Young Frankenstein Blu-ray ReviewNovember 21, 2008
Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein is considered by critics and fans to be one of the funniest movies ever made, and I cannot disagree. Brooks has only directed 11 or so films over his 40-year career, and while the last few (Dracula: Dead and Loving It and Robin Hood: Men in Tights) are forgettable products, his earlier works were back-to-back classics. Young Frankenstein lands smack in the middle of a solid run of films starting with the Producers, then Blazing Saddles and followed by Silent Movie and High Anxiety.
All of these are hilarious parodies that also work as homage to their subject matter. Young Frankenstein is a prime example as it owes as much to poking fun at the early horror movie genre as trying to faithfully recreate the feel of the films (including beautiful black and white photography and camera techniques used at the time). Further cementing its reputation, the Library of Congress chose the film to be preserved in the National Film Registry as a cultural example of comedy and parody.
Co-written with Gene Wilder, Young Frankenstein was the third and final collaboration between him and Brooks following the Producers and Blazing Saddles. In addition to Wilder as the title character, the main cast consists of Madeleine Kahn (fiancιe Elizabeth), Teri Garr (beautiful laboratory assistant Inga whose accent creates a good bit of her humor), Cloris Leachman (Frau Blucher whose name contrary to popular myth does not sound like the word "glue" in German though hilariously makes the horses overreact whenever it is uttered), Peter Boyle (the monster who creates many laugh out loud moments just through his facial expressions) and Marty Feldman (assistant Igor who steals every scene he is in).
The movie can also be considered a loose take on Mary Shelley's novel (as Brooks and other commentators note in the special features). Wilder plays the descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein giving the basis for one of the most memorable jokes being how he purposely refuses to pronounce his name in the expected manner in order to distance himself from his disgraced family legacy. Being a medical doctor himself, he stumbles upon his grandfather's secret laboratory when exploring the family estate he recently inherited and becomes obsessed with trying to duplicate the previous experiments and honor his family name.
Partly due to parodying a genre that was already decades old but mainly because of solid comedic writing and acting, Young Frankenstein has aged amazingly well. There is not one joke that seems out of place or is any less funny than upon its original release in 1974, and there are many memorable lines and performances that have been engrained in our cultural memory. Now if only Brooks could rekindle this spirit and make another film of this caliber.
Fox has done an excellent job with the video for this Blu-ray release. You must remember that the film was shot in black and white (through the professional efforts of cinematographer Gerald Herschfeld) to mimic the James Whales' Frankenstein films from the 1930's. I believe Young Frankenstein is the second black and white movie I have seen in high definition after Casablanca on HD DVD, and the results are impressive. The 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer is framed at the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and brings out the fullest range of the source material. This may not impress those looking for the latest action movie, but fans will easily see this is the best Brooks' horror parody has ever looked.
The transfer gloriously maintains all the original grain, which may be too heavy for modern digital purists. It carries with it all the inherent detail that is wonderful to behold especially after watching Brooks' comedy on sub-par VHS displays for so many years. Even the previous DVD release is now second-rate compared to this transfer. Black levels are solid throughout with shadowy areas rarely failing to resolve properly and the image is always appropriately sharp but never hyper-realistically so with no unnecessary digital processing applied. One deficit to the enhanced resolution of Blu-ray is that you notice Boyle's monster makeup more than on previous video presentations. There are also a few specks and marks on the image that are never obtrusive and even lend towards the nostalgia that Brooks worked so well to elicit with his visual style.
Fox continues their trend of including lossless audio for their catalog Blu-rays with the main English track presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Based on the original monaural source, this is not a particularly dynamic mix but does benefit from the high-def audio. Dialog is clear, John Morris' thematically appropriate score is well presented and there is good separation and decent fullness to the audio. The rear speakers and subwoofer do not have much prominence but with these types of tracks, trying to impose a surround mix where it does not belong only creates a forced, fake auditory atmosphere.
Thankfully the mix anchors the audio in the front speakers to enhance the initial sound elements without trying to compete with modern surround tracks and gives a good update to the source material. There is an English mono mix included as well as mono dubs in Spanish and French (all the mono tracks are in Dolby Digital 2.0 though at fairly low bitrates). Subtitles are presented in English, Spanish and Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin).
To the studio's credit, all the extras from the special edition DVD are included as well as some new specific to Blu-ray content. The extras are extensive and give a thorough background on the film with numerous additions such as commentary, trailers and an isolated music track. The new content is in HD, which is noted below when applicable, and all audio is in Dolby Digital 2.0.
