Billed as “a musical comedy,” “The Blues Brothers” is one of those 80s films—like “Stripes,” “Caddyshack” and a bunch of others—that simply asks you to go along for the ride. Yes, the plot is essentially nothing more than a series of funny situations hung on a wisp of a story thread (in this case, raising the money needed to keep an orphanage from getting shut down), but you really need to look at a movie like this one as something akin to an extended “Saturday Night Live” sketch. With musical interludes.
Of course, stars Dan Akroyd and John Belushi became stars on that venerable sketch comedy show, and “The Blues Brothers” was a vehicle that actually had its origins on “SNL.” With a feature film budget, however, Akroyd and director John Landis could push the concept to absurd limits, defying the laws of reality by having the main characters blasted through the air a few times, lead the cops on a car chase through a shopping mall, destroy millions of dollars worth of private property, and more. It’s sort of like “Smokey and the Bandit” meets “Animal House” by way of one of those musicals from Hollywood’s heyday.
Akroyd and Belushi star as Elwood and “Joliet” Jake Blues, a pair of hustlers whose only real skill is their ability to lead a band. When the film opens, Elwood picks up Jake from prison, where he served time for robbery. (Watch for a funny cameo by Frank Oz.) Elwood forces Jake to follow up on his promise to see the head nun at The Saint Helen of the Blessed Shroud Orphanage, where they grew up. When they get there, however, they learn from Sister Stigmata that the Church won’t pay back taxes owed by the orphanage, which means it will be shut down unless a miracle happens.
Which, of course, inspires the Blues brothers to embark on “a mission from God,” as Elwood says repeatedly during the film. They set out to put the band back together and stage a concert that will raise the money. Along the way, they run afoul of not only the law but also the Illinois chapter of the Nazi Party, which leads to a series of car chases interspersed with musical numbers. After all, if you’re going to stick Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin in a film, you better show them doing what they do best, right?
Meanwhile, Jake’s ex-girlfriend, played by Carrie Fisher, keeps trying to blow him away with a series of increasingly nasty weapons, Jake’s parole officer isn’t happy about the goings-on, and a band called The Good Ol’ Boys wants revenge because The Blues Brothers impersonated them at a bar to get a paying gig. You can imagine how all those elements come together.
The original DVD release of “The Blues Brothers” contained 15 minutes of additional footage. That extended version of the film is included here, along with the original theatrical version. For whatever reason, Universal decided to stick each version of the film on its own side of the DVD, rather than use seamless branching, like Sony did with “Stripes.” Seems to me they would have had more room for bonus materials if they had used seamless branching on one side and stuck all the supplements on the other side. Perhaps that would have been a bit complicated, given the fact that some of the additions in the extended version are bits of dialogue here and there, but Fox pulled off some very complex seamless branching with the “Alien” movies in the “Quadrilogy” set.
At any rate, those of you with the original DVD are probably wondering if you should trade it in for this one. “Stories Behind the Making of the Blues Brothers,” which clocks in at almost an hour and was featured on the first release, has been included in this 25th anniversary edition intact. It’s a fabulous retrospective that covers pretty much everything you likely want to know about the movie, complete with lots of anecdotes and humorous remembrances.
That takes care of side A. You’ll find the theatrical version of the film on side B, along with several more supplements. There’s an introduction to the film by Akroyd, which is only 22 seconds, as well as “Going Rounds: A Day on the Blues Brothers Tour.” That one, which lasts seven agonizing minutes, shows us some highlights (if you could call them that) of a latter day Blues Brothers concert, complete with Jim Belushi pathetically trying to fill the enormous void left by the death of his brother. Let’s stop trying to milk that cow, guys.
Next is the 15-minute “Transposing the Music” featurette, which uses interviews with Landis, Akroyd, Judy Belushi (John’s widow, who helped create the characters’ histories), Paul Shaffer (David Letterman’s band leader, who helped put the original band together) and others to explain the impact of the film’s musical legacy. The final video supplement is “Remembering John,” a nice, nine-minute tribute to Belushi.
Text-based production notes and the original theatrical trailer round out this release. Owners of the original DVD should note that that disc’s photo gallery wasn’t ported to this edition.
So there you have it: A well-rounded release of “The Blues Brothers” that should hold fans over until the next anniversary divisible by five, at which time Universal can put out a new version on HD-DVD. Or Blu-Ray, whichever one they’re backing. In all honesty, I don’t think it matters, because I don’t see a lot of consumers racing to upgrade their DVD players and movie libraries to a new format. I have a feeling they’re going to stick with the players they already have, and DVDs like this one won’t really compel them to buy the movie again just because another anniversary milestone has arrived.