- May 7, 2001
30th Anniversary Special Edition
Studio: Warner Brothers
Film Length: 93 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Enhanced Widescreen
Audio: DD 5.1
Languages: English & Spanish
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
Package: Single disc – keep case
I want rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers and Methodists.
Could you repeat that, sir?
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the western spoof, Blazing Saddles, Warner Brothers have released a single disc Special Edition of the Mel Brooks classic. The film ranks #6 among the American Film Institute’s top 100 comedies and boasts a flood of stars such as Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, Harvey Korman and Madeline Kahn.
In a town filled with “Johnsons”, Rock Ridge is in the way of the railroad. Lt. Governor Hedley Lamarr (played by Harvey Korman) is the assistant to Governor William J. Le Petomaine (played by Mel Brooks), and soon realizes that the land where the town stands is far too valuable to ignore. In order to procure the land, Hedley Lamarr sends in his henchmen, but after the sheriff is killed, the town demands a new sheriff from the Governor. Lamarr persuades Le Petomaine to appoint the first black sheriff in the west, Bart (played by Cleavon Little). The new appointee gets a little help from Jim “The Waco Kid” (played by Gene Wilder), to help him thwart the assault on the town led by Taggart (played by Slim Pickens). Though Bart is a rather refined and sophisticated choice, winning over the local townsfolk will be no easy task. But who’s kidding who, the story is of very little consequence.
For those not familiar with the film, it is a parody of the old western - in fact it defines the very word and nobody is exempt from it. Everything from African Americans to even Looney Tunes characters are fair game, right down to the very nature (and genre) of the film itself, the western. Over the years, the film attracted a lot of negative attention from those who feel the movie isn’t as politically correct as it should have been. Unfortunately, the same critics are most likely missing the point; which is the fact many westerns were very stereotypical in nature, echoing subtle (and sometimes, not so subtle) nuances of racism. Brooks’ point, whether it was intentional or not, was to satirize the issue and to his credit the film was produced in a manner that, regardless of how offensive the words or gestures are, they never seem to offend.
There is so much going on at all times, the film needs to be watched a couple of times in succession to pick up everything. The film sports a number of standout performances, specifically Cleavon Little as Bart and Gene Wilder who plays the quick-on-the-draw Waco Kid. But most notably is Madeline Kahn’s role of Lili Von Shtupp, who fans of Frenchie from Destry Rides Again, will recognize and appreciate the Marlene Dietrich-style chanteuse. Kahn was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance. Another interesting bit of trivia, Mel Brooks was sued by the actress “Hedy” Lamarr over the use of the name “Hedley” Lamarr and eventually settled out of court.
The Feature: 4/5
Blazing Saddles is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 enhanced widescreen on a single-sided, double-layered disc and for the most part, I must say that I’m pretty impressed with the results.
Let me start off by saying that I didn’t have the previous version to make a direct comparison. However, I would find it absolutely impossible to believe that this 30th Anniversary Special Edition wouldn’t be vastly superior to its predecessor, a relatively early entry disc to the format. I was thoroughly impressed and amazed with the colors of the film. They are without question, the highlight of the video presentation, always bold and vibrant with a perfect level of saturation – never bleeding. Skin tones always looked real and accurate. Blacks were also extremely deep and whites were contrasted nicely always looking clean and crisp. Contrast looked great as did a very appealing amount of shadow detail.
There were many facial close-ups that, quite frankly, look better than many of the modern day transfer releases. Although, there were occasional scenes and instances of softness, the level of definition for the most part is most impressive. There was a very slight amount of fine film grain present throughout the film resulting in a very pleasing film-like image. There were however, a number of occasions where (in particular) sky scenes exhibited artifacting with a distracting amount of noise.
The print appeared to be virtually immaculate and free of any dust, dirt or debris and appeared to be mostly stable with only a couple of instances of light shimmer. There were also signs of edge enhancement that were visible during some of the mountain scenes, but admittedly, I had to look for it. There were also signs of occasional light speckle, but it wasn’t bothersome.
Other than some artifacting during the sky scenes and some slight edge enhancement, I was left very impressed with this thirty year old film. Very nice!!
The previous version contained the original Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack, whereas this new version contains a remastered 5.1 track derived from the original source. Being somewhat of a purist, I’m a little disappointed that the new version doesn’t contain the original mono track as an option, but after spending the evening with the disc, my disappointment was short lived. Obviously, the biggest concern for such an upgrade (if you will…) is the fear of it being “in your face” and sounding gimmicky. Such is not the case with this track. They have done a wonderful job of opening up the track, allowing it to be most effective, very tactfully done.
Even after the remaster, the tonal quality sounds natural. The track was absolutely free of any hiss or other distracting anomalies. Dialogue was also very clear and bold. Where this track tends to shine is the soundstage that (I’m sure) has vastly widened – as evidenced by Count Basie and his band in the middle of the desert, as the music was open and considerably airy. The dynamic range was adequate although not remarkable.
As for the use of surrounds, I would describe them in terms of ambiance and allowing the track to open up, more than I would in a manner of directionality. Tactful and effective. There was very little to no specific use of LFE (at least nothing that stood out), although bass response seemed tight and certainly adequate.
Diehard purists may balk at the new offering, but don’t knock it till you try it.
The 30th Anniversary Special Edition comes with a respectable amount of special features starting with:
[*] A Commentary By Mel Brooks. The feature (more like a running conversation) is not screen specific but it is chock full of interesting tidbits relating to the idea and concept of the movie and the casting as well as some of the pre-production WB hurdles. Mr. Brooks is non stop however, this isn’t the typical commentary which runs for the duration of the film. It ends abruptly during the “I’m Tired” number which Lili is singing on stage. Very well done but a tad brief. Duration: 55:00 minutes.
[*] Back In The Saddle is a documentary which includes a number of tidbits, anecdotes and production information. There are a number of participants including Mel Brooks, actors Harvey Korman, Gene Wilder, Burton Gilliam, writer Andrew Bergman, producer Michael Hertzberg. There are a number of pre-production issues discussed as well as the racial issues and controversies – some of which overlap the previous commentary featuring Mr. Brooks. Duration: 28:20 minutes.
[*] Intimate Portrait: Madeline Kahn is a brief segment which features comments from Brooks and actors Dom DeLuise and Lily Tomlin who discuss the late actress and generally sing deserved praise for her and her performance. Duration: 3:42 minutes.
[*] Next up is a T.V. Pilot, Black Bart which was a proposed TV spin-off show which starred Lou Gossett Jr. and Steve Landesberg. It’s hard to even imagine the correlation between this and the original film and it’s shocking that it even made it to the pilot stage however it is an interesting inclusion for fans of the film. The presentation is absolutely gorgeous. Duration: 24:25 minutes.
[*] Additional Scenes. There are a total of eight additional scenes and these don’t really add much to the picture although their inclusion is a welcomed one. Duration: 9:40 minutes.
[*] And finally the Theatrical Trailer is included which is in really good shape. Duration: 2:17 minutes
Special Features: 4/5
**Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**
There is no denying that Blazing Saddles has achieved modern day classic status as one of the funniest films of all times. To this day, lines from the film can be quoted and are instantly recognizable from the movie. Whether you love the film or detest it, one thing is for sure; you’ll never see a major motion picture like it made in today’s politically correct climate, and that’s kinda sad.
If you already have the previous version, I’m not sure the extras warrant a double dip. However, if you’re presentation conscious, I would strongly advise you to save a shitload of dimes, because this thing is worth every penny.
Overall Rating: 4/5 (not an average)
Release Date: June 29th, 2004