The movie critique portion of this review was written by my colleague Michele Arbir.
There were some truly great comedy movies in the ’80s. Eddie Murphy was on a hot streak putting out a movie a year. By 1988 he had several box office hits including the action-comedy Beverly Hills Cop and the early John Landis holiday classic Trading Places. Murphy and Landis would once again work their magic to create another hit movie: Coming to America. This would be Eddie Murphy’s second story credit after Beverly Hills Cop II, and it would prove fruitful, that’s for sure. Coming to America brought in a massive $288 million when it debuted in 1983. When adjusted for inflation, that’s over $758 million. With the impending sequel heading our way next year, it is the perfect time to revisit the original film.
Coming to America is a coming of age romantic comedy and a hilarious trip back in time. In this story, an extremely pampered African prince travels undercover to Queens, New York, to find his queen. Along for the ride to make sure all goes well with Prince Akeem‘s sowing his royal oats is his valet, Semmi (Arsenio Hall). They find themselves in an unknown urban jungle, whereupon their arrival all of their luggage is stolen. Posing as humble exchange students, Murphy’s character searches for love.
Not only does this movie have great actors, story, and comedy, but the costumes are also amazing. Set design and the costume department are one of the standout aspects in Coming to America. The African costumes are captivating and the poor urban outfits are just that. James Earl Jones as the over-pampered king is hilarious in this role. My husband replayed the scene three times when The Prince and King conversed about the novelty of doing things for yourself. King Jaffe Joffer: “You are a prince who has never tied his shoes. Believe me, I tied my own shoes once. It is an overrated experience.” Prince Akeem: “Just for once, I would like to cook for myself and take care of myself, dress myself, wipe my own backside.”
One of the things that the hubby and I really loved about this movie is how Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall played multiple roles in the film. Some of the funniest scenes are in urban New York, Queens, in the barbershop and religious functions. These parody aspects of African American culture which left us with our sides hurting from laughing. It was also good to see a film of this time period where race was not the driving force of the film. The movie allowed African Americans to be in a position of power, be it running a country or owning a business. If you love seeing someone fall in love and want a good laugh stemming from the craziest scenarios, you will not be disappointed. This movie is purely entertaining from beginning to end.
Coming to America thankfully makes its 4K UHD Blu-Ray debut with a stunning 2160p/Dolby Vision transfer that allows the film to look better than it ever has. The Steelbook release does not contain an accompanying Blu-Ray, but, when compared to the old HD-DVD that I have owned for over a decade, this disc offers monumental improvements in all respects. The movie has a lovely amount of natural film grain that allows this movie to shine and gives a lot of pleasing texture and detail to the transfer. The image presents with a miraculous amount of depth that makes this world feel more alive than ever. The improvements in contrast and overall clarity are outstanding, especially in the royal setting of Zamunda. The UHD disc contains very vibrant, deep colors throughout including certain outfits in Zamunda, the colors in the store fronts and even the deep greys of the urban setting . White levels are brighter and offer a greater stability without veering into blooming. Black levels are deep and allow the picture to maintain an excellent amount of depth and detail in darker environments. Skin tones look natural and the clarity of the transfer gives you a great amount of facial detail including the makeup that is applied to our actors when they are portraying side characters. If you did not know this was made in the 80s, you could almost swear this was a new production. This transfer is a treat for fans of the film.
The Blu-Ray comes with a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio lossless soundtrack that offers a solid upgrade from previous Blu-Ray releases and sonically represents the film perfectly. The activity focuses heavily on the front channels with the bouncing score from Nile Rodgers filling the room appropriately. The music is presented with an impressive amount of clarity and fidelity. There are many instances where the track gets to show off, such as the early dance that precedes the unveiling of Akeem’s potential bride. In this scene, the soundstage demonstrates how open and rich it is in its nuanced execution. Music is used skillfully throughout the presentation, but it never overpowers the dialogue or other important information. The hilarious dialogue delivered so confidently by Murphy comes through clearly and never falls victim to any digital anomalies. Rear speakers get quite a bit of activity throughout, especially when the film shifts to America and you get the city soundscape creating a three-dimensional environment within the track. There is a subtle amount of low-end support when the scene calls for it, mostly pertaining to music. You might not expect a comedy such as this to be an audio heavy-hitter, but anyone who checks this out is sure to be impressed.
Paramount has provided Coming to America with an optional sleek new Steelbook that is truly lovely in person. The front artwork is a nicely animated depiction of Prince Akeem posing with American imagery in the background, and the rear features what looks like a spray-painted jewel-encrusted crown against a cinder block wall. The interior sports a still photo of Prince Akeem and Semmi against a graffiti background. This Steelbook package also includes a foldout poster for the Sexual Chocolate 1988 World Tour. Photos of the Steelbook and poster can be found at the end of this review.
- Prince-ipal Photography – The Coming Together of America: A 25-minute featurette in which the cast and crew discuss the development of the project, how SNL inspired the name of the fictional land of Zamunda, how they arrived at the title, how revolutionary it was that race was not the driving aspect of the story, the casting process, the confidence that Murphy gained between Trading Places and Coming to America, the legacy of the film and more.
- Fit for Akeem – The Costumes of Coming to America: An eighteen-minute featurette looking at the importance of costumes in the film and how they treated the film as a big, glossy Hollywood production. There are some very interesting insights into how the creatives tried to use the costumes to further the story and create an entire new culture.
- Character Building – The Many Faces of Rick Baker: A thirteen-minute featurette which takes a look at why Landis wanted Eddie to portray multiple different characters and how Rick Baker pulled off the different looks so well. The conversations over how to turn Murphy into an old, white Jewish guy are very entertaining and enlightening. The behind-the-scenes footage of Eddie having makeup applied is also really fun to see.
- Composing America – The Musical Talents of Nile Rodgers: An eleven-minute look at the amazing Nile Rodgers from his place in 20th century music to his unique work in the film. The best part of this is hearing from Rodgers himself regarding what he wanted to convey with these sounds.
- The Vintage Sit-Down with Eddie & Arsenio: A five-minute interview from 1989 in which the two are interviewed and discuss the concept of the movie, their respective characters, how they met each other in real life and more. These two have a lot of fun together and joke around a lot, which makes this a pleasure to watch.
- Theatrical Trailer: A nearly three-minute trailer which sets up the general concept of the film while still leaving a lot of the funniest moments a surprise for the actual film.
- Photo Gallery: A selection of stills from the film and behind-the-scenes photos are provided.
Coming to America is one of the great, classic Eddie Murphy projects that keeps you laughing the entire time. Not only does Murphy deliver a great performance as Prince Akeem, he shows early signs of the hilarity he can bring with some expertly applied makeup in supporting roles. With the sequel coming up in the new year, now is the perfect time to revisit this satisfying comedy. Paramount Home Entertainment has delivered a marvelous 4K UHD Blu-Ray presentation with outstanding A/V quality, some interesting special features, and even a fetching Steelbook packaging. Fans who have had to endure poor quality presentations in the past will be amazed at how good this film looks in 4K. Highly Recommended
Coming to America is currently available to purchase on 4K UHD Blu-Ray Steelbook, 4K UHD Blu-Ray and Digital.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the 4K UHD Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Paramount Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.