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DVD Review - The Blues Brothers - 25th Anniversary Edition

September 12th, 2005

Just over a week ago, Universal released a 25th Anniversary Edition of The Blues Brothers. This review will go into the movie itself and the DVD presentation, but like all Special Editions, the real question is, is it worth the update.

Spoiler-Free Synopsis:
'Joliet' Jake Blues is just released from prison and is picked up by his brother, Elwood Blues. After a quick trip to visit Sister Mary Stigmata, a.k.a. The Penguin, they learn that the orphanage they grew up in is about to close unless they get $5000 in 11 days. After some divine inspiration the solution is simple, put the band together again! But even when you're on a mission from God, things never seem to go smoothly.

The simple premise plus some of the most quotable dialogue, a lot of legendary Blues music, and more than a few car chases keep this film buzzing alone with only a few slow patches.

The next section contains spoilers, click here to skip to the Special Features section.

Movie Review:
As I just mentioned, there's very little plot to hold the movie together, as it is practically one extended car chase interrupted for an occasional musical number. Normally that would result in a rather poor film, a guilty pleasure at most. However, John Landis and Dan Aykroyd created some memorable characters and they put them in such outlandish situation that is works. Although, some of the situations are just a little too outlandish and stretch suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point. Like when the Bluesmobile does a back flip to avoid the Illinois Nazis or the number and magnitude of attacks a crazed 'Mystery Woman' directs at Jake and how the Blues Brothers always seem to escape without injury. If the movie weren't as fun as it is, these would be major problems, as it is, they're just part of the film's undeniably charm.

The main draw for most people is the music. At the heart of it, The Blues Brothers is a musical even though 90% of the music is either live performances or background music. In fact, only Aretha Franklin's rendition of "Think" really fits the mold of the traditional musical number, (a character or characters break out into song to express emotions or to advance the plot). Standout performances include "Boom, Boom" by John Lee Hooker, the aforementioned "Think", and "Sweet Home Chicago" by the Blues Brothers.

On a side note, this film could be part of the Gratuitous Cameos Genre based solely on all the Blues legends that perform in the movie. James Brown, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, etc. (Cab Calloway's role was substantial enough to be more than a cameo.) The only reason I'd argue against its inclusion is because these cameos are far from gratuitous and the film would feel hollow without the legends of Blues belting out a few tunes.

As for the car chases, right from the very beginning you find out that the Bluesmobile is no ordinary car as Elwood jumps a drawbridge just to show Jake it's a good replacement for the old Caddy. The earliest car chase of the film is also the most creative as the Blues Brothers avoid the cops while inside a shopping mall. And to add a little extra surrealism to the whole affair, Jake and Elwood calmly describe all the stores there, as if they were just there to window shop.

But the big car chase, the one the movie is famous for, the one that put the film in the Guinness World Records of Records, is the 106 mile race to Chicago where the blues brothers chased by what seems like hundred of police cars, most of which end up totaled. The chase is amazing due to scale alone, but there are also some incredible stunts and fantastic driving that takes place. It is very much the central production number of the movie; it truly shows that the The Blues Brothers is a real musical. And it ends with the most outlandish stunt in the entire movie, which is so amazing that I won't spoilt it here, you have to see it to believe it.

There are, on the other hand, a couple of lulls in the film, especially in scenes that were cut from the theatrical release. Specifically the scene where they park the Bluesmobile under the L-Train in a transformer room. (If you watch the making of featurette you learn why that scene was important to the mythology of the Blues Brothers, but without hearing the explanation it just makes no sense.) The other was when Elwood Blues quits his job; it just slowed things down and was unnecessarily. Lastly, the final scenes where Jake and Elwood are running the money up to the office of the Assessor of Cook Country. Sure it was funny seeing all those police, S.W.A.T. and soldiers all charge in, and it was funny seeing Jake and Elwood's futile attempts at blocking to doors. But it went on a tad long for my liking and could have been trimmed bit.

