Universal Pictures recently released a 4K UHD of The Blues Brothers to celebrate the film’s 40th anniversary. This beloved and classic comedy, directed by John Landis, first came to cinemas in 1980. It told the story of ‘Joliet’ Jake Blues (John Belushi) and Elwood Blues (Dan Akroyd), on a mission from God. Both characters, and their backing band, started their lives on TV’s Saturday Night Live comedy sketch show. The Blues Brothers first appeared on SNL in 1978, and had subsequently released their debut album Briefcase Full Of Blues. They had also built up a huge live following too, having opened for Grateful Dead, among others.
In addition to a brand new 4K remaster and surround mix, this new release includes both the Theatrical and Extended Versions. Added to that are quite a few bonus extras and interviews, looking back on the film’s legacy.
On A Mission From God
Let me start by saying that this has been one of my favourite films since I first saw it. I was too young to see it in cinemas on release, but discovered it like many on VHS release. After that I probably came close to wearing out the tape from repeated viewings. And it seemed like everyone you knew loved it too. The film’s many jokes and dialogue became ingrained in those people’s consciousness, and mine.
Similarly, so did the film’s soundtrack performed by the band and many illustrious and famous guest artists. The film, as has been noted over the years, gave a huge boost to a waning musical genre. That of Rhythm & Blues, originally brought to us by so many well known black soul artists in the sixties. Some of the legends featured are James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker. Legendary jazz singer Cab Calloway also appeared in a major role, performing his classic Minnie The Moocher near the end.
Also the Blues Brothers’ band featured many well known and accomplished musicians too. Steve Cropper and Donald Dunn were from Booker T. & The M.G.’s who recorded for the Atlantic and Stax labels. The horn players were Lou Marini, Tom Malone, and Alan Rubin who came from Blood, Sweat & Tears. The drummer was Willie Hall who had played with The Bar-Kays and Isaac Hayes. Making up the final places were Matt Murphy and Murphy Dunne (who replaced Paul Shaffer due to contractual reasons).
Let The Good Times Roll
I received my copy of the new 4K UHD Remaster a couple of days ago. First up I watched the theatrical version, and last night followed it up with the extended version (15 minutes longer). However I prefer the shorter theatrical version. Much of the material originally cut from cinema screenings adds very little to the film. In addition you can see that the added footage is of slightly lower quality than the rest of the material. I’m glad you get to choose between the two though.
What really struck me though is realising that this film is epic. The film’s direction by John Landis is superb and is of the highest quality throughout. Car chase scenes are on a scale that is almost impossible to believe. If you thought the shopping mall car chase looks like a real mall, that’s because it is. They had luckily found an abandoned shopping centre that had not been in use for almost a year. Quite a rare find, and after dressing it up with fake shops and goods, just like the real thing.
As the film builds towards it’s climax, the whole affair builds in scale and ambition. Mounted police, the army, tanks, trucks, helicopters are in abundance and too numerous to count. The number of extras in those outside scenes number many hundreds, if not more. And the whole thing is choreographed beautifully by Landis and his direction.
Gimme Some Lovin'
In conclusion, if I loved this film before, I love it even more now thanks to this release. The picture quality looked wonderful to my eyes, and the HDR made the colour palette gorgeous. Similarly the 5.1 surround mix blew me away. As the film is so heavily music oriented, the soundtrack shines like never before. One scene that particularly benefits because of this is the one in the church with James Brown. Previously the large choir backing him and a noisy crowd had made it sound slightly muffled. Not so now, the clarity is something to behold.
Primarily The Blues Brothers is often thought of as a comedy. It is of course, and one of the best there has ever been. However much moreso it is a musical. Not just that it contains so much music in it, but a musical like those of the classic Hollywood genre. Everywhere you look in it, you see things beautifully choreographed. Even the car chases, and moreover the car crashes are overseen in the same way.
Ultimately though it has something to offer for everyone. A comedy, a musical, an action movie, a road movie. It is all of these things and one thing more, it is unique. There was never a film quite like it before, and never will be again.