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The Blues Brothers

Universal/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 142 mins . M15+ . PAL


Penguin, I have a confession to make...

I absolutely LOVE this film. So much so in fact that I have easily seen it more than 100 times - I was even known to do the Valhalla audience participation thing on the odd occasion many moons ago (big advantage, no fishnets required!) As such I was in two minds on hearing of its DVD release - would justice finally be done in its presentation, or would I end up disappointed?

For the uninitiated (really?!), The Blues Brothers, based on characters who originally featured on the US comedic talent hotbed Saturday Night Live, is often regarded as just a comedy - however it is also very much a musical. Whilst that word often conjures up such nightmare visions as Julie Andrews bounding about on hilltops, this is a musical in the same sense that the Rocky Horror Picture Show is one, i.e. vastly more contemporary, even if the soundtrack was gleaned from all over the twentieth century. Pretty much a critical and commercial flop on its release, much like Rocky Horror, The Blues Brothers has gained a cult life of its own as time has passed, and deservedly so. You get John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in their prime, memorable appearances from the likes of Carrie Fisher, Henry Gibson, John Candy, Frank 'Fozzie Bear' Oz and even Steven Spielberg, as well as blues and soul greats the likes of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown, John Lee Hooker and Cab Calloway.

The tale is told of Jake and Elwood Blues, two boys who bonded growing up in an orphanage under the strict rule(r) of one Sister Mary Stigmata (aka The Penguin). On Jake's release from prison, they visit said orphanage as they had promised (you can't lie to a nun) and discover it is to be closed down, as the board of education has withdrawn their funding and $5000 in property taxes are outstanding. Unless they can raise and then deliver the cash to the Cook County assessor's office in eleven days the kids, and Curtis (the aforementioned blues great Calloway), who is essentially the Blues' adoptive father, will be out on the street. After a quick bit of churchin' up, the boys realise they are on a mission from God, and proceed to try to get their old blues band (the band?) back together to raise the cash necessary to save the orphanage.

This isnít an easy ask, however, as the various band (the band) members now have other gigs. After much gentle (and otherwise) persuasion they reunite and set forth in their noble quest (unbeknownst to most of them) - whilst managing to trash fleets of cop cars, an entire shopping mall (nooooooo!!!) and more than upset a rather vast number of police, ex-fiancťes, Illinois Nazis, country music bands, army types and SWAT teams along the way.


I must say I expected this to be a visual travesty. The film is 21 years old, and as it wasn't exactly regarded as a classic of any import upon its release the thought that no decent prints may have been saveable did cross my mind. Glory be I was sooooooo wrong, as absolute wonders have been worked here.

For a start it is so refreshing to see The Blues Brothers in it's original 1.85:1 ratio, and it is also 16x9 enhanced. But you want more, right?

Well, whilst by no means what purists would class as reference quality, I challenge any fan of this film not to be floored by what is presented here. Artefacts are at a minimum, and are anything but intrusive. A world of colour I've never seen before in the film was presented to me, and there's clarity such that tiny background text was perfectly legible - goodness, you could even read the SCMODS computer without squishing your nose against the screen!

The downside comes by way of an ever so slightly dingy look to much of the film, as well as some often quite noticeable edge enhancement, usually most evident in high contrast scenes (causing the odd halo around our heroes - hey, they are on a mission from God after all!), but in all the sumptuousness of the print wins out over any minor quibbles such as this, and fans should be bopping around the room in utter delight at the sight of it.


Yummmmmmmmmy! The entire soundtrack has been remastered in gorgeous Dolby 5.1, and unlike previous video incarnations, where once you got the dialogue levels just right you were then sent into orbit somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse once the music fired up, a perfect balance between the two has been achieved on this DVD.

Whilst this is certainly not an ID4-style gymnastic workout for your surround system, it does give it a mightily decent push. The music is augmented brilliantly (check out that phenomenal, spine-tingling bass!), and the innumerable car chases, clangs, bangs, gunshots and bingles are brought to life gloriously. Supoib!

Now to the soundtrack - and what a soundtrack it is. Featuring blues and soul tracks that are all utter classics, from stuff used incidentally by the likes of Sam and Dave, Fats Domino and Elmore James (plus the incredible Peter Gunn theme) to the innumerable pieces of brilliance recorded especially for the film by the Blues Brothers band (all masters of their craft) and such superstars as James Brown, Aretha Franklin and John Lee Hooker. Hey, there's even the odd country and western (yes, it has both kinds of music!) track for a fun diversion.


A-ha! Now finally I can let you in on the big surprise. The film presented here is 15 minutes longer than the version we have previously become accustomed to. Hold off on clanging those alarm bells though, for it works. Mostly appearing to be bits shaved for brevity (it is after all quite a long film), not a single piece of extra footage detracts from the film in any way - in fact many add to it gloriously.

