The Mel Brooks Collection (Blu-ray)
The Twelve Chairs/Blazing Saddles/Young Frankenstein/Silent Movie/High Anxiety/History of the World Part I/To Be or Not To Be/Spaceballs/Robin Hood: Men in Tights
Directed by Mel Brooks, Alan Johnson
Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1/2.35:1/2.40:1 1080p AVC/VC-1 codecs
Running Time: 969 minutes
Rating: G, PG, PG-13, R
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English, Spanish, others
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, others
MSRP: $ 139.99
Release Date: December 15, 2009
Review Date: December 11, 2009
Mel Brooks: the madcap comic writer-director-actor extraordinaire and lovable lunatic has helmed a handful of truly entertaining farce comedies during his long career. Though the nine movies in this collection aren’t all representative of Brooks at his best, certainly his best films (apart from the original version of The Producers) are here, and there are others which even at their worst contain moments of remarkable invention, astonishing nerve, and absolute hilarity.
The Twelve Chairs – 3.5/5
Upon learning that a fortune in gems has been hidden inside one of his family’s heirloom set of twelve dining room chairs, Ippolit Vorobyaninov (Ron Moody) goes on a desperate search to find his riches, assisted by slick con man Ostap Bender (Frank Langella). Along the way, a larcenous priest Father Fyodor (Dom DeLuise) learns of the treasure and starts on his own quest for the valuable chair. With the opposing parties crossing ornery paths and the quest taking them from Siberia to Moscow to Yalta and back, it’s a mad dash to the finish line for all concerned.
Being one of the few Mel Brooks written-directed films not grounded in parodying a movie genre, The Twelve Chairs shows the filmmaker rather adept early in his film career with farce comedy without needing to rely on the easy gimmicks of audience familiarity built into the writing of a parody subject. Though Brooks still resorts to too many blackout scenes rather than finishing out sequences with more polished writing, he’s lucky to have a master comedian in Ron Moody who’s simply hysterical in his growing manic desperation to retrieve his family fortune. The impossibly young Frank Langella makes a fine straight man to Moody’s farceur, but Dom DeLuise typically becomes tiresome with his patented overdone shtick as the dishonest cleric. Brooks does have one moment of rare lyricism in his direction: a painting which morphs into a scene from the past, a lovely moment early in the film which later resorts to a sped up chase scene not worthy of Brooks at his best.
Blazing Saddles – 4/5
When the new railroad is slated to go through the frontier town of Rock Ridge, corrupt state Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) sends thugs to scare the townspeople off the newly valuable land so he can buy it himself. This causes the citizens to demand that the governor (Mel Brooks) appoint a new sheriff to protect them. Lamarr convinces the simple-minded governor to appoint a black railroad worker named Bart (Cleavon Little) thinking that the racist townsfolk will either move away or lynch him. But the quick-witted, urbane Bart and his newly sober sidekick The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder) set out to win over the town.
Mel Brooks’ western vaudeville pulls out all the stops of political incorrectness and raunchy humor and yet remains as fast and funny today as it was in its original release. From sophisticated motifs (the black railroad workers sing Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You”) to the most obvious slapstick (the infamous campfire scene, the messy free-for-all ending with different movies spilling onto each other’s soundstages and the studio commissary), Brooks and his four fellow writers throw every possible gag into the mix, stir them well, and see what gets the strongest reaction. Most of the humor works beautifully. Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder make a solid pair of comic leads, but there’s no denying the movie revels in the brilliance of Madeline Kahn’s expert Oscar-nominated lampoon of Marlene Dietrich’s speech and song (“I’m Tired” is pure genius). Harvey Korman pushes a little too hard, and Mel Brooks inserts himself at least three times into the film in various parts to obvious effect (subtlety has never been his strong suit). Still, the film, while unpolished and occasionally slapdash, earns its laughs honestly, and that terrific title song (nominated for an Oscar despite its mock-serious intent) defies one to forget it: Frankie Laine never sounded so vividly earnest.
