THE BLUES BROTHERS
Length: 2 hrs 13 mins (Theatrical Version), 2 hrs 28 mins (Extended Version)
Genre: Comedy/Musical/Saturday Night Live
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
BD Resolution: 1080p
BD Video Codec: AVC (@ an average 20 mbps) (same for both versions)
English DTS Surround 5.1 (@ 768 kbps)
French DTS 2.0 (Theatrical Version Only)
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Film Rating: R (Language) Unrated (Same Language)
Release Date: July 26, 2011
Starring: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Carrie Fisher, Aretha Franklin, Henry Gibson and The Blues Brothers Band, with appearances by John Lee Hooker, John Candy and Twiggy
Written by: Dan Aykroyd and John Landis
Directed by: John Landis
Film Rating: 3 ½/5
The Blues Brothers is notable as the first sketch act from “Saturday Night Live” to be directly translated to the big screen. The act initially started as a routine on the show, with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd playing uptempo blues numbers with the SNL band, while dressed in matching dark suits and sunglasses. With the gleeful participation of bandleader Howard Shore and Paul Shaffer, the guys (and the audience) had a lot of fun with R&B standards like “Soul Man”. In short order, this led to a studio album (“Briefcase Full of Blues”) and a tour as the opening act for Steve Martin. Given the popularity of the act, and that of Belushi and Akroyd on SNL, it was inevitable that somebody would try to make a movie out of the material. And given John Landis’ success with Belushi in Animal House, it was probably inevitable that he would be the one to direct the project. During SNL’s 4th season, Aykroyd spent a fair amount of time developing the script for this movie, starting with a “tome” of material he had compiled about the characters and their adventures. By the end of that season, Landis had revised the script into something approaching shootable form, and with that, Belushi and Aykroyd left SNL and went off to make the movie. The movie’s plot is appropriately simple – the two “brothers” go on a mission to save the orphanage that raised them from being shut down by the state of Illinois due to a tax assessment. Along the way, they rub shoulders with several R&B giants, including James Brown, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and John Lee Hooker. They also attract unfriendly attention from several areas, including the police, a country western band and some crazed Illinois Nazis. The film consists of a series of escalating car chases, punctuated by full-on musical numbers performed by either the R&B stars or Belushi and Aykroyd, or both. And it’s a lot of fun to watch, even today. Filmed on a fairly large budget ($30 million in 1979 went a very long way), the movie combines a genuine love for the music with John Landis’ deadpan slapstick and his increasing appetite for spectacle. With the popular Belushi and Aykroyd fronting the movie, there was no way the movie could do other than become a giant hit – particularly since it was released right at the end of SNL’s 5th season, at a time when the public knew SNL was being disbanded and when the two most popular stars of the show had been gone from the screen for a year.
A few more things to note on this release: The sound is a standard definition DTS mix, not an HD mix. There are two complete cuts of the movie presented on the same disc. There’s the theatrical version, and an extended version that runs about 15 minutes longer with sometimes noticeable changes in video quality for the restored footage. The extended version makes changes to so many scenes in the film that seamless branching would not really be applicable – so we’re looking at two complete movies on the disc presented in 1080p AVC transfers but with standard definition DTS 5.1 sound. Having run a check on the disc, we have found that it is nearly maxed out as a BD-50 from the inclusion of both cuts. That’s a little disappointing, but I must acknowledge that the DTS mix still works fine and the musical numbers come in with a lot of punch. To have done otherwise would have meant making a second disc in the package. Also, as pointed out by Scott Saslow on this forum, there is an error during one scene of the theatrical version that has been popping up at least since 2005. Right after the Triple Rock Church number, there’s a shot of the Bluesmobile driving at night while we hear “Soothe Me” on the car radio. The camera holds on the car and cuts inside to a close-up of the 8-track deck in the dashboard. In the theatrical version, there’s a premature cut to the 8-track, a cut back outside to the prior shot, and then a cut to the 8-track at the proper point in the soundtrack. The sound is unaffected here – it’s literally a visual hiccup. This doesn’t happen on the extended version, but the error exists on the theatrical version not only here, but on the 2005 DVD and on the version being played on HDNet. I do not know if the same problem exists on the 1998 DVD, but I do know that an old VHS tape of a cable airing cerca 1985 doesn’t have that problem. The issue seems to be in the theatrical master being used for all the latest transfers. I understand that John Landis approved the new transfer, but it’s possible he didn’t see that shot – to be fair, I don’t know that he would have been sitting in a booth for nearly 5 hours watching both versions of the movie to catch stuff like this. It’s also not a dealbreaker for me – it’s a small error that doesn’t affect the song being played, and it isn’t present on the other version of the film on the disc.
