Our tour of Universal’s ‘Iconic Art’ SteelBooks begins with the classic comedy THE BLUES BROTHERS.
Some of us are old enough to go back to iconic movie moments at the time when they actually arrived; thus the reasoning for Universal’s ‘Iconic Art’ series of SteelBooks. Such an idea would seem a perfect marriage, and yet there is reason for pause, primarily for that very same packaging. The re-release (or re-packaging) of THE BLUES BROTHERS shows us that the idea still needs some work.
Jake Blues (John Belushi) is recently released from prison, with his brother Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) there to pick him up. Almost right away, the boys get knee deep in trouble, as they try to earn enough money to pay off the tax bill to their childhood orphanage. Their solution comes in the most unlikely of places, as Jake learns that getting his famous band back together is the only mission from God worth pursuing. That ‘ankle deep’ trouble soon turns neck-deep, as The Blues Brothers recruit their old bandmates while pissing off every cop and a Neo-Nazi group in Illinois. But it’s not all seriousness, as the boys perform with some of the greatest blues singers in history (like Ray Charles) and teat through the state in Elwood’s magically-imbued former cop car. Pursued by a mysterious gun-toting stranger (Carrie Fisher) and with half of the state’s police after them, The Blues Brothers must make one last performance and get their earnings to Chicago before the orphanage is sold.
Not having seen THE BLUES BROTHERS in awhile, I had forgotten how just how hilarious and irreverent it is. It’s the first time I can remember the cameo playing such an important role in a film, and this one’s got enough to fill a ship. But it’s also the story by director John Landis and Dan Aykroyd that blends psychical comedy with great dialogue. You’ve got classic lines like, “Our Lady of Blessed Acceleration, don’t fail me now,” “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses,” and the “Hut! Hut!” of the over-zealous SWAT team as they pursue the duo in the final few minutes. Sure, there’s not much to the story and the characters don’t go through much growth, but are you going to apply the same standards to new classics like NEIGHBORS or 22 JUMP STREET? Aykroyd and Belushi never break their sunglassed-Sinatra-suited forms, choosing a variety of long pauses, non-reactions, and the classic commentary as their tear through a local Illinois mall. And then there’s The Blues Mobile, a police auctioned ride with as much character as anyone else in the film.
You’d still be hard-pressed to find another film with all the musical talent that Landis has assembled here: John Lee Hooker, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and James Brown are just a few, with each turning in a memorable performance. Jake and Elwood turn a couple as well, including the great Stand By Your Man. Then there’s the arrival of John Candy, Fisher, Steve Lawrence, Steven Spielberg and even Frank Oz as well-placed cameos that kick up the story at the right times.
I can see where some might think THE BLUES BROTHERS may not be their cup of tea, and have ignored it all these years for that exact reason. But I’ll guarantee that you’ll find yourself taping your toes at the infectious melodies and laughing out loud as the zaniness of the pictures takes ahold. It literally defined the age in which it was made, reignited people’s love of the blues, and set the standard for huge car chases and the straight-laced humor of today’s modern cinema.
Universal’s 2005 anniversary release contains two versions: the original 133-minute theatrical and a 148-minute extended cut. You can see where the AVC-1 theatrical version and the extended one begins: it’s brighter, but still clear enough to see details and shading. Color throughout the theatrical print has been cleaned up significantly, resulting in as good a print as could be imagined considering its advanced age. Hair, sweat, and dirt on Jake and Elwood look authentic, with individual strands of hair on Fisher’s head standing out. Colors are just a tad saturated, leaving Chicago’s brick-red buildings a little more red and the tan police suits a more vibrant brown. But detail on both versions is stellar, with wrinkles in clothing, dents in many smashed-up cars clearly seen, and the sights of Downtown Chicago’s commuter line on display. Something I noticed near the end of the film: watch when the Nazi’s Pinto is dropped and it hits the street. The windows actually rattle, something I don’t remember seeing in the standard version. This has been given the utmost TLC from the studio, and it excels in every way, even though it’s missing the standard MPEG-4.
