The Bargain Gamble Triple Feature: Blazing Saddles, Caddyshack & European Vacation

Let's do something a little different.  I'll start with a short story.  I was in my local FYE, combing through their teensy-tiny movie selection, just looking to see if they might have something decent for cheap.  You know, like updating an old DVD I've still got with an old blu.  And I had Caddyshack in my hand.  $7, and it even has an additional doc that wasn't on the DVD.  A possibility.  But then, one shelf over, I spotted this "Triple Feature" BD of Caddyshack, Blazing Saddles and European Vacation for $6.  Great, put Caddyshack back on the shelf.  Save a buck and get two additional blus.  Or is it too good to be true?

You take a risk with bargain releases like this. Will these be the same transfers?  Are the special features included?  Do they cram all three films on the same disc, giving them terrible, low bit rate encodes and no special features like those Mill Creek 50 Movie Packs?  Sure, it's a great price for the movies, if you don't give a single fig for the presentation, quality, etc.  But for those of us who definitely do, it's a real gamble.  These aren't the kind of releases that get detailed reviews online; studios aren't mailing out screeners of repackaged sell-through discs and forums are anxiously exchanging news about the latest cult collectibles, not cheap reissues.  So even though I had my phone with me, I couldn't look anything up about this release, I'd just had to chance it.
Now, I was holding it in the store, so I was at least able to look the back, which is more than you can do when shopping online, but that wasn't terribly forthcoming either.  It did give the widescreen aspect ratios for all three films (not that their numbers turned out to be accurate), so that was a good start, but it just had a weird boilerplate generalization about special features, which didn't impart any actual information.  Actually, looking at it better now that I've scanned the back cover above, I notice the copyright section includes titles for the special features, so that would've been a big clue if I'd spotted it.  But it doesn't even say if how many discs I was getting.  By the weight, though, it felt like it was at least two discs, so I figured I'd take the $6 plunge.  If nothing else, I could review it here and it would get some information out about the kind of release that never gets covered.

Happily, it did wind up containing three discs.  And each one turned out to be the same disc that was previously available separately.  So yay, I'm happy, turned out to be a great deal.  And I've got DVD comparisons for each film, so let's dig in.
I'm not a huge Mel Brooks guy.  I appreciate that his movies are packed with jokes, often presented by quality performers including Brooks himself, and are always striving to deliver a smart, worthwhile message wrapped in a good time.  But so often, they just wind up playing like broad and obvious extended skits, like somebody gave ten million dollars to extend a sketch from an old Bob Hope special, or the Academy Awards broadcast, to feature length.  For me, most of his films just fall into the "a few funny bits but too far between" sand trap and can't get themselves out for all their preening and cloying.  Young Frankenstein, though, is his masterpiece, and Blazing Saddles brings up a solid second place.  And I have a strong feeling the credit for that goes to co-writer Richard Pryor, who sent this film to places I can't imagine Brooks would've gone on his own.

Of course, so much of it is classic Brooks, too.  Madeline Kahn channeling Marlene Dietrich by way of the Looney Tunes, the shamelessly lowest-possible-brow beans scene, the absurdly meta climax...  Even without Pryor, I think Brooks' Western parody would've been one of this better films with sets and photography able to perfectly capture the great works he's sending up, just as with Young Frank.  But then add the fact that the film's layered with commentary on racism that many audiences still have troubles grappling with today, and yeah, it's a real spitfire.
Warner Bros originally released Blazing Saddles in 1997 with a light-on-features flipper disc.  I passed over that edition, but eventually picked up their 30th Anniversary special edition in 2004.  In 2006, Blazing Saddles was a very early blu-ray, another edition I initially passed over, but wound up eventually getting in the 2012 Mel Brooks Collection (itself a reissue of the 2009 Mel Brooks Collection).  Warner Bros released Saddles one more time, in 2014, as a 40th Anniversary Edition with a new retrospective interview.  Which edition is in this Triple Feature?  Well, spoilers, the Triple Feature is dated 2012...
1) 2004 WB DVD; 2) 2012 WB box set BD; 3) 2012 WB BD.
So to be clear, yes, the two blu-rays here, from the Mel Brooks Collection and the Triple Feature, are identical: the older blu.  That said, however, it looks pretty solid, and by all accounts, the 40th Anniversary uses the same master anyway.  The DVD is a bit pinched at 2.36:1, which the blus correct to 2.38:1.  You'll notice, there's no actual additional information revealed; in fact the blus are ever-so-slightly pillarboxed, a peculiarity a new, 4k scan might've fixed if the 40th Anniversary edition really wanted to impress.  But honestly, it looks quite good as it is already, with distinct grain, and fine resolution of color and detail distinctly in advance of the DVD.  The 5.1 audio is bumped up to DTS-HD, but it's a bit of a shame the original mono track, which hasn't been heard from since that early 1997 DVD, is absent on all these editions (yes, the 40th, too).  There are also French and Spanish dubs, plus English, French and Spanish subtitles.