Young Frankenstein – 5/5
Victor Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) is a neurosurgeon who has spent his life distancing himself from the legend of his grandfather who created the monster. But when Victor inherits Frankenstein Castle, he is drawn into the family business of reanimating life. Now proudly reclaiming his heritage, Victor is aided in his work by his pretty assistant Inga (Teri Garr), hunchback Igor (Marty Feldman), and Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman) who turns out to have been his grandfather’s…girlfriend! Together, they create a new monster (Peter Boyle) who, true to the original creation, escapes and causes problems for the countryside.
Mel Brooks’ best film is a glorious love letter to the Universal Frankenstein films of the 1930s with production design and make-up that breathe the essence of those films while at the same time putting a hip spin on their naiveté that’s fresh and funny no matter how many times one revisits it. The inspired casting is brilliant from Gene Wilder’s manically possessed doctor down to the smallest bit player with special kudos to Madeline Kahn’s hilarious Elizabeth (who inevitably becomes the bride of the monster) and Gene Hackman’s hysterical cameo as a blind man trying to do good. John Morris contributes yet another rousing and period-prefect score, and Brooks’ attention to detail by using irises, wipes, black and white photography, and other old-fashioned movie conventions gives the perfect flavor to the proceedings, still a joy to watch even after all these decades since its original production.
Silent Movie – 4/5
Threatened by the takeover of his movie studio by huge conglomerate Engulf and Devour, Studio Chief (Sid Caesar) agrees to let once-great director Mel Funn (Mel Brooks) and his cohorts Dom Bell (Dom DeLuise) and Marty Eggs (Marty Feldman) gather together a group of top Hollywood stars (Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Liza Minnelli, Anne Bancroft, Paul Newman) and make a silent movie. If it’s a success, he’ll be able to stave off certain takeover, but evil CEO Engulf (Harold Gould) will stop at nothing to put a stop to Funn and Company’s silent movie plans.
Being a silent comedy (penned by Mel Brooks, Ron Clark, Rudy DeLuca, Barry Levinson), the film is loaded with sight gags and much slapstick humor. Not all of it works (Mel’s affectionate nod to comedy idols like Harry Ritz and Charlie Callas doesn’t always pay off), but many of the visual gags do reap big dividends. Four of the guest stars are used intelligently and pull off their sketches beautifully: a narcissistic Burt Reynolds, some adept mime from Marcel Marceau, a masterfully funny slapstick tango by Anne Bancroft, and a daredevil race with Paul Newman. The others are embarrassingly inept, not the fault of the stars but to the feeble writing. Bernadette Peters as Mel’s dream girl doesn’t get prime material either, but there is one unforgettable moment during an idyllic love sequence when a carousel horse ridden by Bernadette lifts up its tail during its ride and lets loose of some wooden building blocks.
High Anxiety – 3/5
Newly appointed head of the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous in Los Angeles, Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) has suspicions that all is not well there after meeting head nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman) and acting head Dr. Charles Montague (Harvey Korman). But he has no time to worry about it since he finds himself framed for murder on a business trip to San Francisco. Only with the help of mysterious blonde Victoria Brisbane (Madeline Kahn) whose father is being kept hidden secretly away at the Institute can Thorndyke hope to clear himself and discover the answer to the mysterious behaviors of all concerned back in Los Angeles.
Though ostensibly a tribute to the Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock, High Anxiety really isn’t the same well thought out love letter to Sir Alfred that Young Frankenstein was to James Whale’s three Frankenstein movies, but rather a very silly grab bag of Hitchcockian references thrown into an outlandish story with a mixture of Spellbound and Vertigo as the tent poles to prop up its ridiculousness. Yes, you’ll see farcical nods to various set pieces from Psycho, The Birds, and North by Northwest, but much of the film’s comedy doesn’t rely at all on foreknowledge of Hitchcock’s oeuvre but rather on absurd focuses with more modern situations (at the time) such as flashing, bondage and discipline, Frank Sinatra’s vocal stylings, and speaking in euphemisms in order to discuss sexual situations with minors present, none of which have anything to do with Alfred Hitchcock. Director Brooks is also saddled with a mediocre leading man, Mel Brooks, whose lack of comic finesse compromises some of the potentially humorous situations. Madeline Kahn has a couple of effective reactive moments (the best is where she thinks a murder she’s hearing over the telephone is actually a masher calling to titillate her with his heavy breathing), and Cloris Leachman overacts like fun as a very butch nurse running the show her own way.