Another worry I had – the lack of a Master Audio track – is not a problem at all. The heartbeat of this movie – the music – pumps throughout all five speakers with great separation. Main vocals and dialogue still come through the center channel, while the rhythm and blues echo from the forwards and rears. The remixed tunes sound as good as anything released today, admirably performing the job of bringing Jake and Elwood into the digital medium. Rear speakers don’t do much in tracks this old, but they don’t sit idly by either. When James Brown’s crowd reacts to his unique preaching, you can hear crowd noise clearly stand up to be noticed. And all of the songs echo so beautifully in general that I can forgive the lack of MA here. Would the experience have been profound with its addition? Perhaps, but one must also remember that the equally terrific Extended Cut probably would not have made it with MA present. Believe me, I usually knock these sorts of gaps down, but with an LFE that thumps through each song (especially the Peter Gunn theme in Chapter 5) and explosion/car chase, it’s hard to give this anything but a 4.0 or higher.
Let’s be clear: this is Universal’s 2005 special edition Blu-ray, re-packaged much like action figures are done today. But, the 133-minute theatrical and 148-minute extended cuts of the film have also ported over all of the supplements from the DVD release, which are presented in SD.
- Stories Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers (56:20): The best of this series is the rather extensive documentary that uncovers every aspects of the film’s production. In The Beginning: The Music and Finding the Band, Aykroyd and the band returned in 2005 to discuss the building of the group, including the Paul Schaffer controversy. Creating the Myth of the Blues Brothers memorializes one of the most iconic utterances in comedy while breaking down how the mammoth 300-page script was written, while It’s a Musical establishes the backbone of the film. Dancing shows us how the dance numbers were worked out, and Working with Our Heroes exposes how (sadly) most of the musical talent was available and hungry for work during the shooting. The Bluesmobile, The Mall, and Shooting in Chicago all focus on various non-human memorable aspects of the film. The series ends with The Palace Hotel Ballroom, Cab Calloway, and the short retrospectives John Belushi and We Did Something Right.
- Transposing the Music (15:16): This is the 2005 25th Anniversary retrospective that contains lots of new interviews, touching on how the band concept was started in giant bee costumes and warm-up performances prior to shooting. Composer Howard Shore, who got his start on SNL as musical director and would later make his endearing music for the Lord of the Rings franchise, is featured quite prominently. Other elements, such as their suits and the musical revival it unleashed, are welcomed reminders of the impact of Landis’ film.
- Remembering John (9:38): Judy Belushi-Pisano – Belushi’s widow – and a number of other creative talent from the film pay tribute to the late John Belushi.
- Theatrical Trailer (4:25): We complain today about long trailers; this one sheds a whole new light on the subject.
- BD-Live Functionality
- My Scenes Bookmarking
- D-Box Connectivity
The new dressing does come with issues: there is no interior artwork, one of my pet peeves in an industry still trying to figure out the US SteelBook market. Memo to corporate types: artwork is a necessary part of the experience, and not including them is taking a rather ill-advised gamble.
SteelBook fans are a curious lot: our high standards have created an entire sub-genre of home video releases. To do these titles any less than 100% is see them rot on the shelves until the $9.99 sale will eventually entice the patient. One can still find WB’s initial releases at your local stores because they made the same mistake. In the case of THE BLUES BROTHERS, however, there may be enough of us who now have reason to own, provided they don’t care about interior artwork. I know it sounds petty, but if you’re reading this, you’re probably A) a SteelBook fan, and B) Nodding your head in agreement as to my logic.
There is an attractive art card for the backing, and a Digital Copy is included.
One of the greatest comedies of all time, THE BLUES BROTHERS stands as a timeless piece of moviemaking genius. The ‘Iconic Art’ version does add a unique exterior look, but I’d only advise purchasing it if you don’t already have the 2005 disc which Universal released as part of the anniversary edition. The movie should look and sound very nice on your newly-arrived home theater from Santa Claus, and if you can get it at $9.99, then you could do a lot worse.
Both versions of THE BLUES BROTHERS are rated R.