Judge Clark Douglas orders you to give copies of this review out to the boys in lieu of pay.
Our reviews of Best of Warner Brothers: 20-Film Comedy Collection (published July 14th, 2013), Blazing Saddles: 30th Anniversary Special Edition (published July 1st, 2004), Blazing Saddles (Blu-ray) 40th Anniversary (published May 12th, 2014), High Anxiety (Blu-Ray) (published May 17th, 2010), History Of The World: Part I (Blu-Ray) (published May 20th, 2010), The Mel Brooks Collection (published May 1st, 2006), Robin Hood: Men In Tights (Blu-Ray) (published May 26th, 2010), Spaceballs (published May 5th, 2000), Spaceballs: Collector's Edition (published April 25th, 2005), Spaceballs (Blu-Ray) (published July 6th, 2009), Spaceballs: The Totally Warped Animated Adventures (published January 21st, 2010), To Be Or Not To Be (published May 9th, 2005), To Be or Not to Be (1942) (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection (published August 29th, 2013), and Young Frankenstein (Blu-Ray) (published January 7th, 2009) are also available.
Just saying his name invokes a smile.
"It's good to be the king."
Facts of the Case
Nine Mel Brooks films (six of which are making their hi-def debut) are featured in this lavish Blu-ray collection, which offers every Brooks film of note aside from The Producers, Life Stinks, and Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Is it worth your $90? Let's take a look…
The Twelve Chairs
The film may be the roughest-looking of the set, but it's not bad by any means. You'll find plenty of scratches and flecks throughout in addition to a considerable deal of noise, but both background and facial detail are solid. The muted color palette is quite nice, conveying the damp, depressing atmosphere of the Soviet Union in the 1920s. Audio is a bit more problematic, particularly in terms of the music. The amusing theme song that plays over the opening credits is just plain loud in contrast to the rest of the track, forcing you to adjust the remote a bit. In addition, the music throughout sounds rather distorted. Otherwise, the track is fine. Unfortunately, the only supplement (if you can really call it that) included on this disc is a collection of trailers for other Mel Brooks films.
The disc itself is precisely the same as the previous individual Blu-ray release of Blazing Saddles, and the transfer is still somewhat disappointing. Blazing Saddles was one of the earlier Blu-ray discs, and it doesn't look as sharp as many films of its era that have been released in hi-def since. Some scenes may look a bit grubby, but it's not all bad: detail is solid, flesh tones are fairly accurate and blacks are pretty deep. The audio is solid, conveying the energetic John Morris score with clarity. By the way, is that main title song instantly memorable or what? Extras are the same as before, naturally: an audio commentary with Brooks, a half-hour making-of featurette, the horrible pilot of the never-aired "Black Bart" television show, some deleted scenes, a quick tribute to Madeline Kahn and a trailer.
The transfer is somewhat disappointing, boasting more grain and scratches than you might expect for a film of this age. Audio is solid, but not exactly a knockout track. All of the supplements are the same: a picture-in-picture track, an audio commentary with Brooks, several making-of featurettes, deleted scenes, a trivia track, and a "Blucher Button."
Note: for more details on the film, transfer and supplements, check out my review of the individual Blu-ray release on this site.
The transfer is solid enough, despite a handful of scratches and flecks that can be found throughout. Detail is generally strong, which is a big plus in a movie as rich with sight gags (both large and small) as this one. Flesh tones are just about perfect. As for the audio…does anyone else find it immensely funny that Silent Movie is receiving a DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track? Large portions of the film are completely silent, though now and then we'll hear a selection from John Morris' score (arguably the best he ever wrote for Brooks, which is great considering the way it gets put in the spotlight) or some comical sound effects. There's also exactly one word of dialogue, though I would never dream of telling you what it is or who delivers it. The biggest supplement is a featurette called "Silent Laughter: The Making of Silent Movie," which runs about 24 minutes and digs into Brooks' silent-film influences. You also get a trivia track and a handful of trailers for the film.
The transfer is simply okay, perhaps slightly less impressive than Silent Movie. There's an inconsistent level of grain present throughout, in addition to a number of scenes (particularly in the first half of the film) that seem awfully soft. The film has a somewhat flat, bland '70s look; standing in sharp contrast to the colorful experiences that are Blazing Saddles and Silent Movie. Perhaps Brooks was attempting to recapture the color scheme of some of the Hitchcock films he's parodying, but the movie isn't technically ambitious enough to really nail that. Audio is just fine, with Morris' predictably Herrmann-inspired score coming through with clarity and detail. Dialogue is clean and clear, while sound design is merely adequate (never approaching the nuanced work done on Hitch's The Birds, for instance). The primary extra is a 30-minute featurette called "Hitchcock and Mel: Spoofing the Master of Suspense," which is a pretty engaging if somewhat standard making-of piece. You also get a trivia track dedicated to pointing out Hitchcock references in the film, plus a "Am I Very Nervous?" test that you can take while watching the film. Finally, you get a theatrical trailer.
