Review: The Blues Brothers
If nothing else, the 4K HDR release of The Blues Brothers: Extended Edition demonstrates just how far home video has come in the past 20 years. And if you’re not familiar with the provenance of the longer cut of the film, perhaps a little backstory is in order here.
Director John Landis originally intended The Blues Brothers to be a three-hour roadshow with an intermission. Studio heads balked after a test screening and forced him to cut the movie down to 148 minutes, then again to 133 minutes for the final theatrical release. When Universal destroyed most of the elements for the original film in 1985, it was believed that only the
133-minute cut and its negative survived—until, that is, the son of a theater owner was caught trying to sell a print of the 148-minute cut on eBay in the early ’90s. And it is from this print that all deleted scenes and alternate cuts for the extended cut were sourced.
Back in the era of DVD, the discrepancies between the quality of the original camera negative and that of the lost-and-recovered print weren’t that blatant. Sure, you could tell some scenes were a bit grainier, a little less detailed, a little more washed out, but it was hardly a distraction. In the HD era, the disparity started to become substantially more apparent.
Fast-forward to this year’s UHD release of The Blues Brothers: Extended Edition, and I honestly find it nigh unwatchable, if only because the portions of the film scanned from the original camera negative are so utterly gorgeous they make the preview-print footage look that much worse by comparison. After the opening credits pass
BLUES BROTHERS AT A GLANCE
This 4K HDR release underlines the visual inconsistencies that plague the extended cut, making the more consistently entertaining theatrical cut (included with the Kaleidescape download) a way better way to go.
The images are consistently excellent throughout the theatrical version, with HDR significantly improving the shadow depth.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is immaculate, enhancing the film’s original four-track soundtrack.
by, The Blues Brothers: Extended Edition is simply a chaotic audiovisual rollercoaster, with one scene looking sharp, detailed, well-balanced, and properly saturated, with exactly the right amount of organic film grain—and the next looking like a blown-out, overly contrasty mess of crushed blacks, faded highlights, and about twice as much grain as it should have. It’s honestly such a distraction that I had trouble sitting through the extended cut, despite the absolutely fabulous DTS-HD Master Audio
5.1 mix included with the Kaleidescape download of the film.
Thankfully, though, purchasing the extended edition on Kaleidescape also comes with the theatrical cut, fully restored in UHD HDR as well, so I decided to give it a watch, despite not having seen the shorter edit in over a quarter-century. And what I took away from that viewing surprised me.
When you get right down to it, the
studio was right. The shorter cut of The Blues Brothers is a better movie. Simply put, it’s better paced, more consistently funny, and the focus is more consistently where it belongs—on the musical numbers.
Not only that, but the original theatrical cut is a better home cinema experience from beginning to end. Again, the opening and closing titles—which had to be sourced from what I believe is the interpositive, not the negative—don’t quite measure up to the quality of the rest of the transfer. But that aside, I never would have imagined The Blues Brothers could look this good while still looking true to itself.
And it isn’t merely the enhanced detail brought about by the 4K scan that benefits the look of the movie. HDR also allows enhancements to shadow depth, bringing details out of the darkness that have simply never appeared in home video
Granted, the real star of the show here is still the immaculate DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio mix, which doesn’t suffer from the tonal and fidelity inconsistencies that plague so many films of the era. Sure, the pre-recorded musical numbers shine brighter here, with deeper bass and better transparency than the rest of the mix, but dialogue and sound effects are still clear and well-presented, and the occasional surround sound effect doesn’t sound at all out of place. A lot of that probably comes down to the fact that the film was originally mixed in four-track stereo, with discrete left, center, and right channels and a mono surround channel, making it a little easier to conform to our modern surround-sound channel layout. But whatever the reason, The Blues Brothers sounds absolutely as wonderful here as you would hope.
At any rate, in a weird way I think I’m sort of grateful the 4K release of the extended cut of The Blues Brothers revealed what a mishmash that version of the movie is, visually speaking. If not for that, I probably wouldn’t have returned to the theatrical cut and discovered for myself just how much better it is. I’ve spent the past few decades treating the longer cut as the film proper, viewing the theatrical cut as a sort of historical artifact, when in fact I think we should view these
different cuts from exactly the opposite perspective. The extended edition is really just an incredibly long bonus feature, and one that quite frankly overstays its welcome.
In some hypothetical parallel universe in which the original elements for the movie still existed and we could enjoy the full three-hour roadshow version, it’s entirely possible it would be the superior edit. But we don’t live in that universe. So if the only version of The Blues Brothers you know is the compromised, intermediate extended cut (it was, after all, the only version available on DVD for the longest time), I encourage you to give the shorter theatrical cut another shot. Especially in its newly restored 4K HDR form, it’s simply the best version of the movie that actually exists.
Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.