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Blu-ray Review: The Mel Brooks Collection

Funnyman Mel Brooks is a comedy juggernaut, evidenced by his rare feat of winning an Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy, and by his slate of uproarious farces and parodies that were at their strongest in the ’70s, but continued into the next two decades. Making a comedy isn’t easy, and The Mel Brooks Collection, which collects eight Brooks-directed films and one that he starred in on Blu-ray, is a clear testament to that fact. Among the inspired musical numbers and delightfully silly bits, there are plenty of jokes that just don’t work, but rather than diminish Brooks’ reputation, it just goes to show that when he hit the mark, he really hit the mark.

Packaged in an 11×8 inch rectangular case that’s sure to wreak havoc on your media shelf, The Mel Brooks Collection includes a nicely detailed 120-page hardcover book about Brooks and his films along with a fairly flimsy cardboard book that holds the discs. The discs are held in cutout slots, but slide out easily — this set shouldn’t be prone to problems of scratched discs that similar packaging has had in the past.

Unfortunately, Brooks’ first film — and one of his best — The Producers, is not included, but there are plenty of other Brooks hits, most of which are being presented in high definition for the first time.

The Twelve Chairs (1970)

Brooks’ follow-up to The Producers, The Twelve Chairs is a gentle comedy about a Russian man (Ron Moody) who discovers his family jewels were hidden in a chair from a set of twelve. He embarks on a mission to find the jewels with a con artist (Frank Langella), and the two find themselves in competition with a priest (Dom DeLuise) who also knows about the secret.

The Twelve Chairs doesn’t bear much resemblance to Brooks’ later work. It’s slapstick-y, but devoid of much of the winningly lowbrow humor that Brooks employed in later films. Based on a Russian novel, The Twelve Chairs is an early sign of Brooks adapting existing works for his own comedic purposes, but it’s hardly as memorable as some of his later films.

The film is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. While clarity and color remain decently consistent for a film of this age, there are plenty of instances of damage to the print that distract from the high def upgrade. The DTS-HD 5.1 audio track is essentially pointless here with little but front channel sound. Music is also much louder than dialogue in many cases.

Trailers are the only extras to be found here.

Blazing Saddles (1974) (Previously available)

Part one of the one-two punch that was the films of Brooks in 1974, Blazing Saddles skewers the western and racial prejudice with equally precise aim. Cleavon Little stars as the black sheriff of a small town who was only given his job by a corrupt bureaucrat (Harvey Korman) to try to drive out the residents so a railroad can be put in place. Gene Wilder also appears as a former sharpshooter who’s lost his way.

Brooks’ undercutting of western conventions is on the money (as usual, it’s a musical number that gets it just right), but it’s the fearless mockery of racism that makes this film truly remarkable.

Blazing Saddles is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. This is the same Blu-ray that was released in 2006. It sports a beautiful color spectrum with consistency and clarity throughout the film. There’s a nice filmic grain to the picture, making this a faithful visual representation. The Dolby 5.1 audio presentation is certainly adequate, but not terribly impressive.

Extras include a Brooks commentary track, a making-of, deleted scenes, a featurette on Madeline Kahn and the pilot episode of the spin-off TV series that never materialized.

Young Frankenstein (1974) (Previously available)

The second part of that one-two punch, Young Frankenstein is Brooks at his most consistent and hilarious, and it’s his best shot film as well. Spoofing the Frankenstein story, the film stars Gene Wilder as Dr. Frankenstein’s grandson. When he inherits his grandfather’s castle, he goes there to conduct similar experiments with the help of assistant Igor (Marty Feldman). Wilder is at his best here, but Peter Boyle nearly steals the show as the singing and dancing monster.

About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.
  • El Bicho

    very good write-up. I wish more people were as thorough.

  • Dusty Somers

    Thanks, Gordon.

  • zingzing

    history of the world is amazingly funny. i will always defend it. maybe it helps that i found it as a freshman in high school, but there’s just something about that i love so much. every bit has something to offer, and it’s just so quotable… “look, the faggot gets it,” “and that’s the ethiopian a-shim-sham,” “france. FRAHNCE,” “rolling papyrus,” “it’s good to be the king,” “no-no-no-no-no-no-YES-no-no-no-no-no-no-YES-no-no-no-no,” “they were playing ping-pong with my balls,” “de monet, de monet,” etc, etc.

    i love it. his last truly great movie, i say, but the first one i saw, so it will always have a special place in my heart. i watched it recently with a friend of mine whom i will gently label a film nazi and he loved it as well. he’d only seen brooks’ later, more parody-driven stuff, and he enjoyed it immensely. it’s just too good to deny.

  • Matt Paprocki

    Good job Dusty. This is how all box sets should be reviewed, with each movie individually given focus.