This Month's Featured Equipment Reviews
Blues Brothers, The (25th Anniversary Edition)
Written by Bill Warren
Tuesday, 30 August 2005
|The Blues Brothers
||Universal Home Entertainment
Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Cab Calloway, James Brown, Ray Charles, Aretha
Franklin, Kathleen Freeman, Henry Gibson, John Candy, Twiggy, Frank Oz,
Charles Napier, Carrie Fisher, and lots more
|film release year:
|DVD release year:
||Four and a Half Stars
“The Blues Brothers” is one of those movies that seems to get a little
better each time you watch it. There’s never been another movie like
this one, not even the belated sequel “Blues Brothers 2000.” This was
made by a bunch of young filmmakers full of ginger and ideas; the movie
is so intensely energetic that even the scant quiet scenes have a
feeling of bottled-up power, ready to erupt at any moment.
Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi met before they started Saturday Night
Live; they were instant best friends, with Aykroyd introducing Belushi
to the blues and Belushi turning Aykroyd on to heavy metal. They were
radically different in appearance, the classic comedy-team look of a
fat guy and a skinny guy, a short guy and a tall guy, and their
performing styles were different, too. Belushi was instantly a very
fine actor, capable of switching from sketch mode to dramatic mode in
the twitch of an eyebrow. Aykroyd had a harder time making that
transition, and even today, all but his very best performances have a
sense that he’s putting something on, a con man trying to slicker his
way past us.
But they made a hell of a team.
They started doing the Blues Brothers as a warm-up for Saturday Night
Live: two white guys in black suits, white shirts, black ties, black
hats and dark glasses. They seemed like a joke, a reference to some
long-forgotten team, which made them puzzling to many people. Is this a
joke I don’t get? But the trick of The Blues Brothers were that they
were a joke AND straight: yeah, it’s kind of improbable to see a couple
of white guys dressed like this doing urban blues—but they did it
awfully damned well. Both were very light on their feet, both were
athletic. Belushi’s paunch was deceptive; he was very graceful, even
When “Saturday Night Live” seemed to be the favorite viewing on every
college campus in the U.S., Hollywood was quick to act. John Landis
directed “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” which took off from the
then-popular magazine and included some SNL members in the cast,
notably Belushi. The movie was a stunning success world wide, and the
dazzled Landis was handed “The Blues Brothers” project.
He and Aykroyd whittled down Aykroyd’s initial 300-page script,
obtained a set of perceptive producers and launched a comedy epic. The
movie is basically one long chase with scattered musical numbers,
building to an epochal climax in downtown Chicago, with dozens of
crashed police cars, hundreds of National Guardsmen, helicopters
landing in Dealy Plaza by the Picasso, SWAT teams rappelling down
buildings, and lots and lots of guns. To chase two guys in shades.
Landis makes excess not just a virtue, but an integral part of his huge
It was made huger when released on laserdisc. Initially, Universal
hoped to release the nearly three hour road show version, complete with
intermission; it was fully prepared with a release print and
everything. But some yahoo at storage actually threw the whole thing
away; it’s irrecoverable. But Landis and producer George Folsey Jr.
were able to grab an 18-minute longer version and released it on
laserdisc. If you’re curious about where the 18 minutes went—they’re
scattered all through the film, a line here, a take there. The Internet
Movie Database page for “The Blues Brothers” lists all the additional
scenes in the “Alternate Versions” category on the left side of the
Now here’s this cheaply-packaged but elaborate 25th anniversary DVD
edition; although it doesn’t include a deleted scenes section, it has
almost everything else a Blues Brothers fan could demand. One side has
the longer version, the other the theatrical release. There’s an
especially good “making-of” documentary that talks to almost everyone
involved, Landis, Folsey, other producert Robert K. Weiss, Aykroyd, the
Band, Aretha Franklin, many, many others. It seems to include clips
shot over a long period of time; even the late, irreplaceable Kathleen
Freeman (The Penguin) makes a brief appearance.
