Classic Eddie Murphy flicks coming to America (and the world) in new Blu-ray and 4K versions
By Jim Bray
The quality of Eddie Murphy's movies varies over the decades he's been working, but when the stars align – stars, screenplay, director, etc. – you can be assured of at least a fun time in your home theatre.
And now, Paramount Pictures is releasing four of his better flicks, just (coincidentally, I'm sure) in time to promote the upcoming Coming 2 America sequel. Obviously, Coming to America is one of these new video releases, along with Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places, and the Golden Child. The latter two, Paramount says, have been given the 4K treatment, but aren't yet available as 4K discs, only as conventional 1080p Blu-rays.
Which begs the question: why not 4K now? The studio claims all have been redone in 4K, so why expect fans to shell out twice? Just release 'em all in 4K and include a Blu-ray in the box as has been done with innumerable other 4K titles.
Oh, I forgot; this is a company that knows well how to squeeze extra dollars out of fans through countless editions and versions. Does Star Trek ring a bell?
Anyway, Paramount sent me three of these titles for review, the 4K Coming to America (which has been available on Blu-ray for years) and, alas, the Blu-rays of Trading Places and The Golden Child (alas, because they look great and I'd love to see the real 4K versions). All are, in their way, "fish out of water" stories, though Golden Child is also a kind of Big Trouble in Little China action/adventure comedy involving evil magic and ancient battles.
Part of the problem with Golden Child is that it can't really decide what it wants to be. Is it Indiana Jones and the Lost Toddler, is it an Eddie Murphy comedy, or what? With Big Trouble, you never doubted that you were in for a broad romp and wild ride. But with Golden Child, it never really feels as if they could decide, and to me it comes off more as the Lost Toddler, with the Eddie Murphy fun sandwiched in. As such, Eddie Murphy seems to be nearly as big a fish out of water as his Chosen One character is.
That doesn't mean it isn't a good movie. I enjoyed it quite a bit, though I must admit that I was appalled by the – by today's standards – cheesy special effects that are really, really dated. In fact, I was gobsmacked at the end of the film to notice that the effects were done byGeorge Lucas' (at the time) Industrial Light and Magic, which back then was arguably the Gold Standard of special effects houses.
Truly, we do live in a golden age of special effects now; too bad we aren't in a golden age of writing. But I digress…
There's another facet to Golden Child that makes it as modern as could be in the age of Jeffrey Epstein et al: child abduction and/or sacrifice. Not the stuff you might think would make a comedy. But it does, here, kind of.
Golden Child's Eddie Murphy is a social worker who tracks down missing children. The latest victim for whom he's searching is found, dead, and that leads him on a quest to find the perps. Meanwhile, of course, there's the matter of the Golden Child, a tot with magical powers who could save the world except that he's been abducted by the evil Sardo Numspa (Charles Dance) and his people of hench.
Murphy is recruited as "The Chosen One", chosen to battle the forces of evil, rescue the Golden Child, and save the world from the demons of Satan. His quest takes him from America to Tibet and from his regular world to one of darkness and magic and ultimate evil. Not the stuff of your typical Murphy romp.
A lot of the humour seems as if Murphy made it up on set, as he reacts (wisecracks, mostly) to the "Great Awakening" that is happening to him, and maybe that's why it doesn't seem like an organic part of the script. This is alluded to in the supplements. Sometimes it works, sometimes it feels kind of forced, as if blending the genres was more difficult than they might have thought at first.
Overall, it works. And it's hard not to like Murphy's character. He comes off pretty much as the Eddie Murphy persona we all know and most of us love, and that gives him some elbow room to explore this new world in which he finds himself.
The Blu-ray looks fine, with good depth, detail and colour. Audio, which is Dolby Atmos (backward compatible to Dolby TrueHD) is also very nice. This being a broad adventure with lots of locations and stuff, your speakers will get a decent workout.
Extras are limited to a short, but interesting, "making of" documentary, a digital code for a download, and the theatrical trailer.
Coming to America is a much more straightforward Eddie Murphy movie and reteams the comedian with director John Landis, with whom he made what I think is his best film (of the ones I've seen): Trading Places.
