For contemporary audiences, Mel Brooks shares a lot in common with filmmakers like the Zucker brothers: he's a guy who pioneered a lot of the conventions of modern parody who may or may not quite still be relevant. In other words, his influence is undeniable; but the longevity of his body of work? Not quite as assured.
Brooks' films are definitely not 100 percent consistent (it should tell you something that Dracula: Dead and Loving It and Life Stinks never seem to find their way into his home-video boxed sets), but the ones that hold up are truly great: Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, and Blazing Saddles still have viewers in stitches, and many others from that time, including To Be or Not To Be, Spaceballs, and High Anxiety, still hold special places in the hearts of their fans. But whether you like only one or two of Brooks' films or all of them, the new Mel Brooks Collection is sure to pique your interest since it marks the first extensive release of the writer-director-producer's films in high-definition, along with a slate of new bonus materials that just might make you want to throw out older editions.
What's Already Available: Fox Home Entertainment released The Mel Brooks Collection on DVD on April 4, 2006, and that set included Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, To Be or Not To Be, High Anxiety, History of the World, Part 1, and The Twelve Chairs. A few of the films, including Robin Hood, High Anxiety, and Silent Movie, were released for the first time ever on DVD in this set, although they were simultaneously/ subsequently released individually. Meanwhile, most of the films featured only limited bonus content, including trailers of the other films in the collection and print profiles of cast and crew members.
Otherwise, Blazing Saddles actually featured the supplemental content that was only on the original DVD release rather than Warner Brothers' 2004 30th Anniversary Edition, including a 55-minute interview with Mel Brooks and little else. Young Frankenstein includes an audio commentary, a making-of documentary, interview footage of Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman and Gene Wilder, deleted scenes, outtakes, and production stills.
What's In The New Set: The Mel Brooks Collection features the same nine films remastered in high definition, as well as all of the previously-available extras, a collection of new bonus features including featurettes and trivia tracks, and a collectible 120-page hardcover book entitled It's Good To Be The King, which chronicles Brooks' decades-long career and remembers the creation and production of many of his classic films.
What's The Difference In The Movies Themselves: The transfers on the films are a little all over the map, suggesting that at least a few of the remastering jobs from a few years ago were simply repurposed for some of the films, while others enjoyed another scrubbing. For example, the opening credits of Blazing Saddles is a little dirty, probably owing to the multiple film layers needed for the title cards, etc., but the rest of the movie looks pretty good. On the other hand, a couple of them just look old and faded, especially the ones less beloved, which basically means that an upscaled standard-definition DVD will probably suit viewer needs.
What's The Difference In Everything Else: Surprisingly, a lot. A few of the discs, especially Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, already featured a lot of extra content, but the Blu-ray producers augmented that and added a lot more, even on the films that may only get a single viewing or two. For the most part, the Blazing Saddles disc is about the same as the 30th Anniversary release, which at least updates collectors with all existing extras, but the Young Frankenstein disc features two new featurettes, a picture-in-picture commentary track featuring Mel Brooks and others, a trivia track, a "Blucher Button" (press it and horses whinny in terror), and an audio track that isolate John Morris' score.
Silent Movie, meanwhile, features another trivia track and a featurette entitled "Silent Laughter; High Anxiety comes with a "Am I Very, Very Nervous?" interactive game and a "Hitchcock and Mel" featurette; History of the World, Part 1 comes with "Musical Mel," and a featurette about Brooks' conception of "The Inquisition," a making-of documentary; To Be or Not To Be includes "Brooks and Bancroft," a chronicle of their on and off screen collaborations, as well as a trivia track; and Robin Hood not only restores the laserdisc commentary track previous absent on the 2006 release, and adds a featurette called "Funny Men in Tights."
Rather than superficial examinations of the movie or Mutual Admiration Society celebrations of the cast and crew, almost all of these contain remarkable, insightful information about each film, about the time in Brooks' career they were made, the sort of status quo of the genre or filmmaker Brooks is parodying, and about the way the film fleshes out a different aspect of the writer-director's career. On History of the World, for instance, the "Making History" doc devotes several minutes to describing Brooks' workdays with narrator Orson Welles; on Young Frankenstein, on the other hand, an entire featurette is dedicated to John Morris' wonderful lullabye score, which both encapsulated and satirized the melancholy European vibe of the '30s horror movies that Brooks was making fun of.
Finally, there's the book, which is just big enough to offer a few solid recollections and remembrances of the Brooks films included in the set, but not in-depth enough to beg the question where are the rest of his movies, much less why weren't they mentioned. The packaging is shaped a lot like the Warner Classics sets for Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind, whose girth begged for a shelf of their own, but it's slimmer and more compact and streamlined in a way that looks really classy, even if some of the most charming moments in the movies contained in it are purely crass.
What's The Final Grade: A-. The Mel Brooks Collection is one of those sets that people wouldn't necessarily consider release of the year material, or something that's an evergreen item on fans' holiday lists, but it's one of those that people will understandably want when they discover it, and find that its contents are consistently entertaining and informative both about the films themselves and Brooks' career. Ultimately, it's a worthwhile replacement for any of the standard-definition sets not only because it contains all of the existing extras, but introduces new ones, and whether you think it forces or allows you to see all of the director's films, The Mel Brooks Collection is a great retrospective of his best work housed in a terrific package.