History of the World Part I – 3.5/5
A five part farcical examination of some of the greatest historical epochs of mankind: The Dawn of Man/Stone Age, The Ten Commandments, The Roman Empire, The Inquisition, and The French Revolution. The Roman and French segments contain superficial stories, neither of which merits any elaborate summarizing. All are segments primed for hanging gags of every description from the drollest of wit to the basest of slapstick.
Mel Brooks’ historical vaudeville is exactly that: a collection of blackout skits, musical numbers, and elaborate period sketches with the broadest possible humor and something to offend nearly everyone. The idea of telling a coherent story seems superfluous here, the film held together instead by a wide array of comic talents each doing his patented routine for a few minutes of screen time. The series of blackout stone age skits that open the film are all instantly disposable, but there is enough merit in the Roman Empire and French Revolution sketches that either could have been opened up into a full length film with their excellent supporting casts playing actual characters rather than the caricatures they do in this film. Especially noteworthy are Gregory Hines as a tap-dancing slave and Madeline Kahn as Empress Nympho in the Roman sequence and Harvey Korman as the egotistical Count de Monet and Cloris Leachman as the evilly plotting Madame Defarge in the French Revolution section. Brooks once again has given himself the lion’s share of the film: five roles (and maybe more; I may have lost count), all played in his Brooklyn style without much effort to do anything even slightly suggesting period. Mention has to be made of the elaborate production number “The Inquisition,” a riotous lampoon of Torquemada and his ilk set to a toe-tapping tune and complete with a line-up of swimming nuns parodying Esther Williams, typically anachronistic for a Mel Brooks anything-for-a-laugh movie.
To Be or Not To Be – 3.5/5
Faced with the sudden and unexpected invasion of their native Poland, actors Frederick (Mel Brooks) and Anna (Anne Bancroft) Bronski and their loyal troupe undertake a highly dangerous charade in attempting to recover a valuable list of underground anti-Nazi Poles from the hands of leading Nazi sympathizer Professor Siletski (Jose Ferrer) and later attempt to escape from Poland currently under the control of Colonel Erhardt (Charles Durning).
This 1983 remake of the original 1942 Ernst Lubitsch comedy-drama throws in too much winking-at-the-audience shtick (naming the theater’s stage manager Sondheim just so Brooks can say, “Tell Sondheim to ‘send in the clowns’ in reference to the company’s group of cutups is really wince-inducing), but despite those lapses and director Alan Johnson’s rather leaden pacing, the comedy-drama inherent in the original piece still works, and the new musical numbers (“A Little Piece,” “Ladies,” and most especially the rousing opener “Sweet Georgia Brown”) also fit in well. Mel Brooks overreaches for effects in playing a legitimate role, but Anne Bancroft is elegance-personified as the wife being wooed by a handsome airman (Tim Matheson) which sets up the story’s semi-espionage plot. In small parts, Lewis J. Stadlen (who does a heartbreaking Shylock speech), Jack Riley (hilarious as the prompter), and Christopher Lloyd (as a Nazi flunky) make every moment of their on-screen time count. Charles Durning, like Brooks, presses too hard to make the comedy work and despite his Oscar nomination for the role, is not at his best here.
Spaceballs – 3/5
The kingdom of Spaceballs is running out of air to breathe, and President Skroob (Mel Brooks) appoints Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) and his second-in-command Colonel Sandurz (George Wyner) to steal the air from the planet of Druidia. The king there Roland (Dick Van Patten) is too preoccupied with marrying off his daughter Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) to notice the threat to his planet, but once she bolts from the wedding and finds herself captured, Roland offers space ace Lone Starr (Bill Pullman in an amalgamation of Harrison Ford’s Hans Solo and Indiana Jones) and his best buddy Barf (John Candy) a million space bucks to save her. Along the way, Lone must seek assistance from the all-knowing seer Yogurt (Mel Brooks) to develop the power of the Schwartz in order to combat the evil Dark Helmet.