Here, Murphy is Akeem, prince and heir to the throne of the African nation Zamunda, which seems like Wakanda without the super powers. He's so pampered there are three girls who cast rose petals on the ground on which he walks, he's bathed by semi-naked (at least ) women and he even has staff to wipe his butt after he does his business. Kind of like being married to my dear wife!
But the crown rests heavy on his head and this comes to a, well, head on his 21st birthday when his arranged-for wife is presented to him at court and he discovers that her lifelong training to serve his every whim leaves him cold. He wants a woman who'll treat him as an equal, who'll love him for himself and not because he's a prince and it's her job to love him.
Hence Coming to America. He leaves Zamunda with his best friend and servant (Arsenio Hall) and moves into a dump in Queens, New York where he can live like an ordinary person and seek the love of his life from there.
He does go a bit overboard in the squalor department, but his heart is in the right place. He gets a job at a McDonald's knockoff, where he can pursue the girl he thinks might be his dream lover. And things go well, for the most part.
Naturally, there's more to that. And there's even a great homage to Trading Places that had me laughing out loud.
I liked Coming to America better than the Golden Child, mostly because it's funnier, and that's what I expected from an Eddie Murphy movie. Landis' fingerprints are all over it and, to me, that's a good thing. Landis isn't the most subtle of directors, but when he's on his game he can make enjoyable and funny films, with a nice dose of silliness built in.
I noticed legendary special effects makeup guru Rick Baker's name in the opening credits and wondered how he was going to fit in – and his contributions toward creating totally different character looks for Murphy and Hall are truly outstanding. You can tell most of the characters are just folks in outrageously complex makeup (maybe that's a 4K thing!) but one of them – an old, white, Jewish guy played by Murphy, had me convinced completely. There's a really interesting segment in the supplements that goes into this and I recommend it if you're interested in this kind of stuff.
That said, the problem is that these characters get far too much screen time. They're minor characters seemingly there only to showcase Baker, Murphy and Hall's skills and they tend to slow the story down. Clearly, as fantastic as the makeup is, it wasn't necessary (just hire some character actors and give them a nice gig) and all it did was un-suspend my disbelief. Heckuva thing to marvel at, though!
The new new 4K presentation, with HDR, looks a tad soft in places but is overall quite wonderful. There's a nice layer of film grain that helps give a lovely cinematic look and the detail and colours are magnificent. It's a very nice presentation.
Paramount has included a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless audio soundtrack, and it's also fine.
Add to that an above average selection of extra stuff and you have a quite compelling package.
Saving the best till last, Trading Places is the best of these titles. It's basically The Prince and the Pauper, but as told by John Landis and his inspired cast and crew, it's funny as heck even today.
Murphy here is a street kid named Billy Ray Valentine and, thanks to the nasty scheme of two ultra rich and corrupt Philadelphians (played wonderfully by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche), he's plucked from his squalid life and given a job in their brokerage firm. Alas, the person who had the job (Dan Aykroyd) sees his life destroyed in the process to make room for Valentine.
It's an experiment in "nature versus nurture" by the Duke brothers (Bellamy/Ameche) though it doesn't work out at all like they'd planned.
This is one of those "lightning in a bottle" moments in which everything just came together to create a movie that's probably better than it deserved to be. The cast, which also includes Jamie Lee Curtis and Denholm Elliott, is in great form, the script is a delight, and Landis has never been more at the top of his game.
A wonderful romp in the home theatre, indeed.
The Blu-ray – where the heck's the 4K version? – looks and sounds great but the undoubtedly analogue-originating Dolby TrueHD audio, being from the early 1980's, doesn't exhibit a lot of the kind of surround ambience/effects that are common today (monaural surround was still basically a novelty back then). No big deal; it is what it is, and the sound quality we do get is fine.
Ditto for the picture, though it seems to be crying out for the 4K disc because the wonderfully shot image at 1080p is splendid and would probably really pop off the screen in 4K. But no.
There's also a very nice selection of extras, one new retrospective and many older featurettes that are well worth your time if you're into these things.
If it were my money, I'd wait to purchase any of these Blu-rays until they're on 4K disc, especially considering how great Coming to America looks, but if 4K isn't your cup of tea and you have no plans to upgrade, these are very good Blu-rays and will undoubtedly serve you well.
Copyright 2020 Jim Bray