Back in the 1970s, SNL was a huge deal, launching a juggernaut of comedic talent and movie stars. Dan Aykroyd and his SNL co-star and friend, John Belushi, created The Blues Brothers, Elwood and Jake Blues, from their love of blues music (Rather Aykroyd's love for it, but got Belushi to come around) and created a classic act that spread over across multiple episodes of SNL, a best selling blues album and eventually, a movie.
Armed with a screenplay literally the size of a phone book, a huge budget, two rising stars and a director fresh from Animal House, how does it turn out?
On the outset of the film, "Joliet Jake" Blues (Belushi) is released from Joliet prison, and is picked up by his brother Elwood (Aykroyd) in the iconic Bluesmobile, which is an old 70s police car (Love the irony) and driven to their orphanage to talk to The Penguin (Kathleen Freeman, not portraying the Batman villain). They learn their childhood home is being sold to the Board of Education and must pay $5,000 in back taxes to keep the orphanage operational.
They see a sign from above from God ("We're on a mission from God.") and decide to get the band back together. It is harder than it sounds, due to their band mates landing some solid gigs and earning some nice green. Oh, and the Illinois State Police, Illinois hate groups and a country-western band are on their tail, hoping to lynch the Blues, on top of raising $5,000. Will they raise the roof or have it crumble on top of them? Will the police capture the brothers? Well, you will just have to watch the film to find out.
Let me just say, this film is truly one of the funniest films of all time, bar none. It isn't just a straight up comedy, as it is more akin to something more epic like The Great Race or It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. How do I suppose this is like the film? Jaw droppingly awesome and real stuntwork that varies from a car chase that destroys an entire mall to turning Chicago into a veritable warzone chasing the Blues brothers downtown, and destroying dozens of cop cars.
I just love how epic the film is, but its much more than just action, it also has some great musical numbers throughout, from the likes of James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway and more! The acting from the two leads is fantastic, and feel like they are real brothers and complement each other well. Supporting players from the likes of Kathleen Freeman, Carrie Fisher, Henry Gibson, Charles Napier and more add to a memorable film.
Of course not all of the actors are great. As I stated, there are some real musicians in the film, some doing pretty decent (Franklin manages to be exquisitely sassy here, Ray Charles doing well) but for the Blues Brothers Band, well is another story. You can tell they are not actors (Alan Rubin, the maitre'd and sax player fares the best here) and their line readings can be downright awful, but those are few and far between, as the main focus is on the brothers, as it should be.
John Landis directs his first big budget film, and he doesn't disappoint at all. I'm surprised he wasn't overwhelmed, mainly coming from low-budget films (Animal House, The Kentucky Fried Movie), and letting the film lose his grip, but he holds on tight and never lets go. He captures Chicago beautifully, respecting the culture within the Windy City, gives the film an epic touch and makes it hilariously rather effortlessly.
The screenplay (Dan Aykroyd and John Landis, who came in to whittle the script to a shootable movie) is well-written from a comedy aspect, but the plot is really simple (Get the money, get it back, pay taxes) but that gives much more room to have more comedy and it delivers in spades. Witty dialogue here, a pileup of tax-payer funded cop cars there, all for the sake of comedy.
As for the rest of the film, the cinematography is decent for a 1980 film, the sound design is well-mixed, the costumes are iconic, the editing is sharp and cut well and the music is also well-done. All in all, you can tell this was a blockbuster from 1980 and doesn't disappoint in the least!
Moving on to the BluRay disc, I got a bit scared. See, Universal is infamously known for their catalog releases on BluRay. Edge enhancement, egregious use of DNR (digital noise removal) and changing the look of the entire movie. Luckily, Landis was brought in to supervise the transfer, and I can say its a wonderful looking BluRay. Shot on grainy film from 1980, I was expecting a noisy mess, but was glad to see an extremely detailed image, with neon lights popping off the screen well, sharp images, and no signs of EE anywhere. The AQ is a bit of a downer though. Remixed to 5.1 on the original DVD release from 1998, the 5.1 DTS track sounds amazing, but it is not lossless DTS-HD unfortunately. Luckily, this is a well done track, with it being one of the best lossy tracks on any BluRay I have ever heard.
Moving onto the extras, there is plenty to dig into, but nothing substantial has been added since the 2005 25th anniversary DVD release. Starting off, we are treated to the original theatrical and extended cuts and both are equally good, but for a tighter film, stick with the theatrical cut. The main extra on the disc is recycled from the 1998 special edition, but boy is it worth to recycle. Stories Behind the Making of the Blues Brothers is an hour-long look at the making of the film, featuring vintage BTS footage and interviews along with modern (circa 1998) interviews with the cast and crew. Extremely well done and packed with interesting stories, its a must if you are a BB fan. Moving along the recycled path are two featurettes culled from the 2005 DVD. Transposing the Music (15 min.) features more interviews and does have a similar feel to the making-of documentary and more condensed but still worth a peek. Remembering John is a 10-minute look at the unfortunately short life and career of John Belushi. The films trailer finishes off the extras, and also includes the 25th anniversary DVD (Also includes all the extras as well, along with both cuts) and a digital copy.
So all in all, a fantastic film with a BluRay with great picture and great sound (Though a lossless track would've opened up the music more) and decent extras make this a must own for anyone fans of the stars, The Blues Brothers or comedies in general.
Remember, you're on a mission from God when you purchase the movie.