TRADING PLACES - HD DVD review

Jamie Lee Curtis' assets look absolutely amazing in high definition.

DeanWink

There was a time when Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Lee Curtis were very big names in Hollywood. Eddie Murphy continues to be a bankable box office force, but Aykroyd has slipped and obscurity and Jamie Lee Curtis has been in career decline since 1994's "True Lies." They were just beginning their ascents to fame when John Landis and Eddie Murphy collaborated for the first time with "Trading Places." Curtis was a favorite of John Carpenters and her role in the first two "Halloween" films cemented her status as a scream queen. Aykroyd had already starred in "Blues Brothers" and had made a name for himself on Saturday Night Live. Eddie Murphy had only "48 Hrs." on his filmmaking resume, but was a fellow cast member to Dan Aykroyd on SNL. After "Trading Places," all three actors would find raises in their paychecks.

This hilarious film has Dan Aykroyd starring as successful commodity trader Louis Winthorpe III. He has helped the Duke brothers Mortimer (Don Ameche) and Randloph (Ralph Bellamy) become quite wealthy by running their business, Duke & Duke. He has a beautiful fiancée and is on top of the world. One day, the Duke brothers decide to make a little bet and bail a homeless street con, Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) out of jail and into the life of Louis. They give Valentine the home, job and butler of Louis and frame Louis to look like a drug dealing cretin who does not deserve their friendship. By switching Louis and Billy Ray, the Dukes try to discover whether or not culture and surroundings have anything to do with how well a person performs in society.

Billy Ray initially has troubles settling into his new rich lifestyle, but quickly finds his calling working at Duke & Duke and becomes a successful business man. He makes a lot of friends and begins to feel very good about himself. On the other hand, Louis has been beaten, jailed and ridiculed by those he loves. His fiancée has dumped him and the only person that will help him is a young prostitute, Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis). Ophelia believes Louis' story that he is wealthy and invests in him to pay her back in six figures if she helps him get back on his feet. When Valentine discovers the bet, he tracks Louis down and they combine forces against the meddlesome Duke brothers.

"Trading Places" is another highly entertaining early comedy by Eddie Murphy. This was his second film and the actor's comedic talents are readily apparent in this early work. Working alongside fellow Saturday Night Live alum Dan Aykroyd is a benefit to Murphy in this film as the two men are both versatile in their acting skills and easily breathes life into characters that must face life on both sides of society; the rich and the poor. John Landis is one of the great comedy directors and having Murphy and Aykroyd in front of the camera must have been tremendously beneficial for the director. This is another ‘fish out of water' film for Murphy, where he portrays a character of one status who is quickly thrust into another social status. Jamie Lee Curtis utilizes her incredible assets in this film and they are in full display in this film. Her acting skills aren't half bad either. Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy are great as the tightwad, meddling Duke brothers.

Eddie Murphy was on a hot streak during the early Eighties. The very next year after "Trading Places," he would star in "Beverly Hills Cop" and become a bona fide box office superstar. What has always made Eddie Murphy great is his crude humor and way with words that is only fully realized with an R rating. Early Eddie Murphy was certainly the best Eddie Murphy and he was only getting started on "Trading Places." Alongside with the almost-forgotten-to-modern-audiences talent of Dan Aykroyd, this is a very funny film and there are plenty of reasons to sit back and enjoy this picture. Murphy did some of his best work when working with John Landis and "Trading Places" is testament to that fact.

Video:
This film is now twenty five years old and HD-DVD breathes new life into "Trading Places." The 1.85:1 VC-1/1080p transfer of the film is incredibly detailed and shows off how good high definition can make older catalog titles. Color reproduction is just as strong as the film's detail and metallic and reflective surfaces look amazingly lifelike in the film. One could almost see themselves in the finely waxed limousines and gold surfaces found throughout the film. The entire film looks very natural. Fleshtones are spot perfect and everybody looks superb in the film. Each facial detail is carried perfectly to the screen and for all the gentlemen out there, Jamie Lee Curtis' assets look absolutely amazing in high definition. Except for one or two moments in the film where the picture got a little soft, there is no reason for complaint from this superb transfer. Out of the three Eddie Murphy films released on the same day, this easily bests the more recent "Coming to America" and relatively new "Norbit." I was honestly very surprised at how well this transfer looks.

Audio:
While the disc's visuals are stunning, the sound quality does what it needs to and that is it. Never once does the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 soundtrack cause excitement. Even when Mozart or Elmer Bernstein's Oscar nominated score is playing loudly, does the soundtrack move much past the front three channels. There are a few nice audible effects, such as the shattering vase, but they are contained wholly in the front speakers and don't offer much pizzazz to the soundtrack. A few instances of sound can be heard in the rears, but it is an uncommon occurrence for this film. Being a comedy, the film's dialogue is the most important aspect. It is easily understandable and causes no need for concern. All in all, the mix does what it needs to, it carries the film to the viewer. However, the rear surrounds and the .1 LFE channel almost seem forgotten.

Extras:
Paramount has decided to revisit both this film and "Coming to America" and re-released both as new Collector's Editions. Some of the supplements appear to have been filmed simultaneously for both films. This "Looking Good, Feeling Good" Edition features about forty five minutes of additional video features and a Trivia Pop-Ups selection that finds little dollar bills popping up throughout the film and providing facts about the film, the making of the picture and life in the early Eighties. The pop up track was a little hard to read at distances, but was engaging when it did have something to offer. It also provided cast names for the ensemble cast and the great number of extras used in the film.

The making of features is broken into a couple pieces. The first is Insider Trading: The Making of Trading Places (18:27) and features Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Aykroyd and John Landis. The John Landis segments appear to have been done with "Coming to America." This featurette does contain some vintage interview bits with Eddie Murphy, but the actor is again absent in providing new material for this release. The Trading Stories (7:58) bit features vintage interviews from 1983. The three principal actors discuss who they would like to trade places with. Jamie Lee Curtis talks about trading places with her mom. Eddie Murphy wants to trade with nobody, except maybe Prince for one night. Dan Aykroyd talks about how he can always drive a dump truck. Costume Designer Deborah Nadoolman contributes to this film as well and Dressing the Part (6:30) is about her costume work. Remember guys, she is the one who dressed Jamie Lee Curtis.

The Deleted Scene (1:46) with optional commentary by Executive Producer George Folsey, Jr. is a scene where the Beaks character drugs a security guard and then steals the crop report. The Trade in Trading Places (5:24) includes commodity traders Roger Corrado, Brett Williams and others as they discuss the ‘auction' system of the commodity exchange market. This was an interesting supplement. Finally, a promotional bit that was created to show to exhibitors, Industry Promotional Piece (4:17) includes a John Landis introduction and is worth a watch. I'm not the only one who found great interest in a certain somebody's assets. Thanks for the backup Eddie.

Closing Comments:
"Trading Places" is a great comedy and was the second film featuring Eddie Murphy. It was the first collaboration between the very funny and energetic actor and director John Landis. With Jamie Lee Curtis and Dan Aykroyd also starring, this is a great ensemble piece from the early Eighties. I loved seeing those old yellow Pennsylvania license plates again. The film brought back more memories than those old drab plates, it reminded me again of how much I enjoyed these old Eddie Murphy movies, when he was a fresh talent and not responsible for "Pluto Nash." The new special edition features an incredible looking video transfer with a serviceable soundtrack. The features are short, but worthwhile. I wish Murphy would have provided a little support for them, but he did not. This is a far better release than anything previously put onto home video for the film. This is definitely one to check out.

Ratings

Video
9
Audio
6
Extras
6
Film Value
8