It's hard to deny that the 80's were a good time to be Eddie Murphy; at least by box office standards. With Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places, and Coming to America on his resume, Murphy fortified himself as the comic go-to guy. Recently Coming to America has received some special edition love on a standard definition DVD and fortunately for us Blu-ray owners we get the same treatment.
I may date myself by saying so, but I remember seeing Coming to America in the movie theaters. It was my first R rated movie and though my father didn't want me to go, I still found a way to convince him otherwise. Sure I was young and I didn't get some of the more subtle jokes but something about the film struck a cord with me. Ever since that day I have looked upon it fondly and have seen it countless times. In retrospect maybe that youthful appreciation something to do with the brief topless scene towards the beginning. Whatever the case, Coming to America is without a doubt one of the classics.
The film starts out with a shot of the sweeping wilderness of Zamunda, a made up African country. This is where Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) lives and is about to celebrate his 21st birthday. His day starts like any other with an orchestra playing a symphony to wake him, a path of rose petals to greet his every step, servants to assist with using the restroom, servants to brush his teeth, and of course girls to scrub his nether regions. Through it all we see boredom set in on Akeem's face but things take a turn for the worse when he's informed about an arranged marriage.
All Akeem wants is a girl with her own mind to love and unfortunately the submissive girl he is betrothed to falls way below those standards. Granted she can hop on one foot and make noises like an orangutan but how far will that get you in a relationship? After speaking with his father, the King (James Earl Jones), it is decided that Akeem will travel the world for forty days to get his hormones in check before returning to Zamunda and marrying his bride-to-be. With his trusty servant Semmi (a brilliant Arsenio Hall) in tow, Akeem comes to America and heads to New York to find a real bride.
From the very moment Akeem and Semmi set foot on American soil they are greeted with profanity and judgmental glares. The sterile tranquility of Zamunda's palace has definitely been left behind and though Akeem is educated he's a little naive when it comes to the way New Yorkers run things. He admires the way they throw trash on the street, doesn't care when his possessions are stolen, and rents an apartment where an outline from its former tenant is still on the floor.
In order to look like normal Americans, Akeem and Semmi get jobs at a fast food restaurant named McDowell's, which is a blatant rip-off of McDonald's. They start out as lowly trash runners and mop handlers but before if they play their cards right they'll eventually be able to wash lettuce! It's a silly thing to see royalty wash windows and change trash but thanks to Akeem's never wavering smile and chipper attitude it's comedy gold.
Akeem's ever-proud stature, polite nature, and positive outlook on things is part of what makes Coming to America so endearing. Murphy does not step beyond the scripted personality of his character and plays him so innocently that laughter just naturally follows. I'd go further on to say that every character Murphy and Hall portray make this film better than it should have been. From their alter-egos in the barbershop to Hall's nasty girl at the single's bar the movie is what it is because the two of them are in practically every scene.
Watching Coming to America was like taking a pleasant walk down memory lane. I had not seen this movie in ages and though I knew what jokes to expect I still laughed every time. Sure, it may not the greatest story ever told and yes it's not Murphy's best film, but there is enough charm and personality in the picture to make it worth while. This is the perfect example of what a great amount of chemistry and a "just for fun" attitude can accomplish.
Presented on a 25 GB Blu-ray disc Coming to America comes with a 1080p high definition output and utilizes the AVC MPEG-4 codec. While the film may be pushing the twenty year mark I'm pleased to report that Paramount took steps to spruce things up for this release. The Blu-ray is a noticeable improvement over the Standard Definition release with increased clarity and more natural colors. It may not be as fine a presentation as other high definition titles but it's about as Coming to America is ever going to receive.
For starters the image here is contrasted perfectly with rich colors and deep tones. From the bright trappings of Zamunda to the drabness of New York City this film offers a unique experience in every scene. With that being said it's safe to say that the tone of the film is probably the highlight of this release. Many scenes feature some shimmer, a slight amount of grain, and a softness that appears to stem mostly from age. The overall quality of this Blu-ray is acceptable for this particular movie but it won't be something you'll use to showcase your high definition theater to your friends.
Unfortunately, like the video quality, the audio in Coming to America is a mixture of good and bad. The film's primary soundtrack comes in the form of a lackluster 5.1 Dolby Digital with French 2.0 and Spanish Mono taking up the rear. The 5.1 comes through at 640kbps and is competent enough to get but nowhere near where it needed to be to impress.
Most of the sound resides on the front channels with the rear kicking in rarely with some ambient noise and effects. The volume is nicely balanced and there is no distortion to complain about but the overall quality of this track is flat. It certainly doesn't spring to life and there is virtually no sense of immersion. Still, for the style of this film and compared to Standard Definition offerings the Blu-ray is acceptable.
With the recent release of Coming to America on all three formats it's not surprising that the same bonus features are shared across the board. The stuff available on this disc is mostly decent and if you enjoyed the film the extras are definitely worth taking a look at.
On the weaker side of things there is are some trailers and a photo gallery. A step up from there is an interview with Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall from 1988 where they talk about the film. There's nothing major revealed in this interview since it was mostly promotional material for the movie's release but it's a nice inclusion to have.
As far as the weighty content on Coming to America is concerned there are four documentaries regarding various elements of the film's production. "Prince-ipal Photography: The Coming Together of America" clocked in at just under 25 minutes and included a ton of behind the scenes material. This particular feature was relatively light on the information but there were some candid shots and personal retrospective about the picture that made it entertaining enough.
The other three features are not nearly as long but they do seem to be more focused. "Fit for Akeem: The Costumes of Coming to America" takes a look at some of the costumes used in the film. Some of these are quite impressive while some of them are a tad on the silly side; if you watched the movie you'll know what I mean. "Character Building: The Many Faces of Rick Baker" was interesting to me because it showed the transformation of its cast in many scenes. Eddie Murphy loves to play multiple characters and it's fascinating to watch the extensive work that it takes to transform him. Finally "Composing America: The Musical Talents of Nile Rodgers" takes a look at the making of the soundtrack with some shots from rehearsals and discussion about setting the mood of the picture.
Coming to America is, in my opinion, a classic comedy that truly withstands the test of time. The story elements may be light and silly but the charm and sense of style that this film has more than make up for that fact. Unfortunately, while it's nice to have this movie included in the Blu-ray catalog, the quality of the presentation isn't quite up to snuff. The video quality is average at best and the audio could have used a jolt to liven it up a bit.
In the end this is a release that will mainly appeal to fans though newcomers will appreciate the movie more than the transfer. The movie grades well but the disc sadly does not and receives a mere recommendation because of that.