Here’s a quick quiz for all of you semi-regular comedy film lovers out there that were born prior to 1985…
1. Do you pronounce Frankenstein “Frahnk-en-steen?”
2. Is the Schwartz with you?
3. Does the mere mention of the Spanish Inquisition, springtime, or Hitler prompt you to break out into song and dance?
If you answered “yes” to one or more of the above questions, then chances are you’ve seen a Mel Brooks film. Or, at the very least, you’re familiar with a Mel Brooks film. Either way, you probably know who Mel is. You might even be a fan. That in itself is good news. Should you be the proud owner of a Blu-ray player (or PS3), then here is some even better news: The Mel Brooks Collection on Blu-ray from Fox Home Entertainment is here.
The set houses nine of Mel’s famous efforts, presented here in chronological order. First off is what is widely regarded as the least Brooksian film directed by Brooks (more on that later), The Twelve Chairs, a charming (and relatively subtle in Brooksville) comedy based on an age-old Russian story starring Ron Moody and a young Frank Langella. Next up are the two films that are generally considered to be Mel’s best, the classic B-Western spoof Blazing Saddles, and its classic horror send-up counterpart, Young Frankenstein (both 1974).
Next up are Silent Movie, Mel’s 1976 tribute to the legends of the silent era; his 1977 homage to all things Hitchcockian, High Anxiety; and the most quoted thumb up the ass to Hollywood’s Historical epics of the ‘50s and ‘60s, History Of The World – Part I (1981). The set concludes with the least Brooksian film that wasn’t directed by Mel, the remake of 1942’s Jack Benny/Ernst Lubitsch classic (and a classic in its own right), To Be Or Not To Be (1983); the second most quoted Brooks film, Spaceballs (1987); and last (and probably least), Robin Hood: Men In Tights (1993).
Six of these films are presented in high definition for the first time and are (at present) only available in this set (the other three titles — Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and Spaceballs — were released on Blu-ray in the past). Sadly, Brooks’ original The Producers is nowhere to be found here — the exclusion of which is rather odd, to say the least considering that it’s a Fox-owned property. You’d think that if they could get the rights to distribute a Warner title in this set (*cough*Blazing Saddles*cough*), they’d at least manage to include another of their own titles as well. But that’s just me pointing out the one major disappointment in an otherwise practically perfect set.
All nine films are presented in 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC widescreen transfers (ranging from 1.85:1 to 2.40:1 ratios). Some of the transfers are downright glorious, with very little grain, vibrant colors (where applicable) and spectacular contrasts all-around. A few of the presentations are a little on the not-red-hot-but-still-on-fire side, and are a little softer than you’d expect them to be. On the audio front, the discs boast some wonderful soundtracks, most of which are all new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless mixes. In some cases, there isn’t much to work with (e.g. Silent Movie), but the folks at Fox have done fans of Mel proud all in all here. Additional audio options are also available on most of the discs in the original mono and stereo soundtracks, along with multiple foreign language and subtitle tracks.
With the exception of The Twelve Chairs, all of these films contain new (or at least recycled, in the case of the older Blu-ray titles) special features. Isolated music scores and retrospective featurettes galore can be found on the newer films, all of which include interviews with surviving cast and crew. Many of the newer Blu releases also sport trivia tracks which can be viewed with their feature presentations. Each disc also features original theatrical trailers for their respective films, along with trailers for other entries in this set. Audio commentaries by Mel are included on the older releases (Blazing Saddle, Young Frankenstein, and Spaceballs), while Robin Hood: Men In Tights salvages the commentary track from the old out-of-print LaserDisc.
Lastly, The Mel Brooks Collection features an informative 120-page hardback book that goes over Mel’s achievements (which he has definitely earned: the man is multi-talented beyond belief) in both his life and work. It’s a great item for the coffee table — so long as you don’t put a cup of coffee on or near it, ‘cuz then I’ll go ballistic and start screaming at you for endangering a collector‘s item.
The bottom line: The Mel Brooks Collection is a must own for both fans and anyone born past 1985 that may simply be curious to see what all the fuss is about.