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The Blues Brothers: 25th Anniversary Edition DVD Review

The Blues Brothers: 25th Anniversary Edition

January 15, 2006

Director: John Landis,
Starring: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Carrie Fisher, John Candy, Henry Gibson, Charles Napier, Steven Williams, James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Kathleen Freeman, Steve Lawrence, ,

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DVD Review

It has been 25 years since John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s most famous characters, the Blues Brothers roared their way onto the big screen and re-introduced the world to the joys of classic rhythm and blues. After receiving criticism for only releasing the extended version of the movie on DVD a few years ago, Universal has finally gotten it right with this new edition that gives the movie’s loyal fanbase a real treat: both the extended and theatrical versions (for the purists) of this famous comedy.

Just released from prison, “Joilet” Jake Blues (Belushi) is reunited with his brother Elwood (Aykroyd). Not only does he pick Jake up in an old, beaten-up cop car (a.k.a. the Bluesmobile) but he also tells his brother that his only reason for living—their band has broken up and gotten straight jobs. If that wasn’t bad enough, the boys visit the orphanage they grew up in and find out that it’s going to be closed down in 11 days unless $5,000 in back taxes can be paid. Inspired that they are now “on a mission from God,” the Blues Brothers track down their bandmates and try to scrape together enough cash to save their beloved orphanage. Along the way, our heroes manage to piss off the Illinois Nazi party, a group of redneck musicians known as the Good Ol’ Boys and the local and state cops that culminates in one of the most outrageous (and impressive) car chases ever put on film.

The Blues Brothers is often remembered for its killer soundtrack of amazing R&B musicians, many of whom had been relegated to obscurity at the time: James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway and John Lee Hooker. The film champions each one of them with ample screen-time that allows them to do their thing. Best of all, the longer version of the movie extends their performance times.

In addition to the excellent musical numbers, The Blues Brothers also features some truly amazing car chases, including one in a shopping mall. Watching them now, one has to remember that this was done before the days of CGI so all of the insane, over-the-top stunts were really done. To compliment these sequences are so many truly memorable set pieces, like when the newly reunited Blue Brothers band plays a rough, truckstop (“We play both kinds – country and western!” chirps the lady behind the bar.) and wins the surly crowd over with a rousing rendition of the theme from “Rawhide.”

The Blues Brothers also contains some of the funniest, most quotable dialogue in a comedy and this has cemented its status as a cult film. For example, there is a memorable exchange between Jake and Elwood and a woman they are questioning regarding the whereabouts of certain band members. She asks, “Are you the police?” to which they reply, “No ma’am, we’re musicians.” There’s also Elwood’ famous, climatic speech before they make their escape and kick-start one of the largest car chases ever put on film: “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

The heart and soul of the movie is, not surprisingly, the chemistry between Aykroyd and Belushi. Years of working together on Saturday Night Live had honed their comedic timing. Plus, they had originated these characters on the TV show and were already comfortable as these guys. Aykroyd and Belushi had on iconic uniforms of dark suits and sunglasses and played so well off each other—Belushi as the surly, sarcastic one to Aykroyd’s quieter, crackerjack driver. It was an irreplaceable chemistry as evident from the awful sequel with John Goodman trying to fill Belushi’s shoes after the comedian had died years earlier.

The Blues Brothers has aged well and is still one of the best comedies made in the last 30 years. It works so well because it has so much to offer: memorable characters, funny dialogue, great music and exciting car chases. This new DVD edition finally does the film justice and is a must-have item for any fan.

Special Features:

Taken from the original release is the excellent retrospective documentary, “Stories Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers,” that examines how this classic comedy came to be. For years, Aykroyd had been a fan of the blues. Belushi was into heavy metal but Aykroyd quickly got him into the music. Aykroyd and many of the band members are back for new interviews (at the time) and tell all sorts of great stories about how these characters originated and making the movie.

There is also an option to jump to specific musical cues in the extended version.

On the opposite side with the theatrical version is a brief introduction by Dan Aykroyd.

“Going Rounds: A Day on The Blues Brothers Tour” features footage of Aykroyd trying to relive past glories with John’s brother, Jim filling in. They look their age in this pale imitation of the original line-up. For a much better picture of the original Blues Brothers in action, check out the Rhino DVD, The Best of the Blues Brothers released in 1993.

“Transposing the Music” is a rehash of some of what was covered in the documentary but there are still some good anecdotes to be told, like how Landis and his crew shot for weeks without a budget in place and then going way over it once one was finalized. This featurette also explores the phenomenon that the movie inspired.

“Remembering John” is a nice tribute to Belushi with childhood sweetheart and widow Judy, brother Jim and others offering their fond recollections of this legendary comedian and what a big heart he had to match his larger than life image.

There is also an option to jump to specific musical cues in the theatrical version.

Also included are the film’s production notes.

Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 94%

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