their careers shot up
again.

The film’s budget was $27 million, which was a huge sum for a movie in
l979. Director Landis observes that it would be impossible to do such a
film today even if money were not the object. The chase-and-crash
scenes in downtown Chicago alone involved stupendous armies of people
and equipment. The chase runs thru subway tunnels, around the Loop,
right thru Daley Center around the Picasso statue. I’ve never seen any
of the Dukes of Hazzard stuff, but I can’t imagine any movie has ever
trashed so many police cars at one time as The Blues Brothers. There’s
an additional bit of destruction added in the Director’s Cut – a gas
station and tanker which blows up.  However, all the unbelievable
mayhem  seems to strangely fit right in appropriately ; even those
sensitive to violence in movies should appreciate the comedy potential
here.

The reason for the chase in the first place?  Well, the Blues
Brothers are unstoppable on their “mission from God” – which Elwood
(Aykroyd) keeps telling everyone. Problem is a few folks would like to
stop them, including: police and sheriffs (for speeding and wrecking
police cars), a country bandleader they crossed, a neo-Nazi (Henry
Gibson) with a score to settle, and a mystery woman (Carrie Fisher) who
keeps trying to kill Jake (turns out she’s a jilted fiancee). The
former police car driven by Elwood seems magical in the way it can sail
thru the air and elude pursuers; part of the restored footage explains
how the car gets its powers from being garaged right under a giant
transformer for the elevated railway.

For me the best of the actual musical settings were Aretha Franklin as
the owner of the cafe where the Blues Brothers go to recruit their old
guitarist, and Cab Calloway quieting down the impatient crowd for the
final big Blues Brothers show by doing his entire Minnie The Moocher
bit – including suddenly being transformed to his patented white coat
and tails with matching outfits for the band. The 5.1 surround of the
extended version is gangbusters sonically, and it’s too bad the
theatrical version is only stereo, but then the added 15 minutes
footage doesn’t spoil anything. Sometimes the lip sync in the musical
portions is a bit off, because neither Aretha or James Brown were
skilled in doing that, and the Ray Charles segment is a bit
mechanical.  The transfer is good, but gets rather contrasty in
some scenes.  The extras are extremely fascinating.

- John Sunier
 




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