History of the World, Part I
The visual leap from High Anxiety to History of the World, Part I is rather remarkable, as this film is arguably the best-looking of the set. The image is crisp, clean and gorgeous, with terrific detail, deep and inky blacks, superb flesh tones, and colors that just pop off the screen. It's not quite a reference disc, but it comes pretty close. Meanwhile, the audio is a bit better in terms of creating an immersive experience that actually takes full advantage of the rear speakers (many of the tracks tend to be awfully front-heavy). The Spanish Inquisition sequence is probably the audio knockout, but everything is solid. Extras include "Musical Mel: Inventing the Inquisition" (10 minutes), which spotlights the musical number, and "Making History: Mel Brooks on Creating the World" (10 minutes), which is a more traditional making-of piece. You also get a trivia track and some trailers.
To Be or Not to Be
The movie is a step backwards visually, as it's easily the softest and least detailed film in the set. The lack of detail grew a little frustrating at times, but on the other hand, this film is hardly in need of a knockout transfer like History of the World, Part I. Much of the movie has a very stage-bound feel, so it comes across as a sort of chamber comedy. Black crush is a minor issue at times, but flesh tones look warm and natural. Audio is just fine, though the track only comes to life during the handful of musical numbers that appear throughout the film. The only extra of note is a featurette called "Brooks and Bancroft: A Perfect Pair" (14 minutes), which focuses on what it was like for the married couple to work together. You also get a vintage EPK-style featurette that runs 3 minutes, plus super-short archival interviews, a trivia track and a trailer.
The transfer is certainly quite strong, with deep, rich blacks and amazing detail throughout. Brooks and his team did a particularly superb job in terms of creating detailed sets for the film, and your appreciation for their work will surely be enhanced by this hi-def transfer. Flesh tones are warm and accurate. The level of grain is pretty inconsistent, but generally not bothersome. Audio is terrific; arguably the strongest mix of the set. While most of these films tend to be relatively uneventful in this department, Spaceballs stays busy with a rich mix of sound design at every possible opportunity. It's a very immersive track; and the booming John Morris score really gets to rock the room at times. Dialogue is also nice and clear. Extras are fairly generous on this disc, as you get a commentary with Brooks, a half-hour making of documentary, a 20-minute interview with Brooks and writer Thomas Meehan, a 10-minute tribute to John Candy, the entire movie in 30 seconds (no, really!), a stills gallery, trailers, and a collection of pieces pointing out "film flubs."
Robin Hood: Men in Tights
You might expect Robin Hood: Men in Tights to be the best-looking film of the collection given that it's the newest, but that isn't necessarily the case. To be sure, the film looks pretty good. Blacks are pretty deep and flesh tones are mostly accurate, but detail is a little disappointing. This is largely due to the softness of the cinematography, but still. Once again, grain levels are pretty inconsistent, but not terribly bothersome. Audio is fine, though it's disappointing to have music from Hummie Mann rather than John Morris. While Morris typically turned in tuneful musical parodies, Mann provides a fairly generic bombastic orchestral score that you'll probably forget immediately after seeing the film. Still, it comes through with strength and clarity. Likewise, the battle sequences tend to impress in terms of audio, giving your speakers a moderate workout. Extras include the old laserdisc commentary by Brooks plus two making-of featurettes: "Robin Hood: Men in Tights—The Legend Had it Coming" (26 minutes) and "Funny Men in Tights: Three Generations of Comedy" (13 minutes). Finally, you get a trailer and an isolated score track.
The whole collection is housed in a long box that contains a 120-page hardcover book spotlighting all of the films in the collection. The book is terrific; the Blu-ray book containing the actual discs is a bit more disappointing. The discs are housed on pages with cardboard slits, and it's honestly kind of flimsy and cheap. Be careful with this book-sized case, as it's easy to imagine it getting damaged over time. Some may also be frustrated at the prospect of finding a place on the shelf for this oddly-shaped collection.
My feeling is that this set provides three great films, two good films, and four mixed bags. As far as I'm concerned, that's just about good enough to merit a recommendation, but those who have even greater enthusiasm for films like History of the World, Part I and Robin Hood: Men in Tights shouldn't hesitate a second before picking this one up. Though it would have been nice to have The Producers included, this is a pretty definitive collection that should satisfy any Brooks fan. MGM deserves a laurel and hearty handshake.
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• IMDb: The Twelve Chairs
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