Friday, June 25, 2010

The Physics of the Blues Brothers

This week, we celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the greatest musical comedy of all time: The Blues Brothers. Yes, it is better than School of Rock. Anyone who's seen the movie is well aware of the seemingly physics defying stunts. The police cruiser jumping, bullet dodging, redneck evading and explosion surviving; all wound seamlessly together with a killer blues soundtrack. And it was all real. While maybe they wouldn't haven't survived very far into the movie without divine intervention, they really did all the stunts, from demolishing an apartment building to jumping a retired police cruiser over the open 95th street bridge. Surprisingly, no one was seriously injured in the process.

If you haven't seen the movie (you're a sad soul), let me summarize for you. Two blues musicians, a recently released convict named Jake Blues (John Belushi) and his brother Elwood (Dan Aykroyd), must save the Catholic orphanage they were raised in by earning $5,000 dollars and getting it to the Chicago tax assessor. Because they are "on a mission from God," they can defy the laws of physics to keep from getting caught. Police, rednecks, Illinois Nazis and a crazy ex-girlfriend (Princess Leia) chase them through the entire movie as they destroy everything in their path, including an entire mall (yes, that was for real too!). In between crazy chase scenes, the movie features performances by legends like Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha Frankiln, John Lee Hooker and Cab Calloway.

At the time the movie was released, it had more car crashes than any movie in history and was only surpassed by the sequel. They bought 60 police cruisers to repeatedly destroy and kept a 24hr body shop to repair them. They went through 13 "Bluesmobiles," to do all the stunts. Some were retrofitted with tiny one gallon gas tanks for jumping, others modified for speed and one took a mechanic several months to rig just so it would fall to pieces in the final scene. While they might not seem so impressive in our age of rampant CGI, all the stunts in the movie were real.

Let’s review the 5 greatest stunts.

5) The squad car jump on Lower Wacker


Supposedly this took more than 200 police and movie personnel to block every entrance and keep people off Lower Wacker Road in Chicago.

The Bluesmobile goes up an exit ramp and launches over top of a squad car. Aykroyd and Belushi wanted him to graze the lights with his tires and take them out, but the stunt driver would only guarantee he could clear the car. They offered him $1,000 each if he could pull it off, and you can see from the picture he barely cleared the car and took out the lights.

4) Lake Street ridiculous pile-up


Despite this road holding the supports for the L train, the stunt drivers were allowed to hit speeds in excess of 100 mph in the scene. Near the end of the stretch, they used a system of pipe-ramps to flip the police cars over in a grand orchestrated 10 car pile up. In the final film product, overturned and sideways cars slide into view and they finally stop in a heaping pile of metal as cops pour out guns blazing.

3) "This mall's got everything!"


They actually found an abandoned mall for this scene and set it up just to destroy. The Bluesmobile pummels down walls, windows, kiosks and stores full of merchandise as the cops follow aimlessly slamming into anything that looks breakable. This had to be one of the most gratifying stunts in history.

2) Illinois Nazis drop from helicopter


A group of Illinois Nazis enters the chase towards the end of the movie and follows the Blues Brothers through a construction zone and onto an off-ramp. As the Bluesmobile screeches to a halt just in the nick of time, the Nazi carrying red Pinto goes flying off into empty space. For some reason they end up falling thousands of feet before plunging through the asphalt as the Blues Brothers swerve around them. Producer John Landis got special flight clearance to have the Pinto dropped from a helicopter from what looks like several thousand feet onto a real city street. I'm still pretty mystified how they pulled this one off without killing anyone.

1) The Bluesmobile jumps the 95th Street Bridge



This is my favorite scene, every movie should start so cool. It's the opening scene just after Jake has been released from Joliet prison and he's mad that his brother traded the Cadillac for a microphone and then picked him up in a police car. Elwood proves the worthiness of the new Bluesmobile, by jumping it over the 95th St. Bridge in Chicago.

3 comments:

  1. The Pinto was dropped over an open field/landfill area where they had a wide target for the car to land on.

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  2. So I hear. I more mystified about how they dropped it onto a real city street though. Presumably they used a crane and evacuated everyone. Also, I'm guessing the cloth over the nearby building was intended to block debris and wasn't just a prop.

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  3. The car dropped onto the street was dropped from a crane at a Hollywood backlot.

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