Director Commentary - If you are a fan of Mel Brooks' comedic sensibility (and why would you be bothering with Young Frankenstein if you were not), this feature-length audio commentary will be very entertaining. Brooks covers the majority of the feature with numerous tidbits and anecdotes from the making of the movie that are guaranteed to make you laugh if not exactly inform you. He does not always have the most important information to convey but is definitely humorous while reminiscing. You will be amazed at how much he remembers about numerous cast members that you probably never noticed before, and he also has a large respect for the cast and crew that comes through in his commentary.
Inside the Lab: Secret Formulas From The Making of Young Frankenstein (HD) - While I have seen many Picture-in-Picture features (BonusView-Profile 1.1 enabled players required) from other studios, this is the first time I remember engaging one from Fox. Personally, I do not think this is implemented as well as possible. Broken up over 11 parts, many of the sections will start with information regarding the particular scene they play against but then move on to unrelated topics (though all within the context of the film). I cannot tell the combined length of the parts but each lasts between 2 to 3 minutes.
The content given is generally interesting with input from Brooks, Garr, Leachman, film historians, screenwriters and producers among others. There are times when comments from secondary sources are a bit too fluffy with the participants mainly paying their respects to the quality of the movie rather than revealing any interesting background, but overall the feature is worth watching.
According to the special features menu, this can be played as a single feature if your player is not BonusView enabled. On my player, I could not find any way to view it in this manner and was forced to watch PiP. I think it would work better as a single piece (possibly combined with the "Its Alive!" featurette as they came from the same source material) rather than as a video commentary.
The Franken-Track: A Monstrous Conglomeration of Trivia - An option to view the movie with a subtitled trivia track.
Blucher Button - A feature that mimics the scene in the movie where the horses neigh every time Frau Blucher's name is mentioned. It took me a moment to realize what the function was as the sound of the horses blends with the background track and was not immediately obvious.
It's Alive! Creating A Monster Classic (31:16, HD) - This featurette is culled from the same video as the "Inside the Lab" PiP feature. The same participants are involved with a bit more coherent thread here and there is some good information from cinematographer Gerald Herschfeld on his work to mimic the look of the early Frankenstein films.
Deleted Scenes (16:27) Seven alternate scenes included on the previous DVD edition in standard definition. The video quality is not very good due to print damage but these are amusing variations. There is not a lot to be seen here that you do not get in the movie, but these are funny enough to enjoy anyway.
Deleted Scenes (25:01, HD) Seventeen deleted scenes newly mastered in HD for the Blu-ray release. The video quality is not really that much better than the SD scenes but is a bit clearer. There are several redundant takes for certain scenes. As with the SD deleted scenes, these mostly duplicate what is already in the movie but are worth watching especially for Feldman's performance.
Making FrankenSense of Young Frankenstein (41:52) Feature from previous DVD release that covers a bit more depth than the newly created featurettes for Blu-ray. It is most notable that Wilder does the majority of the interviews (as he is absent from the newly created content) along with producer Michael Groskoff, cinematographer Gerald Herschfeld and editors on the film. It covers a good range of information including the background, location, script, cinematography, casting and music.
Outtakes (5:01) This is basically a blooper reel and is very entertaining.
Transylvanian Lullaby: The Music of John Morris (10:29, HD) Newly created short featurette about longtime Brook collaborator John Morris. Morris composed for Brooks' films from 1968 through 1991 and is included in the interviews here.
TV Spots (3:21) Nine short TV spots for the movie.
Trailers (7:07) Five trailers for the movie including an international one.
Mexican Interviews (6:38) Two interviews for Mexican television to promote the movie. One is with Feldman and the other is with Wilder and Leachman.
Production Photo Galleries Black and white photos taken during the making of the movie. They are broken up thematically and can be viewed separately or all together.
Isolated Score Track Option to watch the movie with only John Morris' score playing in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio.
There is not much to say about Young Frankenstein that has not already been covered, and it remains one of the most consistent comedies that grows funnier with each viewing. Fox has done Brooks' film justice with a beautiful 1080p transfer that reveals all the detail inherent in the original black and white source without hampering it with digital processing to make it more palatable for modern tastes.
In addition, they give us a lossless track that does not try to overdo the surround use and works as a nice update to its mono source. Rounding out the Blu-ray package is a full set of extras (I have a few nitpicks but they are minor) carrying over everything from the previous DVD and giving us some new HD content. MGM deserves credit for presenting Young Frankenstein on Blu-ray with the treatment it deserves, and this hopefully bodes well for future commendable catalog releases to be done with equal quality.
- Robert Searle
Browse all Amazon.com Blu-ray pre-orders