Review: ‘The Mel Brooks Collection’ on Blu-ray
I first encountered Mel Brooks’ work, without realizing it, when I began watching [[[Get Smart]]], the wonderful spy satire he cocreated with Buck Henry (who just happened to be my father’s college roommate – small world and all that). It wasn’t until [[[Blazing Saddles]]] and being in high school before I could put a name to the madman who unleashed these wonderful works. From that point on, when I saw his name I was guaranteed to be there.
In time, I learned of Brooks’ career prior to Get Smart and understood the steps taken that led to the work that I adored. My respect for his determination as a writer, performer, and romancer only grew with time and understanding. There was no single style to his humor – it could be slapstick, word play, satire – and he blended it unlike anyone previously. Nothing was sacred and he continually pushed the boundaries until he burst past them in 1974 and never looked back.
When he left television for feature films and came up with the hilarious [[[The Producers]]], it seemed the longer form was equally suited to his madcap humor. He followed that with the underappreciated [[[The Twelve Chairs]]] and that was followed by Blazing Saddles, which as we all know, forever changed the rules for comedy. The film though, also derailed Brooks to a degree.
Rather than tell comedic stories, he embarked on a series of satires leaping from one genre to another with great success. Still, it wasn’t until he and his wife Anne Bancroft teamed for [[[To Be or Not to Be]]] did Brooks return to a straight comedy. And then he went back to satires until it was time to recycle his works for Broadway.
His career trajectory is handsomely available in a nine-disc Blu-ray box set, The Mel Brooks Collection
, being released Tuesday from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The discs — [[[Silent Movie]]],[[[ History Of The World Part 1]]],[[[ High Anxiety]]], To Be or Not to Be, The Twelve Chairs, Blazing Saddles, [[[Young Frankenstein]]], [[[Spaceballs]]], and [[[Robin Hood: Men In Tights]]] — come in an 11” x 8” book, paired with a 120-page hardcover book celebrating his career.
As written by Stephen J. Smith, it’s biography lite, and almost
entirely laudatory. The two volumes complement one another and the box
set makes for a most excellent holiday gift, especially as we’re all
reminder of the man’s genius, earning him the recent Kennedy Center
honors. (Some dislike the discs being in sleeves like this as they are
more prone to scratch so be warned.)
Up until now, only three of
the films have been previously released on Blu-ray, but all nine look
sharp and sound good. By having the nine films included, this surpasses
the similar 2006 standard DVD box set, which remains available as an
option. If only The Producers were here, you’d never need another
similar collection in your library.
We’ll just have to guffaw our way through these movies, most of which continue to hold up well. Blazing Saddles, being the pioneering film that it is, remains the gem of collection but some such as Silent Movie and High Anxiety
are certainly worth a second look. In every satire, attention should be
paid to the fidelity Brooks and his cast and crew gave to each genre,
especially Alfred Hitchcock in High Anxiety.
director is a revelation as a picture of him emerges from the extras,
many of which are newly added to the discs. Clearly, Brooks was not
only a creative genius, but had affection for one and all that earned
him not only top-notch performances but loyalty. As a result, many
return again and again to help form an ensemble rarely seen in a string
of films these days. You can also see the comedic genius of many grow
through the films although Harvey Korman and Cloris Leachman arrived in
their prime and center each film they appear in. A young Madeline Kahn,
a true discovery, only gets better with each movie.
While grew up on Blazing Saddles and needed my dad to explain many of the cultural references, my kids grew up adoring Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men In Tights.
That alone speaks to the enduring spark of comic genius Brooks has been
sharing with us, dating back even earlier to the days of live
television. The films don’t all work; few are brilliant from beginning
to end like Young Frankenstein, so History of the World Part I is an interesting demarcation point in Brooks’ career. After that uneven offering, he let others control To Be before he returned with a refreshed ensemble for Robin Hood and Spaceballs.
disc comes with a series of extras, most of which were taken from
previous editions. Same deleted scenes, commentary, gag reel, etc. but
the new pieces such as Spaceballs: The Documentary, Hitchcock and Mel: Spoofing the Master of Suspense, and Brooks and Bancroft: A Perfect Pair are lovely looks at the films, especially through the prism of time.
Few collections hold up as well as this one does and is well worth your attention.