Mel Brooks, along with his writing partners Thomas Meehan and Ronny Graham, has stolen characters and plot points not only from George Lucas’ first three Star Wars films, but he’s thrown in references to The Wizard of Oz, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, and Alien, just to mention the most obvious borrowings. All of this gives the film a grab bag feeling, a motley collection of movie references that are meant to be funny to an audience on recognition value alone rather than the humor being developed from genuinely witty writing or imaginative invention. And things get really desperate when all pretense of a movie is dropped when the some of the characters select the video cassette of Spaceballs from a shelf to see what happens next to them. Yogurt’s hawking of Spaceballs merchandise follows in the same vein though it somehow seems cleverer and more satirical than references to a video cassette. Director Brooks indulges in too many groin jokes and a too-often dropping of the S-bomb to be easily forgiven. True, he’s never minded doing anything for a laugh, but these ploys aren’t funny, and they negate the good ideas and quick quips with their chronic cheapness. Rick Moranis takes top honors as the criminally short Dark Helmet gasping for breath through his confining black mask. John Candy gets some good lines and effective comic business as half man/half dog Barf. Bill Pullman effortlessly pulls off the matinee idol Lone Starr though Daphne Zuniga struggles more to score humor points as the undoubtedly beautiful Princess Vespa. Joan Rivers voices the robot variation of C3PO called Dot Matrix (physically acted by mime artist Lorene Yarnell), but her comic verbiage is meager. Brooks does better with the sage Yogurt rather than the scrambling Skroob, and that’s Dom DeLuise under all that melting cheese and pepperoni as Pizza the Hutt, a very funny one scene cameo.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights – 2.5/5
Upon returning from the Crusades, Robin of Loxley (Cary Elwes) is disgusted by the outrageously high taxes that the people of Sherwood are having to pay to the treacherous Prince John (Richard Lewis) and his enforces the Sheriff of Rottingham (Roger Rees). Together with his motley band of Merry Men – Little John (Eric Allan Kramer), Ahchoo (David Chappelle), Blinkin (Mark Blankfield), and Will Scarlet O’ Hara (Matthew Porretta) – the group battles their way through many adventures while Maid Marian (Amy Yasbeck) and her lady in waiting Broomhilde (Megan Cavanagh) cheer from the sidelines hoping for a victory for the men in tights.
Attempting to capture satirical lightning in a bottle again after the twin triumphs of Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks returns to the Robin Hood saga almost twenty years after bombing on television with When Things Were Rotten. He’s only marginally more successful with this second attempt, filling the familiar story with all manner of obvious anachronisms (an exposition done in rap, references to everything from Everlast sporting goods to Abbott and Costello) and protracted gags that are often just minimally amusing or are rehashes of jokes from previous films he's reusing. To his credit, he has hired a wonderful cast of actors who play the comedy straight making what works very funny indeed. Especially enjoyable are Cary Elwes, a perfect Robin Hood, the hilarious comedian Mark Blankfield as Robin’s blind manservant, the brilliant Roger Rees who does a magnificent Basil Rathbone doppelganger as the deceitful Sheriff, and, in the film’s most ridiculous but hilarious bit of parody, Dom DeLuise as a very Marlon Brando-ish Don Giovanni which has nothing to do with Robin Hood but everything to do with joviality.
The Twelve Chairs - 4/5
The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. By far the best this film has ever looked on home video, the transfer offers solid, deeply saturated color and sharpness that allows one to study makeup and costumes in great detail. Though the print used for the transfer does contain some occasional dust specks, a small scratch here or there and some random debris, for the most part the picture is clean and very appealing. A random soft shot may have been indicative of the original photography, but for a film nearly forty years old, it’s in great shape. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
Blazing Saddles – 3.5/5
The film’s 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio has been faithfully delivered in a 1080p transfer using the VC-1 codec. Being one of the earliest Blu-ray transfers, the image looks good but is seldom as impressive as other discs in the set. The print used has some light but noticeable scratches and some debris on occasion. Color depth and image detail are usually well above average, but some footage lifted from other sources and inserted into the film lacks sharpness, depth, and solid color resolution. Black levels are good, and shadow detail nicely delivered. The film has been divided into 26 chapters.