The Blues Brothers has been released multiple times on video, from VHS to laserdisc to DVD. (I note that it did not get an HD-DVD release, but I believe this is due to the same capacity issues that the Blu-ray struggles with.) The new Blu-ray ports over the documentary and trailer from the 1998 Signature laserdisc, along with two more recent featurettes assembled for the 2005 DVD, along with AVC transfers of both cuts. This is a pretty nice package, particularly if you’re a fan of the movie and have not purchased it on DVD before. Fans of classic SNL, and of Belushi and Aykroyd in particular, will want to pick this up for certain.
VIDEO QUALITY 3 ½/5
Both cuts of The Blues Brothers are presented in 1080p AVC 1.85:1 transfers that look very good overall, with deep blacks (good for the brothers’ iconic suits) and accurate flesh tones. There’s some grain visible, which is appropriate, and there are places where a qualitative shift can be seen in the extended version when we get into the recovered footage. I should note that I am watching the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. If anyone is watching the film on a larger monitor and is having issues, please post them on this thread.
AUDIO QUALITY 3/5
The Blues Brothers is presented in an English DTS 5.1 Surround mix for both cuts and a French DTS 2.0 mix for the Theatrical version only. While this is a little disappointing given how much a movie like this depends on the musical numbers, the DTS mix still packs a lot of punch. The big numbers still rock the house, just not quite to the level you’d expect from an HD sound mix.
SPECIAL FEATURES 3/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of The Blues Brothers comes with a few extras ported over from the last DVD release. While the usual BD-Live, pocket BLU and D-Box functionality are present, there are no PIP functions or any new Blu-ray features for the movie. This is a little surprising, in that there are PIP music guides on several Universal Blu-ray releases hitting stores this month, and if ever there was a movie with good music in it, this would be the one…
Stories Behind The Making of The Blues Brothers – (56:20, Full Frame, 480p) (FROM THE 1998 SIGNATURE LASERDISC) – This documentary runs nearly an hour and accounts for much of the history starting with the act’s beginnings on SNL through the release of the movie. There’s some good material here, including some footage from the set, and some candid recollections from several people, including John Landis. His account of the recording session with Cab Calloway is instructive, to say the least. For some reason, the sound encoding for this documentary shows up on my monitor as DTS-HD MA 2.0. I have no idea why they would have done this when the movie itself was not. The documentary is broken into several parts, culminating with a look back at John Belushi and an evaluation of the movie’s impact. The parts can be played individually or via a “Play All” function.
Trailer – (4:25, Non-Anamorphic, 480p) (FROM THE 1998 SIGNATURE LASERDISC) – A copy of the film’s trailer is ported over here, complete with the portentous voice intoning “Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues. Two men with a mission…” as Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn Theme blares. This is a longer trailer than I remember, but then the movie was always an oversize affair…
Transposing the Music – (15:16, Full Frame, 480p) (FROM THE 2005 DVD) – This documentary covers some of the same ground as the earlier piece from the laserdisc, but adds in discussion about various spin-offs and tributes to the band that have popped up over the years. I believe it’s in this piece that costume designer Deborah Nadoolman explains that while Jake and Elliott would really have slept in their suits every day, her concept was for them to always look perfectly pressed.
Remembering John – (9:38, Full Frame, 480p) (FROM THE 2005 DVD) – This short piece is another fond look back at John Belushi, including interviews with his widow Judy, Dan Aykroyd, and various other friends.
BD-Live – The usual BD-Live functionality is present.
Pocket BLU – The usual pocket BLU functionality is present.
D-Box – This functionality is available for those people who have this in their home theaters.
The movie and the special features are subtitled in English, French and Spanish. The usual chapter and pop-up menus are present.
IN THE END...
The Blues Brothers continues to be a fun musical comedy, with now-vintage performances by several R&B greats punctuating the escalating series of car chases that fill the movie. Fans of Belushi and Aykroyd or of the band will certainly want to pick this up. The only real issue may be the non-HD sound. If you already own the 2005 DVD, you already have all the extras you can find here. The only difference will be the HD picture and a DTS mix you may not have had before. (I can’t find an SD DVD release noting a DTS mix…) The new picture transfer for both cuts is quite good – it’s just a question of whether fans are happy with the earlier release. I suggest a rental if there’s any doubt.
July 24, 2011.