4K Blu-ray review: “The Blues Brothers” (1970)

“The Blues Brothers” (1970)

Comedy/Musical

Running Time: 133/148 minutes

Written by: Dan Aykroyd and John Landis

Directed by: John Landis

Featuring: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Carrie Fisher, Aretha Franklin and Henry Gibson

Elwood: “We’re on a mission from God.”

Critical Commentary 

“The Blues Brothers” (1970) was recently released on to 4K blu-ray with a brand new transfer as well as an upgrade on the audio side. This is a movie that has been around for over fifty years and has retained its popularity because of a few basic elements, it is funny, it has a great cast from the main actors right through to the small cameos and it also has some great music from legendary performers, almost all who are no longer with us.

“The Blues Brothers” is based on the stars’ original ‘Saturday Night Live’ characters, Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) are two blues performing brothers who embark on a holy mission to put their band back together. Their noble goal is to raise enough money from gigs to save the orphanage they grew up in. Along the way they encounter various obstacles and gradually gather an eclectic mix of pursuing enemies, all while taking numerous detours into some great musical performances.

Co-written by Dan Aykroyd and John Landis as well as being directed by Landis “The Blues Brothers” is an example of their very early work, and is a good indicator of how their own individual careers would progress, they are able to imbue this script with some great comedy as well as emotion which makes this movie work so well. Whilst the plot is relatively simple, in fact it takes a backseat to almost everything else, which works so well especially with the narrative that is the old standby, a road movie. “The Blues Brothers” is set within some kind of magical version of Earth, where the rules of gravity do not apply and the kind of people encountered are absurdist to the extreme, everything is treated this way, Religion, Law and Order and almost anything else. The movie could be set in a modernist Oz, one with dirt, oil and grease instead of a clean fantasy, and a yellow brick road.

Only a write and director in this early stage in his career such as John Landis could create a movie like “The Blues Brothers”, there is no fear of anything, in fact this is all before people would start to say ‘No’ to him, before any box office bombs and before the tragedy in “The Twilight Zone” (1986). It seems at times that this is a musical in total, with not only the people singing and dancing but Landis uses the vehicles as dancers as well, considering this movie was well before CGI it is a testament to in camera stunts and effects, everything is onscreen.

With such a large supporting cast there is the possibility that some performances could be lost or swallowed up, however it is these supporting characters that steal the show, or at least threaten to. Some of R&B’s greatest icons make appearances, including Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown, and Cab Calloway, and they all light up the screen with class and high energy. Landis injects some fun choreography and bits of humor into these numbers, and seeing the brothers and their band, as well as the various, famous performers doing what they do best, is a real treat.

‘The Blues Brothers’ is a truly unique and funny film, whose creative mishmash of sensibilities and genres has yet to be successfully emulated. Belushi and Aykroyd create enduring, iconic characters and Landis brings all the colliding ideas into a mostly cohesive, but still intentionally manic car crash of melodic, cartoonish antics and deadpan sincerity. Sure, the plot is a little happenstance, and real character development is essentially nonexistent, but there is no denying the lasting impact of the film, making this a comedy classic that continues to entertain.

Technical Commentary 

Video

“The Blues Brothers” arrives on Ultra HD with a very good looking HEVC H.265 encode, this is a step up from the previous blu-ray releases. Coming from a reportedly new 4K remaster of the original 35mm camera negatives, this UHD edition has sharper definition in the clothing, the vehicles, the buildings and the various city streets. Presented in its original 1.85:1 image, the video also comes with enhanced contrast, offering the action with clearer whites. The improved brightness levels give nighttime sequences better looking shadows that never ruin the finer details in the background. The best aspect in this HDR10 presentation is the richer color palette, showing much of the movie with bolder colours. Compared to its HD SDR counterpart, the difference may not be leaps and bounds, but for sure, it’s a notable step up while skin tones benefit the most, appearing more natural and accurate than before and complexions are highly revealing.

Audio

“The Blues Brothers” has an excellent DTS:X soundtrack. Likely struck from the original 4-track magnetic stereo print, the object-based track almost immediately opens with background activity spreading evenly and convincingly across the three front channels, and impressively remains consistent through to the end of the film.

Special Features

  • Stories Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers (SD, 56 min)
  • Transposing the Music (SD, 15 min)
  • Remembering John (SD, 10 min)
  • Trailer (SD)

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