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Coming to America: 30th Anniversary Edition
You've either seen John Landis' Coming to America, or you're not a fan of Eddie Murphy. The comedian already made a splash on the big screen five years earlier in Walter Hill's 48 Hours and Landis' Trading Places, but this one -- along with the formidable one-two punch of Beverly Hills Cop and its sequel -- cemented his status as a bona fide box office draw. Written by David Sheffield and Barry Blaustein (he of Beyond the Mat fame), it coasts by on an oddball premise played to perfection. Spoiled young Prince Akeem (Murphy) of Zumunda, upset with the prospect of an arranged marriage by his parents King Jaffe (James Earl Jones) and Queen Aeoleon (Madge Sinclair), departs for New York with best friend Semmi (Arsenio Hall) to forge his own path. Settling for a run-down apartment in Queens, the two young men wind up working at a burger joint after Akeem becomes infatuated by the owner's daughter, Lisa (Shari Headley).
Filled with all the charm and charisma you'd expect from an Eddie Murphy vehicle, Coming to America is also the first of several productions where he plays multiple characters under multiple layers of makeup and prosthetics. The lead performances by Murphy and Hall are first-rate, many of the supporting roles aren't far behind, and there are more than enough memorable quotes and one-liners to go around. But as a whole, it doesn't hit every mark: some of the jokes fall flat and better editing could've kept Coming to America at a more manageable 90 minutes instead of nearly two hours. Still, it continues to work as a serviceable 1980s comedy: this one has held up as well as anything else on Murphy and Landis' resumes during the decade, while even its dated elements are funny for all the right reasons. Simply put, it's not exactly high art but it's still pretty funny, and I can think of many worse ways to kill 117 minutes.
That's more than I can say for Coming to America's treatment on home video as of late: while the solid Special Collector's Edition DVD was also available as a Blu-ray or HD DVD, Paramount's continued attempts to repackage old discs under the guise of new editions have worn really thin. Case in point: this 30th Anniversary Edition of Coming to America is identical to the 2007 Blu-ray (right down to Dolby Digital audio), aside from the negligible bonus of a Digital Copy code...so if you're got that disc already, you won't be missing anything. Otherwise, this is a budget-priced title won't impress technically but might be good enough for casual fans; from every other perspective, it's a disappointment.
Like the previous Blu-ray, Coming to America is presented in a slightly opened-up 1.78:1 aspect ratio on this dated 1080p transfer; it's most definitely sourced from the same 2007 master and looks as underwhelming as you'd expect. It's not all bad news, of course: that original release had a few strengths, including good image detail and color saturation during outdoor sequences (especially those in Zamunda) and a modest amount of natural film grain. But this presentation is still fairly inconsistent at times and exhibits all the nagging flaws you'd expect from a master produced during the format's infancy: there's a lack of strong textures and digital noise rears its head on occasions, while shadow detail and black levels don't reach very deep during nighttime and even indoor scenes. A fresh new scan would have added a lot of value, instead of the lazy (dare I say deceptive?) repackaging job we're given instead. If the film's 30th anniversary doesn't warrant an upgrade, I can't imagine Coming to America looking any better on home video for the foreseeable future.
The audio treatment is actually the biggest clue that this one's been recycled: it's presented in lossy Dolby Digital 5.1, which is completely uncalled for on a Blu-ray disc produced 12 years after the format's debut. As expected, audio is just okay with not much of a real presence, modest channel separation, and not a lot of punch during musical numbers. I know better than to expect much from a 30-year-old comedy, but there's a lot of room for improvement (perhaps even more than the video) and it just amplifies the lack of effort on Paramount's part in doing this title right on home video. French and Spanish dubs are included during the main feature, as well as optional subtitles in all three languages.
This one-disc release is housed in a standard eco-friendly keepcase with poster-themed cover artwork and a matching slipcover. Perhaps the only real exclusive content here is a Digital Copy redemption code tucked inside.
As expected, everything from the 2007 Blu-ray; these include a few Featurettes (makeup, music, costume designs, and other general behind-the-scenes stuff), a vintage Interview with Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, a decent Photo Gallery, and the film's Trailer. A new commentary or retrospective piece would've been nice…but honestly, I'd have just been happy with a better A/V presentation. Unless you only ever bought the 1999 DVD, there's nothing new here.
Coming to America is a fine example of enjoyable 1980s comedy that's aged but still worth watching, thanks mostly to its charismatic leads and an off-the-wall premise that's executed nicely. It's got a solid amount of replay value and well worth watching at least once every few years...so if for whatever reason you're new to this one, it's a great blind buy. Unfortunately, Paramount continues their lazy and kinda deceptive habit of recycling old discs as Anniversary Editions; this one's essentially a carbon copy of the 2007 Blu-ray, aside from the packaging and digital copy. It's obviously not worth picking up if you already own Coming to America in high definition, but the low price makes this a decent purchase for more casual fans. Mildly Recommended, albeit with a disapproving glare at Paramount's laziness.