When it comes to comedy films, few directors are as consistently sharp and on point as Mel Brooks. During his time in the directing chair he has churned out some of the most adored comedies of all time from The Producers to Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. Most of his works are already available on Blu-ray as part of a collection, however individual releases have hitting the market slowly. Fox has just released three Brooks films individually, including the subject of today's review, History of the World, Part 1.
History of the World, Part 1 was released in 1981 and was probably one of Mel's most ambitious efforts. Rather than focus on one particular story and a set of characters, the movie took time periods of history and sought to tell a tale about the world's history. The end result is a collection of smaller parts that make up a greater whole. Some skits are brief, while others are far more robust, but the end result is a brilliant work from start to finish.
It all begins with the dawn of man as our ape-like ancestors rise up playing with themselves and making other lewd gestures. From there man's history continues with a somewhat lengthy piece about the caveman, lead by Sid Caesar. In this skit they invent fire, art, comedy shows, singing, and marriage (both heterosexual and homosexual). After the cavemen, Moses (Mel Brooks) appears and hilariously delivers Gods 15, no, sorry...10 commandments for all to obey.
As History continues the film goes on to feature the Roman Empire, the Spanish Inquisition, and the French Revolution. All three of these have their highlights, though the Spanish Inquisition's musical number is by far the greatest moment in this film. Mel gets together with a cast that even includes a cameo by Jackie Mason. This particular production features quite the set as the Grand Inquisitor (Mel) tries to convert Jews by any means necessary. The thing I'd say about this numbers is it's so wrong, it's right. Like "Springtime for Hitler" from The Producers, the Spanish Inquisition makes light of a dark time in history in a way that only Mel Brooks could do it.
History of the World isn't necessarily successful for its story; it's successful for the humor. Much like a collection of Saturday Night Live sketches, the film survives on the quality of its cast and jokes. On the cast side of things History was a veritable whose who of the industry. Sid Caesar, Shecky Greene, Gregory Hines, Charlie Callas, Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Andreas Voutsinas, Bea Arthur, Hugh Hefner, John Hurt, Barry Levinson, Jackie Mason, Paul Mazursky, Henny Youngman, and Orson Welles all make appearances. One can't argue with Mel's connections and his ability to bring in talent.
As far as the comedy in this film is concerned it runs the gamut from drug references and sexual innuendo to slapstick violence and a play on words. It's brilliant the whole way through and in many ways this film embodies all the best elements of Mel's directing style. For all these reasons History of the World, Part 1 is a must own. Whether you've seen it before, are a fan of Brooks, or are an all around newcomer consider this film highly recommended.
History of the World, Part 1 is presented on Blu-ray with its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The film lands with a full 1080p high definition and AVC encoding. For a film that is nearly thirty years old things are looking very good and it's quite evident that Fox took extra care in producing this transfer. Sure there's still grain, and yes there's noise and dirt in the image, but all in all the quality here speaks for itself. The picture is sharp most of the time and there are moments of crystal clarity. These elements vary greatly, but overall the transfer here restores the film to glorious detail and it's a huge leap above the transfer for the standard edition DVD.
As far as the sound is concerned the film comes with English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio as its main source of output, but English mono, French 5.1, Spanish, 5.1, and Portuguese 5.1 are available for interested parties. The DTS-HD track is by far the ultimate experience for this feature as the audio is just sharper all around. Everything from dialogue to sound effects and music stand out as being crystal clear, though in all honesty the sense of immersion isn't incredible. What really makes an impression with this new track, however, is the soundtrack. The Inquisition gains new life and many other sections just stand out in ways they never did before. English, Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Korean subtitles are included.
For bonus features the content here has been ported over from the Mel Brooks Collection release. This means there are some trailers and an "Isolated Score Track" for lighter content. Meatier inclusions include "The Real History of the World Trivia Track", which is basically a pop-up track that doles out historical tidbits and facts about the film. It's worth checking out at least once and it's good for a couple of laughs. "Musical Mel: Inventing 'The Inquisition'" (10:40) looks at the creation of the Inquisition number and features commentary from Mel himself, the composer, and some other folks involved in the number's production. "Making History: Mel Brooks on Creating the World" (10:04) is more of less a look at the film in general terms as Mel doles out his brand of historical facts.
If you missed out on the Mel Brooks Collection then History of the World, Part 1 is a fantastic addition for your collection. This film features a collection of hilarious stories brought to you by one of the sharpest comedy minds of all time. It's one of the classics that never really gets old no matter how many times you watch it. The quality of this Blu-ray is outstanding as well and the audio/video presentation is a cut above the DVD. The bonus features are appreciated as well, though anyone with the collection needn't bother with this release. All around consider this release highly recommended.
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