- Rated R
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Will Harris
In the documentary, “Stories Behind the Making of ‘The Blues Brothers,’” included on the new 25th anniversary edition DVD of the film, director John Landis laughs at the memory of it. “I thought, ‘Well, there’s no way to shoot this.’ It was pretty incoherent,” he admits. “But it had great ideas, epic characters, and a real respect for the music. And it was big. Oh, it was big.”
Fortunately, Landis was able to take Aykroyd’s gargantuan tome and wheedle it down to something filmable, and the result was a spectacular combination of late ‘70s / early ‘80s excess (with moments of surprising subtlety) and musicals from the ‘30s and ‘40s.
Landis has gone on record in the past that his major frustration about the film is that many people don’t see it as the musical he intended it to be. It’s easy to get distracted by the phenomenal car chases through the heart of downtown Chicago... and, more specifically, through the Richard J. Daley Center... but when your film involves folks like Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles breaking into song, with choreographed dance numbers going on in their general proximity, friends, you’ve got a musical on your hands. Of the musical artists who appear in the film, at the time, only Ray Charles was still scoring what you’d call mainstream success, and it was ‘The Blues Brothers’ that helped put Franklin as well as James Brown and John Lee Hooker back into the public eye. Arguably, however, the film’s single greatest musical accomplishment was bringing Cab Calloway to a new generation via his performance of “Minnie the Moocher” a full fifty years after he originally recorded it. (Ironically, Landis reveals in the documentary that Calloway was unhappy with the idea of performing the song just as he had done it in the ‘30s and, thankfully, was talked out of his desire to do a disco version for the film!)
As a 25th anniversary edition, the big selling point is ostensibly the inclusion of the never-before-released Theatrical Version, but the fans are more likely to enjoy the 148-minute Director’s Cut, which incorporates 17 minutes worth of scenes that were trimmed due to length. The aforementioned documentary is actually a holdover from the previous special edition of the film (although there appear to be a few new interview segments slipped in), but there are new items added this time around.
Unfortunately, the new “Introduction to the Film by Dan Aykroyd” that’s included as a special feature is decidedly anticlimactic. It lasts about 30 seconds and says little more than, “Hope you enjoy it.” Could you maybe not phone it in quite so much, Danny? Also, “Going Rounds: A Day on the Blues Brothers Tour,” which spotlights the current version of the band, with Jim Belushi attempting – and failing – to fill his late brother John’s shoes, serves only to remind us, no matter how much fun they might have on stage, they ain’t the Blues Brothers anymore and they haven’t been since John Belushi died. The audience might get a kick out of it, but can you imagine watching The John Oates Experience Performs the Songs of Hall & Oates? When the one with the charisma isn’t in the picture, no matter what fond memories the songs might bring back, it’s still no more than a pale imitation of the original.
There are two other documentaries added – “Transposing The Music,” about how the brothers Blues have lived on beyond the movie, and “Remembering John,” which includes reminiscences of Belushi from his friends and family – and they’re nice, but where’s the audio commentary? Given that Landis has made himself available for interviews on a regular basis to discuss the film and Akyroyd is still making money by touring as Jake Blues; it’s inexcusable that at least one of them... the latter in particular... couldn’t sit down for a few hours and record a scene-by-scene commentary.
“The Blues Brothers” is still a great if occasionally overlong movie, and it certainly looks great on this DVD, but, as a 25th anniversary spectacular, it definitely comes up short.