Judge Ryan Keefer likes his Thanksgiving jive turkey with a cranberry mango chutney and appropriate dressing.
"You know, it occurs to me that the best way you hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people."
Trading Places remains a comedy gem over the last quarter century (cripes, has it been that long since it came out?), with two hilarious performances by its stars. And after a barebones release five years ago, Paramount has thrown together some rather bland extras and called it a Collector's Edition and released it on standard definition (which Judge David Johnson more than capably reviewed), not to mention the next generation formats. So in high definition, is this one a keeper?
Facts of the Case
Written by Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod (Space Jam) and directed by John Landis (Animal House), the story itself is pretty simple. Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd, The Blues Brothers) could not ask for a happier spot in life. He works at a brokerage firm for Randolph and Mortimer Duke (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche, respectively), and is engaged to be married. He even has an English butler (Denholm Elliott, Raiders of the Lost Ark). He bumps into Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls), who is a common street hoodlum. It occurs to Randolph and Mortimer to conduct a little experiment. Through some elaborate means, they manage to switch Louis and Billy Ray's positions in life without their consultation, in an attempt to prove that their environments shape the decisions they make.
Ahh 1983. I was a burgeoning teenage male with enough testosterone to light a city block. But I also had hair back then too, something I don't have now. I say it was by choice with a fair amount of vanity, but I know it was by genetics. Some other things that were proven facts in 1983 that have long since fallen by the wayside:
• Dan Aykroyd was a comic talent.
Before the role as Winthorpe, Aykroyd had built up quite the comic credentials. He was a veteran performer on Saturday Night Live and had been Elwood to John Belushi's Jake in The Blues Brothers. Belushi died in 1982 and it had been well known that Aykroyd was shattered by the loss. He managed to appear in Ghostbusters in 1984, but any appearance in a blockbuster was as a supporting performer, and has appeared in such critically acclaimed films as Grosse Pointe Blank and Driving Miss Daisy. Try as he might, he can't make people forget Caddyshack II and Celtic Pride. In a sense, he is the cinematic version of Eddie Van Halen.
• John Landis was a commercially viable director.
Some of this may be choice, but the three feature-length films Landis made before this were, in order, Animal House, The Blues Brothers and An American Werewolf in London. It was following this film and his contribution to Twilight Zone movie where actor Vic Morrow and two others were killed and he was charged with their deaths that his career changed dramatically. Two of his next three films were the lambasted Three Amigos and Spies Like Us, and to say that he was never the same after 1983 is an understatement.
• Eddie Murphy was a superstar.
The 1.85:1 1080p AVC MPEG-4 looks better than I was expecting. Images possess a great deal of depth and clarity, and what brighter colors there are stand out well. The Dolby Digital soundtrack is pretty muted and boring for the most part, but when the songs kick in at various points in the movie, they sound clear and dynamic. All in all, they are successful in breathing new life to the film. The extras are duplicates of the Collector's Edition and all are pretty quick hits. There's a 20-minute look at the making of the film with new interviews with the stars (minus Murphy, who appears in archived footage), Landis and some crew members. It's the usual talk about how the film came together. There's some more interview footage with the stars from their publicity tour in Great Britain, followed by a deleted scene that has optional commentary, which is nothing really funny or noteworthy. If you want to know about the wardrobe design, there's an eight-minute piece that's just for you, and then an even more interesting look at real-life traders follows. An older ShoWest promo film from Aykroyd and Murphy is next, and there's a running trivia track that's included which completes the bland set of material.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Landis has made some of the longest standing comedic gems for anyone who's under 50, and to see him not provide a lot of material or significantly contribute to the DVDs of his films is a bit disappointing. I don't know if it has to do with reliving those days and perhaps thinking of the Twilight Zone trial, in which he was acquitted, but I've always said that some of the more pleasing discs are when the director has a fondness for his older work and is willing to discuss it. Landis appears to have neither, which is a shame.
Silly Paramount title aside for this new edition of a classic, the technical qualities of this disc are more than satisfactory. If you've got the old edition and have a Blu-ray player, it's certainly worth the upgrade, and if you don't have the film on disc at all, it's more than worthy of adding to your library. However if you already own the barebones version, unless a new transfer was struck for it (and I doubt there was), the extras are the suck and not really worth double-dipping. And if you've never seen Trading Places, what's wrong with you?
I wish to press full charges on Paramount for double-dipping without any real gravitas to back it up.
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