"You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land, the common clay of the new West. You know... morons."
Certain movies earn a reputation as comedy classics, and over time you get the feeling they just won't age well. Comedy tends to date itself much worse than drama, and what audiences may have found hilarious 30 years ago rarely holds up to modern standards for humor (nor will many of our current blockbuster laugh-fests look so good a generation from now). But every once in a while you get a movie like Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles, a familiar staple of too many sanitized television airings over the years that, when revisited in its original uncensored form, is every bit as shockingly offensive, defiantly un-Politically Correct, and yes outrageously funny now as it was the day it premiered.
Cleavon Little stars as Black Bart, a chain gang prisoner enslaved to building the railroad through the Old West of 1874. After sarcastically mouthing off to his racist bossman (Slim Pickens), Bart is set to be hanged. However, in a devious ploy to scare off a town full of yokels in the way of the railroad, the dim-witted Governor (Brooks) and the conniving advisor who pulls his strings (Harvey Korman) commute Bart's sentence and assign him as the first black sheriff of Rock Ridge, a community not quite progressive enough to welcome him with open arms. His only friend a drunken, washed up gunslinger called The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder), Bart will have to find a way to win over the bigoted townsfolk, foil the Governor's plans, and save Rock Ridge from the encroachment of modern civilization and from its own backwards prejudices. And if that doesn't work, at least he'll make fun of all of the above in the process.
Mel Brooks has had a long and successful career, and in that time has produced his fair share of both middling, unfunny misfires and timeless gems. 1974 was certainly his banner year. Young Frankenstein took a classy, highbrow approach to parodying classic horror movies with loving tribute and respect. In the same year, Blazing Saddles went just the opposite direction, a gloriously lowbrow, crass, and foul-mouthed spoof of the Western genre. Both are masterpieces. Saddles mixes Brooks' trademark scattershot humor (look for plenty of gags involving bad puns, deliberate anachronisms, and bodily functions) with a still bracing use of racial profanity to break down stereotypes while delivering plenty of laughs. Three decades later, the movie is still damned funny, even down to some of the basest and corniest jokes. Little and Wilder make a terrific salt-and-pepper comedy duo, and Madeline Kahn earned a (deserved) Academy Award nomination for her iconic role as the filthy cabaret singer Lili von Shtupp. The movie throws in any and every type of humor its team of writers could come up with, from sophisticated verbal sparring to a fart contest and a pie fight, and freely breaks the fourth wall in its climax to make even the filmmaking process itself a target for ridicule. Blazing Saddles is one of those rare comedies that has lost none of its edge or potency over the years, and will remain just as funny in another 30 years as it still is today.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Blazing Saddles debuts on the Blu-ray format courtesy of Warner Home Video. The studio previously released the film on HD DVD in May of this year.
Blu-ray discs are only playable in a compatible Blu-ray player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in an HD DVD player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The Blazing Saddles Blu-ray is encoded in High Definition 1080p format using VC-1 compression on a single-layer 25 gb disc. The movie is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 with letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame.
Now that Warner has taken to using the same VC-1 encodings on Blu-ray that they originally prepared for HD DVD, the same movie released on both formats should be virtually identical from one to the other. In this case, the video transfer given to Blazing Saddles is nothing short of remarkable and belies its 30+ year age. Aside from the gritty opening credits (an artifact of the optical compositing process used to generate the titles), the movie looks like it could have been filmed this very year, not 1974. The image is quite sharp and has terrific resolution of fine object details. Colors are richly saturated and flesh tones spot-on accurate. Some mild film grain is apparent throughout, but it's well rendered and has a fine film-like texture. Black levels are inky and provide a satisfying sense of depth. The clarity in this picture is just fantastic. Any fan of Blazing Saddles will be thrilled to see it looking so good, and even casual movie-watchers looking for High Definition eye candy will find it a revelation.
The Blazing Saddles Blu-ray disc is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over a Blu-ray player's analog Component Video outputs.
The movie's soundtrack is provided in standard Dolby Digital 5.1, encoded at a high 640 kb/s bit rate that should be the equal of the HD DVD's Dolby Digital Plus track. Unfortunately, the original mono sound mix has not been included.
Remixing a monaural soundtrack into surround sound usually comes with a host of negative side effects, and this one is hardly any different. The original dialogue track is set low in the mix and is frequently overpowered by music that blares several decibels too loudly. Although the mix remains primarily anchored to the front soundstage with little bleed to the rears, foleyed sound effects have been artificially steered to the left and right in a manner that isn't particularly convincing. Bass is also weak and hollow. On the plus side, the musical score sounds like it may have been remastered from the original stereo stems rather than processed into a fake stereo presence and generally comes across pretty well. The track is a mixed bag overall, not as offensive as some of the worst 5.1 remixes but certainly not up to the quality of a modern soundtrack. I wish Warner had the courtesy to provide the original mono mix for purists.
Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles - English, English captions for the hearing impaired, French, or Spanish.
Alternate language tracks - Spanish or Quebecois French DD 1.0.
All of the bonus features on this Blu-ray title are recycled from the DVD edition and are presented in Standard Definition video with MPEG2 compression. All of the supplements from the 30th Anniversary Edition DVD have carried over.
- Audio Commentary - Unfortunately, Mel Brooks is simply not very good at delivering commentaries. He doesn't even begin talking until after the opening titles have finished, and the track rambles as he struggles to remember his own career. There's not a whole lot of interest worth listening to here.
- Deleted Scenes (10 min.) - Nine scenes are included, a couple of which are merely censored TV edits of existing scenes (such as the campfire sequence with farting noises removed). There are a couple of funny bits among the deleted footage, but a lot that just doesn't work and was best left on the cutting room floor.
- Black Bart TV Pilot (25 min.) - An absurdly misguided attempt to spin off the movie to a weekly TV sit-com starring Louis Gossett Jr. in the title role. The episode has an obnoxious laugh track but not a single genuinely funny moment in the entire half hour - not a laugh, not a chuckle, not even a half-hearted smirk. The piece is fascinating as a historical curiosity, but what the hell were they thinking at the time?
- Back in the Saddle (28 min.) - A pretty decent retrospective documentary about the making of the film and its comedy legacy. Mel Brooks and co-screenwriter Andrew Bergman are interviewed.
- Intimate Portrait: Madeline Kahn (4 min.) - A brief excerpt from a Lifetime Network TV special reminiscing about the actress.
- Theatrical trailer
Still uproariously funny three decades later, Blazing Saddles is a comedy classic with endless repeat viewing appeal. What's more, the High Definition picture is just extraordinary. The Blu-ray should be equal in quality to the studio's previous HD DVD, so whatever format you prefer Blazing Saddles comes highly recommended.
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