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Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - August, 2011

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"The Blues Brothers" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

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Synopsis

Elwood Blues meets his brother Jake as he is released from prison.  On their way home, they visit the orphanage where they grew up to find it on the verge of closing due to unpaid taxes.  Jake and Elwood promise to raise the money, legitimately of course.  After a visit to the Triple Rock Baptist Church, they embark on a “mission from God” to resurrect their rhythm and blues band.  They manage to round up everyone and after an interesting gig at Bob’s Country Bunker, they land a booking at the Palace Hotel Ballroom where they can make the $5000 in one night.  Unfortunately, the entire Illinois State Police and an irate country music band are waiting for them.  After the concert, they escape with the cash facing a 106-mile drive back to Chicago and the Assessor’s Office.  Following one of the greatest car chases in cinema history, Jake and Elwood pay the taxes, save the orphanage and wind up right back in the slammer where the movie began.

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 1980, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 13 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  John  Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Carrie Fisher, Aretha Franklin, Henry Gibson
  • Directed by John Landis
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

While the above synopsis tells the plot of the film, the real show here is the music.  Sure, the story is fun and the gags are classic slapstick but the musical numbers are the real meat of this movie, which is one of my all-time favorites.  Performances by James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway and Ray Charles are now legendary in movie lore.  The production itself is over the top from beginning to end.  It seems as if no expense was spared in the musical numbers which employ hundreds of extras.  And the car chase!  Few action flicks can boast the sheer volume of automotive wreckage wrought by The Blues Brothers.  And did I mention the brief but memorable appearances by Twiggy, John Candy (“we’re in a truck!”) and Carrie Fisher?  After you watch the Bluesmobile trash a mall, you’ll never shop the same way again.  This movie is loaded with tasty nuggets and the only way to see them all is to buy this disc and watch it over and over again.  I have done this for years with the DVD and now I have a shiny new Blu-ray to enjoy!

Technical

Image quality is decidedly average which I attribute to the very grainy print used in this transfer.  The original was shot on 35mm but it seemed more like 16mm given the level of grain which is present throughout.  The Blu-ray stays faithful to the original with a touch of edge enhancement being the only video-related flaw.  Color and contrast are first-rate with rich saturated flesh tones, deep blacks and excellent shadow detail.  Overall resolution is a bit soft but again that goes back to the original.  Perhaps a digital cleanup would have ruined the gritty look which is so appropriate to the many scenes of Chicago’s less-affluent neighborhoods.  This Blu-ray is certainly an improvement on the DVD version.

I rode a bit of a rollercoaster with the soundtrack before I even put the disc in the player.  When I ripped open the mailer, I saw on the back of the box “DTS 5.1 Surround.”  What, no lossless encode?  I was crestfallen.  This was the upgrade I had most looked forward to.  Upon opening the box, the disc label proclaimed DTS-HD Master Audio.  Yay!  Unfortunately, I discovered this only refers to the bonus material!  The film’s sound codec is indeed lossy DTS.  Before you light your torches and sharpen your axes for a trip to Universal Studios, let me tell you, the sound is quite excellent.  No, it’s not the crystal-clear detail found in most uncompressed tracks but it is presented at a very high bitrate.  The musical numbers sounded fantastic and are a huge improvement over the DVD release.  The dialog sounds somewhat processed and compressed but this is no better or worse than other films of this vintage.  The detail is there when it’s needed most, during the music.

Extras

Extras are extensive and include a one-hour making-of documentary, a 10-minute retrospective on John Belushi and a 15-minute featurette that has more recent interviews with cast and crew members.  The disc includes both the original theatrical cut and an extended version which adds 15 minutes of previously deleted material.