However, while there were a couple of slow spots during the extended edition, the longer version of the film is still superior thanks to all of the extended musical numbers. In fact, practically every musical number is extended and the more music the better. The biggest other scene was when Jake accidentally blows up the gas station. It's pretty gratuitous but really fun, (and I would assume expensive) and not even John Landis knows why he cut it. There are also several scenes with an extra line of dialogue or two that were originally cut to trim the overall length of the film.

On a side note, I really don't think the film is deserving of its R-Rating. The film was made in 1980, a few years before the PG-13 rating even existed, so the MPAA had to chose between giving the film PG or an R rating. But if it were made today, I think it would have easily earned a PG-13 rating, after all, there's no sex, no drugs, the violence is so exaggerated that it becomes cartoonish, maybe they would have been asked to trim a profanity or two, but that's it. Or maybe I've become really jaded.

Special Features:
Since this is a Special Edition, the extras are not only judged on their own merits, but must be compared to
previous release.

Both versions of the movie and the special features are spread across a double-sided disc as follows:

Side A:

Extended Version: 2:22:30

Stories Behind the Making of the Blues Brothers: 56:00
This is a very in-depth look at not just the movie, but the beginning of the Blues Brothers as an idea for Saturday Night Live. It has all the usual things you would expect from this kind of feature: Interviews, Behind-the-Scenes, and Clips. The interviews were particularly interesting since some of them were obviously done during the making of the of first film, while others were done when the sequel was being made, and still others were done more recently. This is an excellent feature, worth watching twice, or more, and was also available on the previous release.

Musical notes: Menu to choose the 18 musical numbers seen in the movie. The thing is, you could easily do the same thing using the regular scene selection menu so it's a wasted special feature. To make matters worse, it could have been turned into something special by having either a Play All function, or better yet, a Random Play function.

Side B:

Theatrical Version: 2:07:30

Intro: 0:20
Short and to the point.

Going Rounds: A Day on the Blues Brothers Tour: Live performance of the Blues Brothers with James Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. The first time I watched it I wasn't impressed, especially since the sound and video are substandard. However, their energy and enthusiasm is starting to grow on me.

Transposing the Music: 14:30
A new retrospective of the Blues Brothers with new interviews. There's a bit of repetition from the documentary from Side A, but this feature deals more with the effect the Blues Brothers on its fans and how it became a cultural phenomenon. It's certainly entertaining and it's still worth watching twice.

Remembering John: 9:15
It's just what it sounds like. Several people who knew John Belushi, including his friends, family and colleagues reminisce about his career and the effect he had on people. It's quite in-depth for just over 9 minutes long and is the new feature I like the most.

Musical Highlights: Various
Just like on Side A, but with the theatrical versions and not the superior extended versions.

Conclusion:
The film combines memorable characters, outrageous situations, legendary music and some of the most quotable dialogue ever and turns it into a classic that hasn't diminish in power in 25 years. And as long as you can accept two important facts, a) The Bluesmobile is in effect, a magic car and b.) The Blues Brothers are for all intents and purposes, invulnerable, then you will be in for one heck of a ride. It's worth the upgrade thanks primarily to the two new featurettes and the inclusion of the theatrical version, but it's a pretty close call on that regard. On the other hand, for anyone who grew up on the early Saturday Night Live this is a must have DVD and the same goes for fans of Blues music.

I only have few complaints about the DVD, firstly, there is no audio commentary, which is strange since the people involved in the movie obvious love the film and audio commentaries are practically standard features now. Secondly, it's a double-sided DVD and I would have preferred a 2-disc set. Lastly, and more importantly, there's a shocking shortage of Chaka Khan. How can they put Chaka Khan in the movie and not give her a solo singing part. Hell, you barely see her at all. What were they thinking?

Now that you've finished reading the review, check out the contest for your chance to win a copy of The Blues Brothers - 25th Anniversary Edition on DVD.


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Filed under: Video Review, The Blues Brothers