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Blu-ray Review: The Blues Brothers

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With the shift in format from DVD to Blu-ray, there’s naturally a backlog of titles in the pipeline for that high definition upgrade. If you’ve been keeping a checklist going for titles to add to your collection, you can officially scratch The Blues Brothers off the list.

Originally released in 1980, The Blues Brothers was virtually an instant classic the moment it hit theaters. Starring the likes of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, the film played to all of their strengths and captured lightning in a bottle. It was a collection of several right things all coming together at the same time, and for the most part I’d say the film is unrivaled to this day. It was a piece from a bygone era and it simply had a spark; though admittedly that may be some nostalgia talking.

The film follows the misadventures of Jake (Belushi) and Elwood (Aykroyd) Blues, two blues musicians not exactly keen on changing their style. At the start of the movie, Jake is released from prison, and as a first order of business the brothers go to their old orphanage to see a nun (penguin). It’s revealed that the orphanage is going to close unless they can muster up $5,000, so the Blues brothers get it into their head that they’re on a mission from God. They do their damndest to re-form their band, make the money, and save the orphanage. Sounds easy, right?

Along the way the Blues brothers tick off the Illinois Nazi party, country music loving rednecks, the police, and even narrowly escape murder at the hands of a mystery woman (portrayed by Carrie Fisher). On top of all that Jake and Elwood must reconnect with old band-mates and convince them to play, despite the fact that they are all owed money from the last gig. While the plot remains cohesive enough to keep viewers interested, The Blues Brothers is really a loosely knit collection of scenes strung together with the aforementioned premise of saving the orphanage. It’s nothing more, nothing less. In all fairness though it didn’t need to be, and it’s perfect the way it is. What more could you expect from a film based on classic Saturday Night Live characters?

Another thing about The Blues Brothers that makes it feel special, besides the sense of nostalgia with Aykroyd and Belushi in the spotlight, is the bevy of guest stars. Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, John Lee Hooker, John Candy, Paul Reubens, and Frank Oz all lend their talents to the film and make it something even more special. Granted there are times where it feels like the cameos were shoehorned in for the sole purpose of doling out a musical number, but even that fits in with the theme of a love for music.

The bottom line is, The Blues Brothers may be formulaic, and it may lack direction most of the time, but it’s a nonstop collection of fun scenes, witty dialogue, and pure comedic talent. Few films this day and age can really match the laughs this classic brings to the table, and it’s a movie that’s worthy of being in any collection. The Blues Brothers is a must own for fans of comedy and lovers of classic Saturday Night Live.

Universal Studios has released The Blues Brothers on a single 50GB Blu-ray Disc that includes both the theatrical and extended editions of the film. The differences between the two are minimal and ultimately you’re looking at an extra of 15 minutes in the extended version. Personally I’m a theatrical kind of guy, so I prefer the film as it was originally released.

If you’re coming to this review then chances are good you’re here about the picture quality, and how it compares to the previously released standard definition copies. The Blues Brothers comes with a full 1080p high definition 1.85:1 image with AVC encoding. Right off the bat The Blues Brothers impresses with clean lines, rich black levels, and natural colors and tones. Contrast is great all around and there’s no edge enhancement to complain about, which is often symptomatic of older films getting a rushed high definition remake. The remaster in this case has been attended to quite nicely as to retain the films original look and characteristics. There’s till a fine layer of grain, some softness, and speckle, but these are elements one would expect from a film that’s over thirty years old.

With all that being said, it’s worth noting that if you’re watching the extended version of the film, you’re going to be able to spot quite clearly which scenes were added in. The additional clips were not touched up really, and it can be kind of jarring when going from theatrical scene to extended one. It’s not a killer by any means, but it does highlight the quality job done on reviving this classic.

For audio options The Blues Brothers comes with English DTS Surround 5.1. That’s right; Universal hasn’t included a lossless audio track for its Blu-ray release. How does it sound in the end? Well, to be perfectly honest The Blues Brothers still has never sounded this good. Dialogue is crisp and clean, with a nice presence on the soundstage with plenty of directionality. Ambient noise and sound effects are crystal clear in the background and balanced nicely as well. The real kicker is most assuredly the musical score, which absolutely catapults the already vibrant soundstage to life. Fans of the film will most definitely be pleased. There is also a French DTS 2.0 track included for the theatrical version only.

The bonus features presented on The Blues Brothers Blu-ray have all been seen before on prior DVD releases. For starters there’s a theatrical trailer included here along with some Blu-ray functionality with BD-Live. The actual features contained here include a 10 minute piece called “Remembering John”, which has some of the people closest to Belushi reminiscing about the man, his work, and how he impacted their lives. “Transposing the Music” is a 15-minute feature including interviews. Finally, “Stories Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers” is a nearly hour-long featurette. “Stories” is basically the be all and end all of what it took to make The Blues Brothers with tons of interviews, footage, and behind the scenes stuff. If you haven’t seen it before it’s totally worthwhile to watch.

If you can’t tell, The Blues Brothers gets very high marks across the board. The film itself is, of course, still as good as it’s ever been. The picture quality is definitely an upgrade over what’s come before it, and the audio is nothing to sneeze at. The bonus features disappoint in the sense that we’ve seen them before in prior releases, but they make up for it in quality. If you’re a fan of The Blues Brothers you’ll want to pick up this release. It’s a great addition to that Blu-ray library.

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