Much like many early '80s albums contained slightly longer versions of songs we knew as singles, retaining their quality but giving us just a little more (unlike the majority of today's extended version travesties - chuck out the original track completely, lay down a fifteen minute sequencer doodle you had lying around, take the cash, done), most all of the songs featured in the film have extra verses, choruses or middle eights. An incredible example of an editing crime was the savaging John Lee Hooker's live Boogie Chillun received in the original cut. Presented here in its elongated splendour it is something to simply marvel at (complete with comedic ending). The movie's 'hits' also get the treatment, from Aretha's Think, to James Brown's The Old Landmark to many of the band tracks such as Everybody Needs Somebody to Love (in which, joy of joys, you can actually hear Elwood's harp for a change) and Sweet Home Chicago. Even the Theme From Rawhide hangs around a bit longer - this disc spoils us!

A couple of previously excised plot points have also been reinserted. There are more prison scenes ("Well, this is it" is not the first line in the film anymore), you get to see Elwood's place of work (and discover where his near endless supply of aerosol products came from) and even the Bluesmobile's 'magical' garage makes an appearance. One not even two-second quip that was previously cut from when the boys escaped the Palace Hotel Ballroom gig had me nearly rolling on the floor, and puzzling as to why such a short incision was ever made (other than the thought that the producers may have wished not to offend those who the joke is based around - no spoilers here folks!)

Whilst Blues Brothers purists may likely be up in arms that this is a different cut than the theatrical one, and sadly there is no option to watch the original version if desired, I canít stress strongly enough that the added scenes do not detract in any way from the enjoyment the film gives in spades. If you've seen it once or twice you wouldnít even notice anything different, as it is all done seamlessly. If it is indelibly scarred in your synapses like some of us it is actually a joy to play spot the new bit, and to have just a little bit more time to play with the Blues Brothers.

Oh, there are actually some extra bits hiding away in the 'special features' department (with the disc's ever so bland and silent menus - come on guys, this is a MUSICAL - keep the sound a 'pumpin!), so I guess I'd better tell you about them too...

The Stories Behind the Making of the Blues Brothers: A 55-minute long full-frame documentary, made in 1998 and featuring interviews with everybody from a surprisingly po-faced and serious Dan Aykroyd (he must have just read the reviews of the sequel), to the rather jovial John Landis, members of the band, cast and crew. Much insight into the film can be gained from this, such as the fact that tonight show maestro (and once SNL musical guy) Paul Shaffer was originally cast in the place of band member Murph, however contractual stuff prevented it, and as extras go it is one of the best bonus presentations I have ever seen on a DVD.

Production notes: More silence, but a few pages offering some insight into the history of the Blues Brothers act and film. A good example? The boys' choice of attire was inspired by the garb of John Lee Hooker and pals back in the '50s, adopted to look business-like so as to avoid police attention. There are quite a few titbits of useful information to be found here, so it's well worth checking out.

Cast and filmmakers: Brief biographies and filmographies (still silent) on Belushi, Aykroyd, Calloway, Brown, Charles, Franklin, Fisher, Gibson, the band (the band!) and director Landis. Nothing earth shattering, but a pleasant inclusion.

Theatrical trailer: Wow, this is something I have never seen before. An almost four and a half minute long presentation, it's in pretty good shape but is sadly full-frame. It is good evidence that the art of trailer making has certainly come a long way since 1980, and of course I'm not talking about things that attach to towbars...

Universal web link - Ever so useful for a stand alone player I donít think, but I guess for those with DVD-ROMs who are incapable of typing www.universal.com into a browser it will be a godsend.

A commentary would have rounded things out ever so nicely, but sadly there is none. Still, at least the 'making of' feature lets us into much of what would have been divulged on such a commentary anyway. The only other thing that comes to mind that would have been a fun inclusion would have been an audience participation track, much like with the fabulous Rocky Horror Picture Show DVD release, however I am not even sure as to whether the whole Valhalla-type experience was just a localised thing - and I am getting a bit trainspottery...


For the life of me I canít imagine how anybody young or old could not find something to enjoy about this film. Many of my girlfriends have declared in the past, "oh, how can you like that? It's such a boy film!", but I guarantee that every single one of them that I managed to make sit through it ended up absolutely loving it.

There is so much here for your buck - some of the most classic music ever recorded, genuinely funny, and most refreshingly clever comedy (so many beautiful little touches that credit the eagle-eyed viewer with some intelligence, like Jake's frequent glances at his watch throughout the film, when at the beginning we discover it is broken), more car chases and smashes than the entire 007 series (in the one film!) and did I mention the music? And that's just the film itself. The disc gives us a clarity of vision unseen before for the film, utterly superb sound, fifteen minutes of quality extra footage (somewhere, most likely in Sydney, a marketing droid is sweating at his desk - with any mention of one of this DVD release's most incredible features COMPLETELY absent from the disc's packaging they have GOT to be in trouble) and an informative documentary. Oh, and if you buy the double pack with Blues Brothers 2000 you get a handy drinks coaster/Frisbee/kitchen tool (it slices, it dices, it mushes, it smushes!) thrown into the bargain...

If you have never borne witness to the joys of what is in my mind the greatest movie musical ever, I implore you to at least rent The Blues Brothers and find out for yourself how much simple fun one film can offer. If you're a fan then simply donít delay, BUY THIS AS SOON AS YOU CAN! Goodness, as far as I'm concerned this disc is reason enough to buy a DVD player in itself.


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