There are other extras, too. One section includes footage shot at Blues
Brothers concerts at the various Houses of Blues begun by Aykroyd. Jim
Belushi steps in for his brother. “Transposing the Music” is a
peculiarly-titled documentary on the origin and later career of the
Blues Brothers, and how, unexpectedly, the movie and the act helped
revive old interest and generate new in the blues. The movie had a very
powerful effect on this, including on the careers of everyone involved.
Those appearing here include Paul Shaffer and Howard Shore, who
actually named the Blues Brothers. Others turning up here and there
include Sean Daniel, John Goodman, Deborah Nadoolman Landis, Murphy
Dunne and other Blues Brothers band members, all kinds of people, all
of whom loved the movie and their association with it.
A lot of attention is paid to the late John Belushi, with the best
comments coming from Aykroyd—“he was a good man and a bad boy”—and Jim
Belushi—“every scene that John and Danny were in is my favorite scene.”
Belushi’s widow Judy Belushi-Pisano also appears frequently, and Landis
turns up everywhere. This makes it all too clear just how much all of
us lost when Belushi spun out and hit the wall. His intense energy and
lust for sensation killed him; if he’d controlled it, lord knows what
he’d be today, but he’d be famous.
The documentaries include interesting information such as that the
hardest number to record and shoot was Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the
Moocher.” The tough old guy gave Landis some grief about the recording,
and the number itself involved a lot of camera angles and costume
changes. But it’s the greatest “Minnie” Calloway ever committed to
The cars in Chicago really were going a hundred miles an hour, no
speeded-up effects were needed. Cars pile up by the dozens, smash into
each other, spin out. There’s a scene that, in 1980, was one of the
most astonishing car-chase scenes put on film: they found a closed
mall, restocked it and ran cars through it, smashing through windows,
knocking over displays and sending shoppers leaping out of the way.
This is contrasted with Jake and Elwood (Belushi and Aykroyd) calmly
commenting on the products they’re demolishing.
There’s no real point in outlining the plot, because there’s scarcely
any plot to outline. Jake gets out of Joliet prison, rejoins his
brother Elwood in the new Bluesmobile. (An old police car.) Visiting
the orphanage where they grew up, they learn from the tough nun
(Freeman) who runs the place that it’s going to close unless she can
pay the $5,000 the institution owes. Elwood wants to reform the Blues
Brothers band, Jake is stubbornly sure that this is a bad idea until he
gets the light at a church revival meeting.
They put together the band, pissing off people as they go. Aretha
Franklin does a great number, “Think,” Ray Charles does one, too. The
Blues Brothers and their band do the theme from “Rawhide” at a bar that
welcomes both kinds of music, country and western. There are lots of
chases. They put on a huge show with Jake and Elwood arriving late,
thanks to exploding gas stations and Carrie Fisher with automatic
weapons. A record executive makes an offer, there’s another all night
chase to Chicago. Somehow the climax includes Steven Spielberg.
This movie is intense, friend, intense. Oddly, after “Animal House,”
it’s not primarily a comedy, but a musical with car chases. And when
people sing here, everybody sings; there’s a great number in the street
outside Ray Charles’ shop with hundreds of pedestrians and el riders
getting into the act. The movie is sleek and speedy, anything but
clumsy, rocketing toward the semi-predictable finish (you know they’ll
get the money, you just don’t know how enormous the deeds necessary).
It’s long but it’s never boring and, in fact, only gets more
interesting with each viewing.
Damned few moviemakers, even great ones, ever make a completely unique
movie, but that’s what John Landis did with this. The sequel is a
different kind of movie. The studio gave him lots of money, and he
spent it all on gigantic stunts, cars that back flip (and change
direction mid-air), Nazis that fall out of the sky in little red cars,
SWAT team members who yell “hut hut hut” all the time, and lots and
lots of guns aimed at two guys in shades. Landis and his producers
orchestrated this complex mass of equipment, musical instruments, cars
and people into one of the most astonishing movies ever made. Holy
mackerel, what a show.
|Dolby Digital 5.1
Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers;” Musical Highlights;
introduction by Dan Ayroyd; “Going Rounds: A Day on The Blues Brothers
Tour;” Transposing the Music; Remembering John; Production Notes (on
both sides of the disc)
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||36-inch Sony XBR