History of the World Part I (Blu-ray)
Directed by Mel Brooks
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 92 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 1.0 English, 5.1 French, Spanish, Portuguese
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, others
MSRP: $ 24.99
Release Date: May 11, 2010
Review Date: May 12, 2010
The funniest thing about Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part I is that any one of its various playlets could have been expanded into a feature length film with some careful thought about real plotting and some standout gags. Instead, Brooks has taken the easy way out: germs of five or so good ideas and done as a series of blackout sketches and crudity tied loosely together as a film. I’d much rather have seen Brooks give the Young Frankenstein-style treatment to 2001, A Tale of Two Cities, or I, Claudius rather than this grab bag of hoary old gags that are as ancient as the times that are being portrayed here.
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. The sequel trailer at the end of the film also contains some funny material.
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.
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.
“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.
3/5 (not an average)
A few good gags spread around a sea of inanity and overfamiliar farce, History of the World Part I is another Mel Brooks comedy which seems underdeveloped. The video and audio transfer of this Blu-ray release is very nice, and fans will likely be pleased with the disc and its bonus contents.