The Blues Brothers: 25th Anniversary Edition

With the extended version of The Blues Brothers 25th Anniversary Edition the pace drags, the jokes are silly, there are pointless car chases, huge unnoticed explosions, and a plot that could have been carried out in under an hour, but God is it cool. The Blues Brothers movie made in 1980 was cool back before cool was cool. Through their musical comedy, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi single-handedly revitalized “the blues” for their generation, and with this new release, just might do it for the next. The characters of the Blues Brothers began as a warm up act for the show “Saturday Night Live,” now known as “That Show That Used To Be Good.” They quickly evolved into a musical group people yearned for in a time when Disco was starting to lose ground. Soon you had Dan Aykroyd writing the script for a movie and quickly thereafter, fans of blues all over were thankful. The plot of the movie is simple: Jake Blues (Belushi) is released after three years in prison to find out the Catholic Orphanage he and his brother Elwood (Aykroyd) were raised in is going to close if they don’t come up with $5000. Because the orphanage is where they learned about music, Jake devises a plan to get the old band back together to raise the money. The first half of the movie focuses on finding the old band members and the second half is devoted to trying to not only get a gig, but also getting paid for it. Meanwhile, rocket launching Carrie Fisher, the cops, and Nazis are trying to get them.

Also in the movie are a slew of guest stars that are there for who they are to music and film, not because they look good on camera. I love this. Too often these days everyone wants to be a star and no one really wants to be a simple actor. What’s that Jimmy Fallon? What happened to people just wanting to act and not caring how far they get up the celebrity ladder? That’s how Aykroyd and Belushi and all the other old school crew of “SNL” were, and now everyone is in it for themselves. But movies being made for the sake of the movie, and not for the benefit of the actors, is what The Blues Brothers is all about. They wanted it to be fun, humorous, and not taken to heart. It’s about telling the story, not showing off the actors’ abilities to sing or dance or drive. Where else would you find Frank Oz, Twiggy, and Steven Spielberg playing bit parts shoulder to shoulder with the Godfather of Soul James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and the late Ray Charles, with none of them trying to steal the spotlight?

Along with the resulting role of the movie, which changed the history of film and music, is the role of the characters. Because the brothers are working to raise money for an orphanage, these criminals feel they have God on their side and repeatedly Aykroyd states the famous line “we’re on a mission from God.” It’s not a point of view, it’s a fact. Surprisingly, even though it is said over and over, the line never feels overused. There’s a grace to it that makes it funnier with each delivery, like a snowball building larger as it rolls down hill. Another instance of this great building comes from Carrie Fisher’s character’s need for revenge. She’s constantly blowing up the world around the Blue Brothers and they never take note of it. They are absolutely oblivious until the end that anything unusual has happened. The beauty of this is that there’s always some side comment right after an explosion that is completely distant to what just occurred and the fact that they don’t notice becomes the joke.

The Blues Brothers is the definition of comedy. A fantastic film where comedy is back at its roots. It represents real humor in a world of one-liners, gas, and unlikely duos thrown together on a whim. Sure there are some painfully long car chases but it also holds the world record for number of cars crashed. Though The Blues Brothers takes nothing seriously, it has seriously changed the landscape of comedic history and blues music forever. With The Blues Brothers on DVD I was pretty disappointed to find out that a Collector’s Edition came out two years ago and now from the same distributor, Universal, they have chosen to put another edition out for the anniversary. Seems kind of silly to spend all that time and effort working on a collector’s edition when at the same time they must have already been planning a second dip for 2005. It’s also silly to promote the 25th Anniversary Edition as a two-disc set when really there’s only one disc with a Side A and a Side B.

But who am I to complain? I paid my money, got my copy, and am completely overjoyed with the content. I only wish there was a commentary track. I think commentaries are the number one best vehicle to discuss the movie and hear the behind the scenes information about the film. Why you ask? Because when a couple of people sit around to talk about the film while they watch it, something happens. They talk freely, they recall what was funny about this or that, and they let loose. With an interview there are always parts that may have been edited out, information the producer of the interview didn’t see as relevant or terribly interesting. With a commentary however, you get it all. You’re allowed to eavesdrop onto every last detail the speakers are willing to confess. There’s something really nice about the idea that you can connect with them by listening for two, two and a half-hours of people having a conversation about their work.

Aside from the lack of audio commentary, I’m satisfied with the extras on The Blues Brothers disc. You get two versions of the movie (theatrical and the fifteen minute longer extended version) and a bunch of extras. I particularly enjoyed the “Stories Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers.” It runs close to an hour and really is a making of. It’s not one of those bogus fifteen minutes jobs like HBO does to gain interest in the name of a making of. There are lots of interviews, clips from the film, information about how some of the scenes were shot and even sections with Belushi behind the scenes. As a neat feature, but not something I would expect from any other film, is a “Musical Highlights” section. This is on both sides of the disc and allows you to choose from eighteen songs to jump to in the movie and watch only that section where the music is playing. Because music is so important to this film, it’s great to be able to jump to John Lee Hooker singing Boom Boom and just sit back and enjoy the song.

On Side B of the disc you find the theatrical trailer and a twenty-second long “Introduction To the Film By Dan Aykroyd.” There’s also a “Going Rounds: A Day On the Blues Brothers Tours.” This section is okay, almost indulgent, but shows Jim, or James Belushi (John Belushi’s brother) and Aykroyd performing at the opening of a House of Blues. It’s entertaining to be able to watch the band actually perform live rather than staged for the movie, but it loses something knowing John isn’t there. Keeping this in mind, there is a “Remembering John” section including interviews with the cast and John’s wife, Judy, talking about what kind of person he was.

Next, there’s “Transposing the Music” where they discuss which songs were performed live for taping and which were lip-synced. No one say anything to Ashley Simpson, but apparently some of the performers were able to lip-sync and some weren’t. This is because people like James Brown and Aretha Franklin never sing a song the same way twice. Really talented people are like that. Finally, the “Production Notes” contain about ten pages or so of notes. Some of the information is new, but some of it is redundant and only retells the same stories as we saw in the “Stories Behind” section. All in all, however, the special features for The Blues Brothers carry just about anything you would want to know about their background and what has happened since.