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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 8/26/05
updated: 9/1/05




The Blues Brothers
25th Anniversary Edition - 1980/1998 (2005) - Universal

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

The Blues Brothers: 25th Anniversary Edition

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

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Film Ratings (Theatrical/Extended): A/A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/A-/A-

Specs and Features

Side One - Extended Edition

148 mins, Unrated, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, dual-sided/RSDL dual-layered (DVD-18), dual-disc Amaray keep case packaging, The Stories Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers documentary (56 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), musical highlights (song selection), animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English (SDH), French and Spanish

Side Two - Theatrical Edition

133 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, dual-sided/RSDL dual-layered (DVD-18), video introduction to the film by Dan Aykroyd, 3 featurettes (all 4x9, DD 2.0 - Going Rounds: A Day on The Blues Brothers Tour - 7 mins, Transposing the Music - 15 mins and Remembering John - 9 mins), musical highlights (song selection), theatrical trailer, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: English (SDH), French and Spanish

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? The Saint Helen of the Blessed Shroud Orphanage, where they both grew up. 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 quick gigs to earn the money. So Jake and Elwood set upon their "holy" mission to track down their former band members, who have each gone their separate 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, of course, is the fact that virtually everybody in this film seems 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, literally hundreds of police officers, Illinois state troopers and tank-driving National Guardsmen, one ninja nun (as a recovering Catholic school attendee, this always leaves me in stitches) and a dash of the Peter Gunn theme, and there's just no stopping the take-no-prisoners mayhem.

As with the original DVD release, the real beauty of this edition is the extended version of the film, which features some 12 minutes of footage restored by director John Landis himself - footage which (until the original DVD release) hadn't been seen since the first preview screening back in 1980. In liner notes on an insert booklet included on the original DVD (but sadly not included here), Landis explained that the original edit of the film contained even MORE footage than what was restored here, but unfortunately that first test screening print (which even featured a roadshow-style intermission) has been lost. It's too bad, as I would have loved seeing Jake and Elwood singing Sink the Bismarck at Bob's Country Bunker, a number which was cut from the film prior to its theatrical release (more on that in a moment). 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. Thankfully, this new DVD edition also includes the original theatrical version of the film, which has never been released on the format before.

The video quality here is comparable to what was found on the original DVD. Both versions are presented in anamorphic widescreen, at the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The prints are generally clean (with only minor visible dust and print damage). There's considerable film grain visible, but that's always been true of this film, and certainly contributes to its gritty, South-side of Chicago feel. Colors are muted by design, but accurate, and contrast is generally quite good. On the extended edition, the added footage can usually be identified because it exhibits slightly less contrast. Little to no compression artifacting is visible, and there's plenty of detail without the image seeming overly edgy.

The extended edition's soundtrack is presented in fully remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound (the theatrical edition is available in the original 2.0 stereo). 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 James Brown's performance of The Old Landmark at the Triple Rock Baptist Church if you doubt me. The congregation can be heard calling out all around, and the organ thrums majestically from the rear channels. 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" at his Music Exchange. The film certainly sounds better than ever, no matter which version you choose.

Everything is presented on a single DVD-18 (dual-sided, dual-layered) disc. Side One contains the previously released extended edition of the film, along with DVD producer JM Kenny's excellent documentary on the the making of the film, The Stories Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers, which was included on the original release. 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, and you can really see how much Aykroyd still appreciates and misses his friend. In addition to the regular scene selection option, you can also choose to access the film's various numbers by song - a nice touch.

Side Two contains the original theatrical version of the film and all of this edition's new extras. First up, there's a brief video introduction to the theatrical edition by Dan Aykroyd. You also get a trio of new featurettes, which collectively run about a half-hour. The first of them, Going Rounds: A Day on The Blues Brothers Tour, really isn't worth much unfortunately. It's a basically a few minutes of performance footage of the "new" Blues Brothers (now including Jim Belushi as a fill-in for his late brother John) on stage at The House of Blues. Sadly, once John died, so did my interest (see my review of the awful sequel film, Blues Brothers 2000).

As a quick side note, if you really want more performance footage of Jake and Elwood - GOOD footage - I recommend you skip the sequel and get yourself a copy of Rhino's The Best of the Blues Brothers DVD. It's cheap, and it features Belushi and Aykroyd (in character as Jake and Elwood) giving an interview in which they talk about the origins of their act. This leads into TONS of vintage performance footage, among which you'll find most of their 1970s Saturday Night Live appearances (including the classic Killer Bees number), as well as concert footage from their U.S. tour in 1979. It's really a must-have if you're a fan.