Young Frankenstein – 3.5/5
The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Though the print used for the transfer is mostly clean (apart from a few specks), contrast occasionally seems somewhat light thus occasionally hampering the effectiveness of the nicely delivered grayscale that one finds through much of the transfer. Blacks can be rich, but the quality of the black levels is also inconsistent. The film has been divided into 28 chapters.
Silent Movie – 4/5
The film is presented at 1.85:1 in a colorful 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The picture is usually bright with vivid but not oversaturated color. Flesh tones are beautifully rendered. It’s sharp enough though not reaching reference quality levels of detail. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
High Anxiety – 3/5
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The movie has never looked particularly good on home video, and that continues with this new Blu-ray release. Contrast is rather milky for the first half of the film, and the resultant image is rather lackluster and not especially detailed. Reds come through too overpoweringly (sometimes blooming), but other colors don’t make nearly that kind of impression. Some later shots once the movie transfers the action to San Francisco look more solid and dimensional, but this is one of the weaker transfers in the collection. The film has been divided into 32 chapters.
History of the World Part I – 4/5
The 2.35:1 Panavision aspect ratio is delivered in 1080p using the AVC codec. The image is very appealing throughout with vivid color and very good sharpness generating loads of detail in the costumes and sets (particularly the French Revolution segment). Flesh tones are naturally delivered due to outstanding contrast. Only an occasional soft shot ruins an otherwise excellent video transfer. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
To Be or Not To Be – 4/5
The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Color richness, sharpness, and accuracy of flesh tones are all nicely achieved overall although the soft focus photography for all of Anne Bancroft’s medium shots and close-ups throws image quality out of balance with the rest of the picture with a milky texture to the contrast and the softened image which lacks detail. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
Spaceballs – 3.5/5
The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical ratio is presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Though sharpness is usually above average throughout the presentation, a lack of exceptional fine object detail is glaring, and there are some scenes that seem lacking in true high definition resolution. The black of space is very deeply realized, and flesh tones and other color levels register just fine though there is occasional noise in some blues in low light levels. The film has been divided into 32 chapters.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights – 4/5
The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. While not reference quality, the image is nicely sharp and clean with vivid color without the greens of the forest being too intense and with the flesh tones wonderfully natural and appealing. The film has been divided into 32 chapters.
The Twelve Chairs – 3.5/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix has taken the original mono track and repurposed it for surround. As such, the delightful John Morris music score does get a full representation on the disc, but it often sounds disembodied from the rest of the movie and contains a bit too much reverberation for my taste. Dialogue is securely rooted in the center channel with only an occasional vocal cue showing up in some other channel. A Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track of the original sound design is also provided for purists.
Blazing Saddles – 3/5
This being an older Blu-ray transfer, Warners has opted for only a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. Ambience is only fair in this sound design though dialogue is nicely recorded and rendered competently in the center channel.
Young Frankenstein – 3.5/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix has taken the original mono audio track and opened it up a bit with more sound delivered to the fronts than to the rears. Dialogue has been clearly recorded and reproduced effectively into the center channel, but the spread of the music and sound effects is not very deep in this sound mix.
Silent Movie – 4/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is almost nonstop music, and John Morris’ jaunty score reaches nicely into the surrounds to give the soundfield a very good if not exemplary spread. Occasional sound effects are also thoughtfully placed into appropriate front or rear channels adding to the improvement in the original mono sound design. A Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English track is also provided for purists, but only a few minutes of comparison will likely bring listeners back to the lossless track.
High Anxiety – 3/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track directs most of the sound activity to the front speakers leaving the rears silent for large periods of time. John Morris’ faux-dramatic score gets a little spread throughout the soundfield, but the processing to turn the original mono soundtrack into a surround experience has been minimal. A mono track is available for those who prefer the original sound design.
History of the World Part I – 3.5/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio sound mix makes much fuller use of the front channels than it does the rears with only an occasional ambient sound landing anywhere other than the front soundstage. John Morris’ score sounds very full despite the limited use of the surrounds, and the dialogue is nicely rendered in the center channel. A mono track has been provided with the original theatrical sound design.
