Do What the Penguin Says

The camera first pans over The Blues Brother’s Chicago on a dense, smoggy morning. Sunlight barely pierces through the industrial pollution. The first real light comes as Jake (John Belushi) sees his release from prison – behind him an angelic glow, a sign that Illinois is about to be reborn.

In Blues Brother’s magical realism-imbued America, everything is made right through God and music. The two are treated as synonymous, even equal. Or, the same thing. With this power behind them, Jake and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) crisscross through the country. A western dive bar, an urban ghetto, the sewers, a middle class concert hall; all these components come together, finding common ground between divergent classes and people. Along the way, they kill Nazis. Everything is made right.

As a duo, the musical act serve as a modern Bonnie & Clyde – anti-heroes, but instead of brash, violent criminality, they only seek to expose the system calling in a $5000 tax debt on an orphanage.

Blues Brothers never loses its unique sense of Americana

Their cause is how and why Blues Brothers’ immaculate, chaos-rich finale works like it does. After some 100 police cars meet their end in unimaginably spectacular pile-ups (and no injuries), in comes a SWAT team. Then the fire department. Then the army. Then tanks. Millions spent chasing two guys, who on a “mission from God,” are making sure kids have somewhere to sleep.

Director John Landis liked this stuff: anti-authority, anti-greed material. Prior to Blues Brothers was Animal House, focused on a college fraternity in a rebellious phase beyond compare. Trading Places came in ‘83, lampooning the stock market and inequality. Later, Coming to America, much in the same vein as an African prince experiences a minimum wage life. It’s as if Landis, through his characters, was leading a country through Reagan’s presidency, bringing signature mayhem along to do it.

Blues Brothers’ endless recklessness and absurdities bond to Belushi too. So wild, so care free, so energetic, it’s as if, amid the outlandish comedy, there’s at least a smidgen of autobiographical behavior. Aykroyd needs only to keep his cool – as straight a straight man as there ever was, indifferent to the ludicrous antics.

It’s the music as well. Stretching across decades and styles, the acts diversely represent America’s melting pot spirit. Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles segue into… the theme from Rawhide. Soaking this in, with all of its enthusiasm, is pure joy. Stuff is smashed, people dance, and more stuff is smashed. Blues Brothers never loses its unique sense of Americana.

Video

Universal’s master isn’t in doubt. An increase in sharpness signifies a 4K scan at its fullest. The striking texture resolves Chicago skylines as well as close-ups and their facial definition. Any loss happens at the source photography, and even that is minor.

Count on color too, maybe a little too modern with digital grading (in particular, a notable warmth in certain scenes), if dazzlingly saturated. Aretha Franklin’s number cuts to dancers at the diner’s exterior, and backed by a steely downtown, primaries flourish. Color density provides Blues Brothers the needed visual appeal.

HDR adds more pop, energizing light sources whether car headlights or neon signs. The latter reaches undeniable intensity. Black levels find their own sweet spot, rich and dense. Cautious calibration keeps crush minimal.

It’s all going well until encoding overcompensates. While grain structure looks natural, soon compression reaches a choke point. Artifacts begin to leak in. Chroma noise turns into a small if persistent annoyance. That awesome color bleeds a little when not in control. Close, but Blues Brothers just misses that A-grade catalog quality.

Audio

DTS:X toys with the new codec a bit. Height channels convincingly present dripping water in the sewers. Some gunshots ping on contact around the soundstage, and Chicago’s elevated trains make their own passes. Chase scenes travel front-to-back. Only a hint of artificiality/added effects slip in.

While the low-end suffers some imprecise, modern additions (notable as the police cars swerve off the highway), it’s otherwise a fantastic effort. Smooth bass gives musical numbers their punch. An explosion/rocket blast reaches suitable depth. Even the opening shots, as they pan flames, nicely push a solid rumble. Beautiful overall clarity doesn’t show any signs of age.

Note: Spotted on Twitter, the DTS:X track’s basis is the DVD/Blu-ray mix, as evident by a gaffe during the “Sweet Home Chicago” number.

Extras

Bonuses copy to the Blu-ray and 4K discs. Near an hour long, the 14-part making-of titled The Stories Behind the Blues Brothers goes scene-by-scene (mostly), delivering excerpts and set footage in droves. It’s not new, but it’s great. Digging into the soundtrack and song selections for 15-minutes is Transposing the Music. For nine minutes, John Belushi is remembered by those who knew him.

Note both formats include the theatrical and extended cuts too.

The Blues Brothers
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

Movie

On a mission from God, the Blues Brothers see America through music, and exposing the many systemic faults in the process.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 73 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: