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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 8/26/98



The Blues Brothers
Collector's Edition - 1980 (1998) - Universal Studios

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Film Rating: A
The Blues Brothers is a blast. It's probably my favorite comedy, full of heart and soul. Watching this movie, it's easy to see the genius of the late John Belushi. He and Aykroyd are at their best here. And with such great music, how can you possibly go wrong?

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A-/A+
Generally very good 16x9 enhanced widescreen picture, although there are some contrast issues. The audio has been remixed for 5.1, and the music in particular benefits tremendously. And there's some absolutely terrific extras.

Overall Rating: A+
Just being able to watch this film with so much extra footage restored makes this DVD worth the price, at least for me. And the documentary and other extras are equally good. A real treat.

Specs and Features

148 mins, this version unrated (originally rated R), letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 2:00:00 between chapters 37 and 38), Amaray keep case packaging, documentary: The Stories Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers, production notes, cast and crew bios, theatrical trailer, gallery of production photographs, film-themed menu screens, Universal web links (DVD-rom use only), scene access (47 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: French and Spanish, Close Captioned

Review

Funny men Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi star in this raucous comedy about a pair of musical con men '"on a mission from God". Based on a routine the two comedians developed just for laughs (and later portrayed on NBC's Saturday Night Live), The Blues Brothers begins with motorhead Elwood Blues (Aykroyd) picking up his brother Jake (Belushi), who's just been released after serving three years in Joliet. Their first stop: their old home, the Saint Helen of the Blessed Shroud Orphanage. Elwood reminds Jake that he promised to visit the head nun (Sister Stigmata, aka "The Penguin") when he got out of the slammer. There they learn that the Church has decided not to pay $5,000 in back taxes owed to the county. Unless the money is found, the orphanage will be closed. Determined to help, but unable to decide how to obtain the money legally, Jake and Elwood take in a high-energy sermon by the Reverend Cleophus James (none other than James Brown), and Jake suddenly "sees the light". He's got the answer to their problem: put their old R&B band back together and play a few gigs to earn the money. So Jake and Elwood set upon their "holy mission" to track down their former band members, who have all gone their own ways. What follows next, has got to be one of the most bizarre and funny series of musical numbers, car chases and general misadventures ever captured on film.

Where else can you find rip-roaring comedy, fast-paced action, 50 car pile-ups, and performances by some of the finest rhythm and blues musicians ever assembled, including Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and John Lee Hooker? The Blues Brothers has definitely got a little of everything, and there's certainly something for everyone. Heating up the action, is the fact that everybody in this film is out to get Jake and Elwood for one reason or another. There's a rocket launcher-packing ex-girlfriend hell bent on revenge (Carrie Fisher), Jake's portly parole officer (John Candy), a band of Illinois Nazis, and even an R.V. full of of good old boys (a country band called, appropriately, The Good Old Boys). Throw in Jake and Elwood's ragtag band of musicians, hundreds of police officers, Illinois state troopers, tank-driving National Guardsmen, one ninja nun (as a recovering Catholic school attendee, this leaves me in stitches), and a dash of the Peter Gunn theme, and there's just no stopping the take-no-prisoners mayhem.

The real beauty of this collector's edition DVD, is that director John Landis has edited some 12 minutes of footage back into the film - footage which hasn't been seen since the first preview screening back in 1980. In the production notes, provided in the booklet that accompanies the DVD, Landis explains that the original edit of the film contained even more footage than what was restored here, but unfortunately, that original print has been lost. Too bad - I would have loved seeing Jake and Elwood singing Sink the Bismark at Bob's Country Bunker! Nonetheless, the 12 minutes that were found, are a real treasure. This isn't just bits and pieces - several scenes have been expanded or restored. Finally, we learn what gives the Bluesmobile its power, we see Elwood quit his job (and learn where he got than can of glue), and almost every musical number is longer, including John Lee Hooker's street performance. This is The Blues Brothers better than you've even seen it.

The film is presented in 1.85:1 letterboxed widescreen, and is enhanced for anamorphic displays (even the restored footage). No pan & scan version is included - the film is too long for the disc to contain both, plus extras. The video quality itself is generally good, although it's occasionally a bit grainy, and this print is high in contrast. The added footage can usually be identified, because it exhibits slightly less contrast. There is also some artifacting to be seen (particularly in the murky clouds at the beginning), although it's minor. It really isn't a problem anyway - the film has always had a bit of a grungy, South-side of Chicago look to it anyway. And the color of this print is very good.

The soundtrack has been remixed in full Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. With all the action sequences, there's some cool use of the surround channels, but it's the music which benefits most here. This film has some terrific musical numbers and they've never sounded better. Listen to the scene at the Triple Rock Baptist Church if you doubt me (chapters 5, 6 and 7). The congregation can be heard calling out all around, and the organ thrums majestically from the rear channels. In chapter 10, during the car chase inside the shopping mall, there's a shot inside an upside-down, spinning police car, and you can here a brief spinning effect moving around the room. And just listen to the bullets fly when Ray (Ray Charles) scares off "another kid going bad". This is some very nice remixing work. The only drawback here is that the audio is only provided in English.

The extras on this disc are equally good. There's a gallery with dozens and dozens of production photographs (be sure to look for a section of Jake's Engagement photos). There's a theatrical trailer, and pages of production notes, and cast and crew bios. And best of all, there's a great behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of the film. It's almost an hour long, and it's full of great stories and anecdotes. There's a very funny (and touching) moment, where Aykroyd recalls a night during filming when Belushi disappeared. A quick search of a nearby neighborhood, revealed that John had simply invited himself into some stranger's house, helped himself to a sandwich and a glass of milk, and then crashed out on the guy's couch! It's a great story to listen to, and you can really see how much Aykroyd still appreciates and misses his friend.

Bottom line

The Blues Brothers: Collector's Edition DVD is a blast. There's no other way to put it. With all of the expanded footage, and with the extras provided, there's just no better way to watch this movie. As a big fan of The Blues Brothers, I'm completely satisfied by this DVD. You really get your money's worth here. Highly recommended. Nicely done, Universal!

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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