To Be or Not To Be – 4/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is a wonderfully engaging audio track with John Morris’ jovial score fully represented in the front and rear channels and occasional ambient effects and muttered conversations directed to the appropriate speakers for maximum effectiveness. The dialogue-heavy film is well recorded with the speech always discernible in the center channel. The original Dolby Surround track is also included, but it sounds quite puny and undefined compared to the much fuller and richer lossless experience.
Spaceballs – 3.5/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix can have some very effective moments, especially with the deep bass response from Dark Helmet’s vividly long spaceship as it crisscrosses the frame. John Morris’ fun music score isn’t always maximized through the entire soundfield as it should have been, but occasional attempts to place some ambient sounds in the rear channels are notable.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights – 4/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is the best of the nine films in the set with a generous selection of ambient sounds placed around the soundfield and the Hummie Mann music score channeled beautifully to the fronts and rears giving the entire enterprise a very expansive sound. An English Dolby Surround track is also provided for those interested in the original sound mix.
The Twelve Chairs - 1/5
The only bonus is a six film Mel Brooks trailer gallery with 1080p trailers for High Anxiety, History of the World Part I, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Silent Movie, To Be or Not To Be, and Young Frankenstein.
Blazing Saddles – 3.5/5
The audio commentary by Mel Brooks is somewhat rambling, occasionally going off subject in mentioning other films of his, and he only speaks for fifty minutes total. Still, it’s a more interesting commentary than others where he basically describes what’s on screen. Here, it’s not screen specific at all and he merely recalls specific anecdotes in preproduction, casting, filming, the sneak preview, and its release and subsequent rerelease during the same calendar year.
All of the bonus material is presented in 480i.
“Back in the Saddle” is a making-of featurette with Mel Brooks, co-writer Andrew Bergman, producer Michael Hertzberg, and actors Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, and Burton Gilliam reminiscing about the film’s production. There are also clips from cut footage inserted into network broadcasts of the movie. It runs for 28 ¼ minutes.
“Black Bart” is an unsold television series pilot using characters and motifs from the movie. Starring Lou Gossett, Jr., the show is basically humorless (despite a cackling laugh track) and runs for 24 ½ minutes.
“Intimate Portrait: Madeline Kahn” is a too-brief 3 ¾-minute excerpt from a Lifetime biographical tribute to the late comic actress Madeline Kahn. The short scene deals specifically with her work on this movie.
There are seven deleted scenes, all seeming to be cutting room footage which is usually substituted for the smuttier gags in the movie during television broadcasts. Together the scenes run 9 ¾ minutes.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs 2 ¼ minutes.
Young Frankenstein – 5/5
Mel Brooks’ audio commentary has the filmmaker talking pretty much through the entire movie but often describing the scenes we’re watching and only occasionally branching off into an interesting anecdote.
Much better is the “Inside the Lab” picture-in-picture commentary with a host of people involved in the production as well as film historians, fans, and creators of Brooks’ Broadway musical version of the movie commenting on it. One may either watch the commentative featurettes in a PiP window or a succession of vignettes in 1080p that fills the full screen.
There are seven deleted scenes presented in 480i standard definition (16 ½-minute total if one uses the “Play All” function) and seventeen deleted scenes presented in 1080p high definition (25 minutes of total playing time using “Play All.”)
“It’s Alive: Creating a Monster Classic” is a 31 ¼-minute documentary featuring members of the cast and crew along with historians and members of the Broadway musical version of the movie commenting on the film’s brilliance. It’s in 1080i.
“Making FrankenSense of Young Frankenstein” is the 41 ¾-minute documentary made for the first special edition DVD release of the movie. Oddly, this one features Gene Wilder doing much of the talking about the filmmaking experience with nothing at all offered in the way of comments by Mel Brooks. It’s in 480i.
“Transylvanian Lullaby: The Music of John Morris” is a well-deserved 10 ½-minute tribute to the dazzling musical underscore by Brooks’ regular film composer John Morris. Both he and his wife comment on his career along with other creative staff from the films. It’s in 1080i.
