By Brian White
Ever since I recently attended the musical of the same name, a few months back, I have eagerly wanted to watch Young Frankenstein on Blu-ray. I was almost ready to pull the trigger on a Blu-ray purchase when all the sudden The Mel Brooks Collection was announced and I got news that I would be getting the chance to review the film. Talk about coincidence. Thank you God! I was forced to watch this film so many years ago on the dreaded DVD format that I completely forgot how great it was until I saw the musical show. I must have been subliminally blocking out that horrible DVD experience. Anyway, my curiosity was struck during the musical and I had the overwhelming desire to want to go back and revisit the film, on Blu-ray of course, just to see how closely the musical followed the movie. I was not disappointed. I urge you to spend a few moments with me and read on as I explore disc #3 within The Mel Brooks Collection.
1974 was a very busy and successful year for Mr. Mel Brooks. He released two of his most beloved films that year, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. We are here to talk about the latter. The film is a parody of the classic Universal horror films from the 1930s and concentrates on the 1931 monster classic Frankenstein. Young Frankenstein not only pays homage to the 1931 classic, but it also uses many of the same props and set pieces from it too. In an unconventional move, Mel Brooks shot the entire movie in black-and-white, which I feel made the movie even more successful and authentic than studio executives were willing to believe at the time. From the 1930s-style opening credits to the period-style wipes and transitions I felt like I was watching a classic film on Blu-ray. Well regardless, I think it is safe to say that I was watching a classic title on the Blu-ray format.
The 1974 comedy film was directed of course by Mel Brooks and stars Gene Wilder, Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars and Gene Hackman. Brooks and Wilder wrote the screenplay. To say the film’s legacy survived the past four decades would be a complete understatement. The movie is ranked #13 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 funniest American movies. If that is not an honor in itself check out the next quick statistic. In 2003, the United States National Film Preservation Board deemed the film “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”, and it was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress National Film Registry.
The film centers on Gene Wilder’s character, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, as he is summoned from his American medical school environment to sort out his inheritance and of his grandfather’s estate in Transylvania. Leaving his fiancée (Madeline Kahn) behind, Frederick soon finds himself in the arms of another woman (Teri Garr as his lab assistant Inga), secures a trustworthy bug-eyed servant in Igor (Marty Feldman) and is thoughtfully cared for by household servant Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman). Just be careful when you say the latter’s name around horses. Watch the movie and you will find out why. Never wanting anything to do with his grandfather’s research and denouncing it up until now, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein all the sudden finds himself obsessed over bringing dead matter back to life after discovering it may just be possible. The rest ladies and gentleman is Frankenstein lore told through the comedic eyes of Wilder and Brooks. This one truly earns a spot in the comedic horror genre hall-of-fame. As an added plus for the family household, Brook’s monster creation here is also kid safe and mother approved.
So just how did the movie compare to the musical I recently seen? Well, I was very surprised to see just how faithful the musical was to the original film. I would have to give a slight edge to the musical though, because being a fan of the film, it was very entertaining and comedic in ways that the original Mel Brook’s creation was not. And by that, I am talking solely on a musical satire level. The musical took certain key scenes from the film and exaggerated them to their fullest for comedic relief through song and dance. Regardless, they are both monster classics in my mind. Now let’s see how the Blu-ray presentation holds up.
The 1080P AVC MPEG-4 1.85:1 framed transfer is what you would expect to visually see from a carefully rendered Blu-ray transfer, that being nothing but the best presentation the film has even seen. While Young Frankenstein never exhibited the sharpest image quality from its time, the period piece lends itself well to the Blu-ray format and boldly declares to its viewing audiences that this is what a classic film should look like on the Blu-ray format. Sure you have grain that fluctuates from scene to scene, but the black-and-white imagery will have your eyeballs begging for more as you notice the mostly clean print, the inky blacks and the level of detail and clarity in areas. Every out of place strand of hair and spider web is accountable for. Going into the viewing, I was initially scared that the set pieces may look too fake in the 1080P transfer, but my fears were quickly subdued as I was in awe how gorgeous the black-and-white transfer lent itself to the Blu-ray format. My only complaint now was the very visible lines that clearly showed where the wig cap was attached to the head of the monster. However, my meager complaint is only a petty one caused by my anal attention to detail. If Blu-ray can make a 1974 movie look this good, then I say bring on the classics!
The audio of Young Frankenstein is a hard one to score. Despite the film bolstering a DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, I believe Fox wanted to stick as close to possible to delivering the “Old Hollywood” sound to the Blu-ray transfer. In essence, that’s exactly what we get here and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While the soundtrack is very front heavy, I felt like I was watching a true period piece in High-Definition. I never once let the fact that the rear speakers were sleeping at times get my spirits down. On the contrary, I enjoyed the musical soundtrack, the bright and dynamic sound effects and the clear dialogue channel that never left me asking myself what did they just say. Granted, Young Frankenstein’s soundtrack is not going to knock down any walls or wake the neighbors, but ask yourself, was it ever meant to? The answer to that is of course no. Kudos to Fox for delivering a Blu-ray soundtrack true to its monaural source and historical roots
The following special features can be found on the Young Frankenstein Blu-ray (disc #3 within The Mel Brooks Collection). Being that Mel Brooks is on record as stating that Young Frankenstein is his most favorite film he ever did it comes as no surprise to me that this Blu-ray disc contains the greatest number of extras within the box set. With key features presented in High-Definition the extras here should keep the fans of the film busy for a little bit. Enjoy!
- Commentary by Mel Brooks
- Inside The Lab: Secret Formulas in the Making of Young Frankenstein (HD)
- Deleted Scenes (SD/HD)
- It’s Alive! Creating A Monster Classic (HD)
- Making FrankenSense of Young Frankenstein (SD)
- Transylvanian Lullaby: The Music of John Morris (HD)
- The Franken-Track: A Monstrous Conglomeration of Trivia – Trivia Track
- Blucher Button (remember the horses and that unforgettable name?)
- Outtakes (SD)
- Isolated Score Track (DTS MA)
There’s no denying that Young Frankenstein is an historical horror comedy of grand proportions. Was the film’s legacy exemplified on the Blu-ray format? You better believe it was. Whether you are a fan of the film or even the musical of the same name, there’s no denying that you will not see a better presentation of this film other than here on Blu-ray. With gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, faithfully reproduced audio and a High-Definition supplemental package I place my all my poker chips on the Blu-ray version of Young Frankenstein as the ultimate version to own of this legendary comedy. Young Frankenstein, on Blu-ray, is available within The Mel Brooks Collection or as a stand alone release. What are you waiting for? The holidays are almost here. Get your Blu-ray of Young Frankenstein now! And if you are contemplating a purchase because you already own the DVD release let me help you with that dilemma. Throw your DVD away and buy the Blu-ray. See, problem solved!