Back to the extras on THIS DVD: Next up is Transposing the Music, which is actually a pretty nice little retrospective look at the film and its impact over the years. You see how the film's following has grown around the world, and how it really was instrumental in revitalizing R&B music. The piece features new interviews with Landis, Aykroyd, Paul Shaffer (of Letterman fame, who helped put the original band together back in the 70s), some of the band members themselves and Judy Belushi (John's wife, who also helped create the history of the characters back in the day). It's short, but it's worth checking out. Finally, there's Remembering John, which is a good tribute to the man who made Joliet Jake live and breathe. Judy, in particular, contributes a great deal to this piece, along with Aykroyd and brother Jim. There's some funny stuff here, but again, it's all too brief. The side is rounded out by the production notes and theatrical trailer (from the previous DVD release), along with another song access option.

The only bonus features from the previous DVD release not to make the transition to this new edition are the gallery of behind-the-scenes production photographs (a shame, as there were some funny shots in there) and the cast and crew bios. That's disappointing, but I suppose it's not a huge loss. Still, surely they could have squeezed them in somewhere?

Now then... I mentioned that lost Sink the Bismarck number, didn't it? The Johnny Horton classic was originally performed by the band at Bob's Country Bunker, right after Stand by Your Man. But while the performance footage of this song seems to have been lost... I'm absolutely thrilled to inform you that an audio recording of the number HAS survived. Way back on August 10th, 1980 (presumably to promote the film's original release), director John Landis appeared as a co-host on the Dr. Demento Show. During the radio broadcast, Landis presented a trio of musical numbers from movie that he'd "saved from the cutting room floor." Among them were the original soundtrack recording of Sink the Bismarck, as performed by Jake, Elwood and The Blues Brothers Band. This is the track EXACTLY as it would have been heard in the film (minus all of the rowdy truckers and shattering beer bottles, of course). The other two songs played were numbers by Murph and The Magic Tones, including the complete version of Tony Renis' Quando, Quando, Quando (only part of which appears in the film) and a performance of Billy Joel's Just the Way You Are (only an instrumental version of which can be heard in the final film). After some serious detective work, I managed to track down a high-quality audio recording of the original radio broadcast. So it's my pleasure to present to you with THIS ZIP FILE that contains ALL THREE SONGS in MP3 format (all you need is a free unzipping utility to open it). Now, I'm a serious fan of this film, and until recently I'd NEVER heard these tracks before. A low quality audio clip of Sink the Bismarck first resurfaced on the excellent Blues Brothers Central a few months ago, but the other two tracks haven't (to my knowledge) been heard since 1980. Needless to say, these tracks have for decades been exceedingly rare. The MP3 files we're offering here are the best quality you'll find them ANYWHERE - Sink the Bismarck is presented in full 192kbps/44kHz stereo, while the other two songs are 128kbps/44kHz stereo. Since these recordings have clearly survived in some form, I can't for the life of me understand why Universal didn't include them on this new DVD release. Nevertheless, it's my pleasure to give you all the chance to FINALLY hear them in their original glory. Special thanks must be extended to Wayne Ross and his fantastic Mad Music Archive, who provided the original Dr. Demento recording.

[Editor's Note: At the recent DVD promotional screening of the film in Hollywood, I had the chance to speak with Blues Brothers director John Landis in person. He confirmed to me that he DOES still have the original mixed audio masters for these three songs. He sadly didn't remember this in time for them to be included on the new DVD release, however they will likely find their way onto the next version. So here's to the 30th Anniversary Edition. FYI, you can view pictures from the screening here, and read my report on the event here.]

Considered in sum, The Blues Brothers: 25th Anniversary Edition is a good, if not absolutely necessary, upgrade to the original DVD. Really, the main reason to buy this disc is to get the theatrical edition - a must for serious fans. The other new bonus material is too brief, and while it's mostly worth having, it represents only an incremental improvement on the previous DVD. Still, when you consider that virtually all of the outtakes and other deleted footage (other than what's included in the extended cut) was sadly thrown away by Universal in 1985, I'm just glad to be able to have a DVD special edition this good. My biggest complaint is the lack of a piece on the film's deleted music (but thankfully, you can finally at least HEAR it, if not actually see it performed). In any case, The Blues Brothers is a hands-down classic of American musical comedy, as well as a truly amazing slice of R&B music history. For my money, it just doesn't get any better than this. Whether you choose to upgrade or just keep the original DVD, The Blues Brothers is an absolute requirement for any self-respecting film fan's collection.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


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