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Blues Brothers, The (25th Anniversary Edition) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 30 August 2005

The Blues Brothers
distributor: Universal Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: R
starring: John 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
director: John Landis
film release year: 1980
DVD release year: 2005
film rating: Four and a Half Stars
sound/picture rating: Four Stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

“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 acrobatic.

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 movie.

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 screen.

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 screen.

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.

more details
sound format:
Dolby Digital 5.1
aspect ratio(s):
special features: "Stories 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)
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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