In the migration of Still Playing with Toys over to the new site, many of the old articles and discussion threads have been sentenced to the internet Forbidden Zone. In an effort to preserve the one or two of them that were actually decent, we'll be posting up some Classic SPT for your reading pleasure.
The following article was originally posted to Still Playing with Toys on September 5, 2013:
This past weekend, a dinner conversation with friends about the sideways turn of Blues Brothers 2000 prompted a bit of a research binge during lunch today. One mission was to be discovered within the research: what the hell happened with Blues Brothers 2000?
They waited all those years to do a sequel and they didn't wait for Jim Belushi to be available? Where'd the kid come from? Where was the edge? Hey, at least the music was good. -- all these thoughts running through my head as I scoured the web for answers. And then I found it. For some reason two articles that had passed me by over the years where director John Landis had spoken out about the sequel and given some insight as to why it was so lost in the woods.
The first article, from the AV Club gives us this insight from director John Landis:
We'd always intended for a sequel with John, but of course when he passed away, it was obvious we weren't going to do it. But Danny had been performing with John Goodman and Jimmy Belushi and the band, and he said, "You know, this is great, because this music is recognized now—let's do a movie." I said, "Great, sure, okay," and we wrote what I thought was a terrific script. Then Universal Studios eviscerated it. That was a strange experience, because the first thing they said was that it had to be PG, which meant they couldn't use profanity, which is basically cutting the Blues Brothers' nuts off. The first movie is an R-rated film, but there's no nudity or violence in it. It's just the language. Then they said, "You have to have a child, you have to have..." The bottom line was, the only way that movie was going to get made was to agree with everything they said. You know the difference between a brown-nose and a shithead? Depth perception. That's the only time I never really fought with the studio, because they didn't really want to make it. So we did every single thing they said. By the time we'd done that, the script was kind of homogenized and uninteresting. Danny said, "It's about the music. It's just about the music, John, so don't worry about it. We'll get the best people, and we'll make a great album, and get these people on film. We have to document these people." It's interesting, because, as much as I make fun of Danny, three or four of those guys have passed away since we made that movie. People say, "Okay, you've got Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown, Cab Calloway, and John Lee Hooker in The Blues Brothers—who's in Blues Brothers 2000?" The answer? Everyone else. The first movie has five musical numbers, and the second movie has 18.
Essentially the downfall of the film was the downfall of several other movie franchises like Robocop, Terminator and others that relied upon a certain edge and certain maturity in order for the lightning in a bottle that they had captured. When the edict came down to make the film more appealing to a broader audience, with it came several of the concessions (ie. "Buster" Blues, Elwood suddenly smiling all the time, etc.).
And Landis outright admits that if they would have fought any of the mandates from the powers that be, the movie would have never been made. So he and Aykroyd decided to focus on the music and to hell with the threads that wove between it.
Another article from IFC gives us more:
I was very pissed off by what Universal did to me on ‘Blues Brothers 2000′ and that was my first experience with the new corporate Hollywood. It’s very different. Everything is by committee now, and they destroyed that movie, though the music is still good. This happens to filmmakers all the time, where producers and studios fuck with their picture, and when you’re promoting the movie you can’t say that. [Laughs.] The directors get blamed for things that are clearly not their fault. .../... It’s a combination of economics and we live in a very conservative and reactionary and frightened time. People are scared shitless in terms of taking risks on movies. Would the studios ever make a movie like ‘Into The Night’ now? Or even ‘Animal House?’
More fuel for the above fire. And an interesting perspective on Animal House - obviously a risk like an American Pie in the early 2000s since it's a film geared toward late high school and early college aged teens but carried R ratings.
But why no Jim Belushi stepping in to replace his late brother in Blues Brothers 2000? Apparently, from what I've been able to glean, the scheduling of production on his show Total Security didn't allow him to get away in time for production on the film. But why not wait for him? I haven't been able to find an answer to that, but based on John Landis' comments above, my guess would be that the studio wanted to hit a release date within a window of a schedule that wouldn't allow them to hold production until Belushi was available.
Such a strange series of events in another weird tale of how making a film in the Hollywood studio system can be like pushing a Raiders of the Lost Ark-like boulder up a mountain.