“Franken-Track” is a trivia track which the viewer can engage to play during the movie, a series of pop-up windows containing lots of trivia about the making of the film.
The “Blücher Button” lets out a horse’s whinny every time it’s pushed.
There are 5 minutes of outtakes presented in 480i.
John Morris’ wonderful underscore may be appreciated more fully by engaging the isolated score track switch.
There are two Mexican interviews with the cast: Marty Feldman gets a solo interview while Gene Wilder and Cloris Leachman share one together. This runs 6 ½ total minutes in 480i.
There are three TV ad spots which run a total of 1 ½ minutes but must be watched separately.
There are hundreds of production photographs which appeared stretched on my monitor.
There are five trailers for the movie running a total of 7 ¼ minutes as a group. They may be watched individually. All are in 480i.
Silent Movie – 2.5/5
“Silent Laughter: The Real Inspiration of Silent Movie” is a 24 ¾-minute making-of documentary featuring members of the cast and crew along with other fans of Mel Brooks’ work. Tributes to silent clowns Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Ben Turpin make up a good chunk of this featurette. It’s in 1080i.
There is a trivia track which can be engaged to pop up with little known facts throughout the movie.
There are three trailers which must be viewed separately. The U.S. 1080p trailer runs 2 minutes while the Portuguese and Spanish 480i trailers run 1 ½ minutes each.
There are five trailers for Mel Brooks films on the disc: High Anxiety, History of the World Part I, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, To Be or Not To Be, and Young Frankenstein.
High Anxiety – 3/5
“Hitchcock and Mel: Spoofing the Master of Suspense” is a 29-minute making-of documentary with surviving members of the cast and crew discussing the fun they had with the production. Brooks recalls his own meetings with Hitchcock and the Master’s reaction to the film. Hitchcock’s granddaughter Mary Stone also comments on her admiration for the movie. The featurette is presented in 1080p.
“Am I Very Nervous Test” is an exclusive Blu-ray interactive activity which presents picture-in-picture psychological questions which the viewer answers during the movie while a running score is kept depending on one’s answers and a gauge measures one’s anxiety levels.
The viewer can opt to engage the “Don’t Get Anxious Trivia Track” which switches on pop-up information windows about the making of the film and the Hitchcock references present during the screening.
John Morris’ fun score can be enjoyed on the isolated score track.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs 2 ¾ minutes in 1080p.
A gallery of Mel Brooks movie trailers includes History of the World Part I, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Silent Movie, To Be or Not To Be, and Young Frankenstein.
History of the World Part I – 3/5
“Musical Mel: Inventing ‘The Inquisition’” is something of a misnomer since many of the songs Mel Brooks wrote for his films are discussed before the discussion turns to the song he and Ronny Graham (who appears in the number) wrote for this film. The 10 ¾-minute featurette is presented in 1080p.
“Making History: Mel Brooks on Creating the World” is a 10-minute segment on the making of the film with not only Mel Brooks discussing the making of the movie but also members of the cast and crew rendering opinions about the finished work. It’s also in 1080p.
A trivia track may be turned on to be played along with the movie, the pop-up windows containing the true historical facts which the film distorts for comic purposes.
John Morris’ delightful score can be enjoyed for itself on an isolated score track.
The film’s theatrical trailer (reduced to 1.85:1) runs 3 minutes in 1080p.
A Mel Brooks trailer gallery contains 1080p trailers for High Anxiety, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Silent Movie, To Be or Not To Be, and Young Frankenstein.
To Be or Not To Be – 3/5
“Brooks and Bancroft: A Perfect Pair” is a 15-minute tribute to the married couple who co-starred in an entire film for the first and only time with this project. Friends and co-workers share anecdotes about each of them and their memories of their solid working and personal relationship. It’s in 1080p.
“How Serious Can Mel Brooks Really Get?” is one of four EPK brief vignettes produced during the filming of the movie in which he talks about doing his first legitimate part and how much he depended on his much more versatile wife for suggestions and encouragement. This runs for 2 ¾ minutes in 480i.
