Release Date(s)1988 (December 1, 2020)
Studio(s)Eddie Murphy Productions/Paramount Pictures (Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C-
The Crown Prince Akeem Joffer of Zamunda (Eddie Murphy) has seemingly everything a person could want in life: wealth, power, servants who throw rose petals at his feet, even someone to brush his own teeth for him. But Akeem doesn’t have love, or any experience in the real world, and thus feels unsatisfied. This becomes obvious when his parents, the King and Queen (James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair), present him with a chosen bride on his twenty-first birthday, a woman trained from birth to serve him and who can’t even think for herself. Displeased by the situation, Akeem comes up with an idea: He’ll travel to America with his best friend and vassal, Semmi (Arsenio Hall), to find an intelligent and independent woman that he can marry. But Akeem wants that woman to love him for who he is inside, not for his wealth, so they pretend to be poor upon arriving in New York City. Akeem and Semmi soon take jobs at a McDowell’s fast food restaurant (that’s not a spelling error—it’s a whole thing in the film), where Akeem falls for Lisa (Shari Headley), the idealistic young daughter of the restaurant’s owner and namesake. But Akeem has a rival for Lisa’s affections… and it’s only a matter of time until the secret of his royal identity is discovered or revealed.
At the time of its theatrical release, Coming to America received mixed reviews from critics. But I’ll be honest: I have a lot of affection for this film. Perhaps that’s a result of having seen it so often on pay cable—the film certainly benefits from repeated viewings—but it never fails to make me laugh and the humor doesn’t lack for John Landis’ signature touches. Once again, Murphy’s easy charisma and good-spirited humor, not to mention his report with both Hall and Headley, is the heart of the film. As fans know, Murphy and Hall each play four separate characters. The real surprise is that Rick Baker’s make-up work (which makes that possible) still holds up well, even in 4K. The cast is solid across the board, including John Amos (Good Times) and Eriq La Salle (E.R.) in addition to the leads. Jones and Sinclair’s turn as the King and Queen of Zamunda eventually led to them voicing Mufasa and Sarabi in Disney’s animated The Lion King. Be sure to watch too for cameos by Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy (reprising their roles from Trading Places), as well as a young Cuba Gooding Jr., Louie Anderson, and Samuel L. Jackson (channeling Jules from Pulp Fiction a few years early).
Like Beverly Hills Cop before it, Coming to America was shot on 35mm photochemical film, using Panavision Panaflex cameras and spherical lenses, and was finished on film at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. For its release on Ultra HD, Paramount appears to have scanned the original camera negative in native 4K to create a new Digital Intermediate, with color grading for high dynamic range (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision are included on this disc). The resulting image is excellent on the whole, equal to the best moments in the Beverly Hills Cop 4K presentation, but it’s also more consistent in quality. Grain is light-moderate and resolution is significantly improved over previous home video releases. Detail is good at all times, with the exception of a few shots of slightly softer focus. Texturing is tight and refined, as evidenced early on in costume jewelry and the elaborate fabrics of the royal family’s robes, and later in the dingy brickwork and grime on the streets of Queens. Shadows could be just a little darker on occasion, but they’re uniformly strong looking and retain detail. And the HDR grade adds richness to the film’s coloring while granting the highlights a bit of added luster. By its very nature this isn’t a film that really wows with its imagery, but this is still an excellent 4K presentation for a film of this vintage.
Primary audio on the Ultra HD disc is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio—a genuine lossless upgrade from the 2018 Blu-ray (which offered Dolby Digital only). The soundstage is pleasingly wide, with crystal clear dialogue, and lovely atmospherics. The surrounds fill out nicely with music and immersive sound cues to create a fine sense of space. And right from the opening credits, as vocals and rhythmic percussion kick in, then give way to regal strings and brass, you’ll know that Nile Rodgers’ orchestral score is being presented with terrific fidelity (to say nothing of the film’s iconic ‘Soul Glo’ commercial jingle). Additional sound options include English Descriptive Audio and 2.0 Dolby Digital in German and French. Optional subtitles are available in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, French, and German.
Paramount’s 4K release is available in two versions, one in Steelbook packaging and one in standard Amaray packaging, that are otherwise identical. Neither includes a Blu-ray copy, unfortunately, but the actual 4K disc does offer the following extras:
- Prince-ipal Photography: The Coming Together of America (SD – 24:38)
- Fit for Akeem: The Costumes of Coming to America (SD – 18:04)
- Character Building: The Many Faces of Rick Baker (SD – 12:54)
- Composing America: The Musical Talents of Nile Rodgers (SD – 11:07)
- A Vintage Sit-Down with Eddie & Arsenio (SD – 5:24)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:40)
- Photo Gallery (HD – 54 images)
Most of these are carried over from the original DVD release (they were included on the 2018 Blu-ray as well). The featurettes are worth checking out once, but they’re pretty routine EPK fare. You do at least get a Digital code on a paper insert—or at least you’re supposed to (my copy didn’t have one). It did, however, include a fold-out ‘Sexual Chocolate: World Tour 1988’ poster. So there’s that. The Steelbook packaging is nice if you’re a collector, but I suspect the standard Amaray edition—available on Amazon here—will do just fine for most A/V enthusiasts.
With a long-awaited sequel finally close at hand (Coming 2 America is expected to debut on Amazon Prime in March), now is a great time to revisit the original Coming to America on home video. And it’s never looked or sounded as good as it does on Paramount’s new Ultra HD release. If you’ve never seen the film before, do give it a try. This 4K presentation is certainly recommended for fans, but the lack of a Blu-ray copy and more substantial extras—or even a preview for the sequel—means you might try to find it on sale first.
- Bill Hunt