A solidly put together collection that will give newcomers and old fans a crash course on Mel Brooks.
I wish they would have swapped out some of Mel's early-80s movies for some of his mid-80s films.
The Mel Brooks Box Set Collection is the kind of release that could make someone a lifelong fan of this comic auteur. This set contains the following eight films High Anxiety, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, To Be Or Not To Be, Robin Hood: Men In Tights, History of the World: Part 1, Silent Movie and The Twelve Chairs. While I certainly don't think Brooks hits it out of the park with each one of these films, I think this collection is stacked with enough solid titles to certainly be worth owning.
My favorites in this collection are Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, To Be Or Not To Be and High Anxiety. Thankfully, the first three of these titles come with some really interesting bonus features. While I am not sure that Mel Brooks sense of humor is for everyone (sometimes I think it's too reference laden for it's own good), for the most part I think his movies work because he isn't afraid to put himself out there and take a risk with his comedy.
Titled Making Frankensense of Young Frankenstein this is a 36 minute "making of" that looks at the script of the film, the cast, the black and white look it employs, Mel Brooks and just about every other facet of this movie. When you look at how right on this film got the black and white look of the films it was sending up, I think this documentary really illuminates how that was possible.
Seven Deleted Scenes
With scenes titled "Reading of the Will" and "Jack Sprat, The Highwayman," after looking through them I understood why they were cut. So much of this movie is subtle until the joke of a scene emerges. These scenes showcase moments that while funny, seem to have best been left out of the movie.
Featuring short interviews with Marty Feldman, Gene Wilder and Cloris Leachman, these interviews aren't in Spanish. Basically, I think they were done for a TV station that was part of the Warner Bros. Spanish speaking division. The actors talk about their roles in the film and essentially what Young Frankenstein is about.
These stills are broken up into sections with names like "Frederick's Arrival At the Castle" and "The Brain Depository." Aside from the pictures having a really nice older quality to them, what really struck me was how much fun it seems like everybody is having on the set.
I had a hard time with this featurette because I wasn't sure what I should be laughing at. In a microcosm, that is some of the problems I have with Mel Brooks' films. They are so good at sending up a certain genre that it's hard to tell what the jokes are. In these outtakes my biggest cue came when somebody laughed for one reason or another.
55 Minute Interview with Mel Brooks
This is more of a commentary track than it is an interview. In fact, why Brooks only did 55 minutes of the movie is beyond me, but I am sure glad that he did this because I really enjoyed it. He discusses getting the movie made (his other films hadn't done so well), putting the deal together and most interesting (in my opinion) working with the writers on the script.
To Be Or Not To Be
A very old featurette that seems to have been shot around the time this movie was made. It only features Mel Brooks talking about the film and I really liked what he had to say about the importance of comedy and how it's "everlasting." This featurette also mentions how this is the first time he and his wife Anne Bancroft have appeared on screen together.
The people profiled here are Mel Brooks, Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning. While these are little more than electronic press kits for the film, I did enjoy hearing from all these actors. I was especially happy to get to hear from Charles Durning, an actor that I have respected and admired for so many years. His ability to really be able to get into his characters is something that contrasts nicely with who he is offscreen.
Robin Hood: Men In Tights
Titled "Robin Hood: Men Tights - The Legend Had It Coming" perfectly sums up what both this film and this featurette are about. Cary Elwes takes us on a quick romp through the making of this film in which we explore the characters and we also get to hear from Mel Brooks, Dom DeLuise, Richard Lewis and a young Dave Chappelle. While pretty typical in nature, I loved the 10 Mel Brooks impressions that were displayed.
The Twelve Chairs, Silent Movie, Robin Hood: Men In Tights, To Be Or Not To Be, Young Frankenstein and High Anxiety are all in 1.85:1 - Anamorphic Widescreen. History of the World: Part 1 is in 2.35:1 - Anamorphic Widescreen. Lastly, Blazing Saddles is presented in a "letterbox" widescreen format preserving the "scope" aspect ratio of it's original theatrical exhibition. Enhanced for widescreen TVs. The looks of all these movies have various merits depending on what you like as viewer. Personally, I love the looks of High Anxiety, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. Of all the films in this set, these ones had the richest look to their pictures.
All of the movies in this box set are in Dolby Digital and Close Captioned. They range across the spectrum of Dolby Stereo, mono, subtitles and all those other technical specifications. I didn't have a problem hearing anything on these discs and for the amount of movies that are contained herein, that is a pretty spectacular feat. In fact, these movies all seem to be leveled pretty much the same as I don't recall having to adjust the volume that much from movie to movie.
Mel Brooks sits atop his own world in a director's outfit on the cover on this DVD box set. Littered all over the front are lines from all the movies. On the back cover are various shots of the characters (many of them played by him) that inhabit his world. On the bottom of the set is a title listing with a rating for each movie. As this is a digipack each of the eight movies has it's own case. All of the films appear to have the covers that were used for their original releases (both theatrically or on home video) with the back covers containing the usual DVD information. As much as I love the digipack design (who knows how large this set would be without it?), I can't help but think that all of these discs shown in their own cases make this set look a tad bulky and daunting. However, Mel Brooks' fans will be very pleased.
In my opinion, the biggest surprise in this collection was High Anxiety. I think what I liked the most about it was how perfectly it seemed to capture not only the Hitchcock films that it was having fun with, but also the 1970s look that so many movies and television shows were employing. Granted, in that time period, all of the films had that look because that's when they were shot. However what makes this movie work is how perfectly it serves that genre... until it doesn't. There is a great deal of levity in this film that I think most likely accounts for why it is able to hold up after all these years.
Simply put, The Mel Brooks Box Set Collection is a great batch of DVDs. With eight movies that showcase the multitude of Mel Brook's talents, many of my favorite moments came from listening to him recount how these films were made in the bonus features.
Blazing Saddles was released February 7, 1974.