Three interview/profiles of the film’s stars, all shot during the movie’s production, are included: Mel Brooks (2 ¾ minutes), Anne Bancroft (2 minutes), and Charles Durning (2 ½ minutes). All are in 480i.
A trivia track which pops up interesting commentary on the film and its stars may be turned on at any point of the movie.
John Morris’ enjoyable score for the film can be savored in an isolated score track option.
The original theatrical trailer for the film runs 3 ½ minutes in 1080p. Also provided is the same trailer with Portuguese subtitles (though in 480i).
A Mel Brooks trailer gallery includes 1080p trailers for High Anxiety, History of the World Part I, Robin Hood, Men in Tights, and Silent Movie.
Spaceballs – 3.5/5
The audio commentary by Mel Brooks is a rather tedious slog actually. He loves and appreciates everyone’s contributions, and he far too often describes what we’re seeing on the screen. Occasional tidbits of production information are also in the bonus featurettes making them not such major revelations here.
All of the bonus features are in 480i.
“Spaceballs: The Documentary” is a 30-minute compendium of production anecdotes from the director, his co-writer Thomas Meehan, the cast, and members of the crew who all have nothing but positive things to say about their experience on this picture.
“In Conversation: Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan” is a 2005 featurette in which to two writing partners swap stories about what it’s like to work together on a project. They also mention fondly the third writer in the group Ronny Graham who had passed away before the making of the featurette. It runs for 20 ½ minutes.
“John Candy: Comic Spirit” is a 10-minute tribute to the talent and sad loss of comedian John Candy who died in 1994. Short scenes from other film appearances are also included in this vignette.
“Watch the Movie at Ludicrous Speed” is a throwaway feature speeding through the entire movie in about 30 seconds.
There are three stills galleries which the viewer may step through: a behind-the scenes set of color photos, a selection of costume design sketches by designer Donfeld, and character portraits of the major characters from the movie.
Two trailers may be selected for viewing. The international exhibitor teaser trailer with a Mel Brooks introduction and the theatrical trailer each run 2 ½ minutes.
Six continuity flubs and film gaffes which remain in the movie are available for selection. The menu does not possess a “play all” option, so one must tediously be returned to the main menu each time one is finished before another can be viewed.
There are several storyboard-to-film split-screen comparisons which can be viewed in a 6 ¾-minute sequence. All of the storyboards concern the desert sequences of the movie.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights – 3.5/5
The audio commentary by Mel Brooks has been carried over from the original laserdisc release of the movie. Though he’s guilty as usual of describing what we’re seeing on screen or setting up jokes before they happen (as if we can’t see the set-ups for ourselves), he does occasionally add some nuggets of information about the production process.
“Funny Men in Tights: Three Generations of Comedy” is the 13 ¾-minute making-of featurette with cast and crew (and some friends of Brooks) offering opinions of what it’s like to work on a Mel Brooks movie. It’s in 1080p.
“HBO First Look: The Legend Had It Coming” is the 26 ¼-minute HBO introduction to the movie hosted by star Cary Elwes as he takes us on a tour of the set and speaks with many of the actors taking part in the filming. This is presented in 480i.
Hummie Mann’s fun-filled music for the movie can be better appreciated with the isolated score track which the viewer may choose to engage.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs 1 ¼ minutes and is in 1080p.
The Mel Brooks trailer gallery once again appears with High Anxiety, History of the World Part I, Silent Movie, To Be or Not To Be, and Young Frankenstein.
A note on the packaging: The nine films are contained in a long rectangular box (comparable to the box that housed the Planet of the Apes collection) with the discs inserted into slots on separate folio pages, most pages containing two discs. Also included in the set is a 120-page hardback book on the life and career of Mel Brooks with stills from all of the films contained in the collection and some behind-the-scenes shots and the laudatory text written by author and screenwriter Stephen J. Smith.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Mel Brooks’ one-of-a-kind approach to film comedy is outstandingly represented in this nine film Blu-ray box set featuring films which run the gamut from great to mediocre. Though buying the box means a potential double dip with three of the previously released Blu-ray titles, hardcore fans will likely want all of these movies and the attractive hardbound book which accompanies the set.