Blazing Saddles (HD DVD)

January 28, 2012 10 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

The films of Mel Brooks are some of the funniest ever made and that’s a bold statement – I know. “Blazing Saddles” was one of the first “R” rated movies that my parents allowed me to watch and it’s still as funny now as it was then. Though, I have to admit, I get a lot more of the jokes now and it makes the movie even funnier, if you can imagine that. 1974 was a good year for Mr. Brooks, he had two of the more critically acclaimed movies of the year in “Young Frankenstein” (which some consider to be better than the movie it parodied, the original “Frankenstein”) and the title in question, “Blazing Saddles”. What makes the latter such a masterpiece is the fact that no one person, race, religion or sex is left out – they’re all equally made fun of. I heard, in an interview, Mel Brooks say that if a movie like this was made today it wouldn’t be. It was just too “off”. I think he might be right. “Blazing Saddles” spares no one and makes the sides split with laughter in the process. Combining the elements of classic Hollywood comedy, western and even…yes, a musical it’s hard to deny that this is one of the funniest movies ever to hit the screen.

As far as the story goes, well we have a corrupt Governor (Mel Brooks) and his left hand man (who, of course, does all the real “dirty” work – Harvey Korman) who won’t stop at nothing until he’s running things. The sheriff of Rock Ridge is killed and henceforth replaced by Sheriff Bart (Clevon Little). The trouble is that Bart is black (the first black sheriff in the West) and this doesn’t sit too well with the citizens of Rock Ridge, who all share the last name of “Johnson” if that tells you anything. Bart meets Jim, the Waco Kid (Gene Wilder), a washed up drunk who spends his time in jail sleeping off his hangovers. Jim and Bart see that there is corruption in the government and set out to try and make things right. After an onslaught of seduction (Madeline Khan in possibly her best role), deadly messengers (Alex Karras) and finally an out and out brouhaha, the message is finally given to the town and the government that the new sheriff is in town and he’s here to stay. But OK, all of that aside, the plot is really a backdrop to all of the slapstick antics that happen on camera. Scenes like the cowboys sitting around a campfire after eating beans (let your mind wonder), the constant racist remarks (that are, ironically, funny) and the off-color humor make this movie work like no other.

While some may argue that “Blazing Saddles” was just using the humor to get attention, the movie’s critical and box office proved otherwise. One of the hits of 1974, this showed that Mel Brooks could make a movie that would make people laugh and generate money, too. Brooks never really made another movie that was quite as funny as this, but I still consider “History of the World: Part I” to be right up there with his best movies. While the plot is rather obscure, I think the best way to describe this movie is by a number of scenes. Lili Von Shtupp (Kahn) and her whole Marlene Dietrich act nearly steal the show as does Slim Pickens (Dr. Strangelove) and his loyal band of followers. Korman and Brooks show they have great chemistry together and they proved it once again here. And the comic genius of Gene Wilder provided some of the film’s best lines. It’s hard to believe that this movie is now thirty years old and though one of Warner’s original offerings to the DVD format, they’ve now gone back and re-mastered the picture and sound. One of the funnier movies and it was also ranked as #6 on the American Film Institute’s list of Top 100 comedies (and there’s a sticker proudly displaying this on the cover), “Blazing Saddles” is a true example of how they don’t make ‘em like they used to. If you’ve never seen this movie then this is the way to experience it as it’s lost little, if any, bite from thirty years back. Highly recommended.

Video: How does it look?

To date, this is now the oldest catalog title that Warner has issued on the new HD-DVD format and it looks great. While there are a few instances with a little grain on the picture, the image looks amazingly clean and sharp. Colors are very bright and vivid literally breathing new life into the transfer. The 2.40:1 image is outstanding and just for the sake of comparison, I took a look at the previous Special Ediition DVD (which looked pretty good in its own right) and noticed more detail in the background. There’s also an overall sharpness that really brings out the “Old West”. While the DVD version of “Blazing Saddles” looked good, this looks great and I’m giddy with excitement to see what other catalog titles Warner pulls out and issues on the HD-DVD format.

Audio: How does it sound?

Audio wise, this Dolby True HD mix sounds pretty much like the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound on the Special Edition DVD. That had been upscaled from a Dolby Surround mix on the initial DVD that came out some 8 years ago. With a movie of this age, there’s very little you can do to enhance the sound, but I noticed no hissing and dialogue seemed extremely clear. The surrounds come into play from time to time, but a majority of the movie is limited to the front stage. While not quite as impressive as the video, the audio has certainly never sounded better.

Supplements: What are the extras?

As is the case with all of Warner’s HD-DVD titles, the same supplements are found here as on the 30th Anniversary disc. First up is a screen-specific commentary by Director (and star) Mel Brooks. This appears to be the same track that was on the old Laser Disc (that came out the same time as the first DVD), but I could be mistaken. Brooks is full of information, staring out with the opening song (the man who sang it thought it was for a real western and not for a spoof). Though there are some down points, it’s a great track and any fan of the movie will get a kick out of listening to it. Two featurettes are included: “Back in the Saddle” which is a thirty minute featurette that tells the journey of how the movie was made and has some comments from the stars of the film. We learn how the crude humor was used and what it took to get the movie made back then. “Intimate Portrait: Madeline Kahn” is just that, it’s a short featurette remembering the late actress (who died of cancer just a few years ago), and some of her best moments on screen. The original pilot “Black Bart” was the television version of the movie. Naturally, it couldn’t compete and it’s clear to see why it didn’t last. It wasn’t funny. Some ten minutes of deleted scenes are included, though most were covered in the “Back in the Saddle” featurette. Rounding out the extras is the original trailer. While this may not compare, supplement wise, to some of Warner’s other “Special Editions” this is comedy at its best and a must have for any fan.

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