And since this isn't the 40th Anniversary edition, we don't get that new retrospective interview, but we do get all the other legacy special features: an hour-long audio interview with Brooks which plays over the film, a half-hour 'making of' featurette, an unaired Black Bart pilot starring Lou Gossett Jr., deleted scenes and the trailer.  We also get a nice, if brief, tribute to Madeline Kahn that was left off of the 40th Anniversary Edition.  So basically, you gain one feature, you lose one feature.
Next we enter the 80s with Caddyshack, written and directed by Harold Ramis.  This is one of the many comedies you go into it now worried it won't hold up, but one of the extremely rare ones where it's actually improved with age.  Sure, the story is just every "shake up the stuffy blow-hards running the institution" cliche in the book, but the comedy and the cast excel at every turn.  The plot follows some likable-enough teen caddies working at a golf-course, rivalries in romance and some scholarship-awarding tournament, but very wisely veers off to focus on all the insane background characters for the majority of the film.  Who cares if the guy gets the girl, Bill Murray is in a life or death struggle with the local gopher!  Rodney Dangerfield is pushing Ted Knight over the edge of sanity, Brian Doyle-Murray steals every scene he's in, and Chevy Chase is taking us all to a higher level of consciousness.
Caddyshack also debuted on DVD in 1997, on an old fullscreen edition I never bothered with.  But when it was reissued as the 20th Anniversary edition in 2000, anamorphic widescreen with some solid special features, I was all over it.  The blu-ray came out in 2010, but as you already know, I didn't upgrade my DVD this Triple Feature, which includes the same 2010 BD.
1) 2000 WB DVD; 2) 2012 WB BD.
The DVD has some unusual pillarboxing, framing the film at 1.74:1.  The blu-ray corrects this, widening it out slightly to 1.78:1, although it actually zooms in tighter to shave off a sliver of information along all sides.  If that's a flaw, though, everything else is a solid improvement.  The DVD demonstrates an ugly tape-like smeariness, which is thankfully gone from the blu, which is fairly crisp and sharp.  It also re-times the colors for a more authentic look.  This is actually the biggest improvement over the DVD of the three films here.  The only thing the DVD has going for it is the original mono track, which like with Blazing Saddles, drops it in favor of a new 5.1 mix in DTS-HD.

The DVD basically had one solid extra, a roughly half-hour documentary, which interviewed the cast and crew, featured some deleted scenes, and all in all was an amusing, informative look back on the film.  Definitely something stronger than your typical promo-affair.  It also had the trailer.  These are both carried over to the blu, and they've also added a feature-length television documentary on Caddyshack.  It's also a lot of fun and interviews most of the main players.  These two were obviously not created with the other in mind, and so there is a lot of overlap, with the same anecdotes and history told twice.  But there's enough unique content that both are nice to get and worth the watch.
Finally, we have European Vacation, the second of the Vacation films, and the most maligned until the creation of Vegas Vacation.  It's definitely episodic and predictable with bits that fall flat, and certainly not helped by the fact that, unlike the pre- and pro-ceeding Vacation films, it's not based on an original John Hughes story, but just cooked up to be a quick sequel to a surprise success.  On the other hand, however, it also has a bunch of really good, funny moments.  Directed by Amy Heckerling and with Hughes still co-writing the script, this film actually presents us with the best set of kids in any of the Vacation films.  Jason Lively and Dana Hill are the smartest written and most delightfully performed; plus going to Europe also allows the film to shoehorn in some fun, small roles by great English comic actors like Mel Smith, Robbie Coltraine and Eric Idle.  Meanwhile, other noteworthy American appearances include John Astin, Paul Bartel and Moon Unit Zappa.  Sure, it's not as good as parts 1 or 3, but it's definitely still worth holding onto... unlike, say, Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure.
European Vacation's been repackaged and reissued a number of times, along with most of the other Vacation films (sorry, Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure), but it's pretty much always the same transfers and features.  Warner Bros first put it out on DVD in 2002, which is the version I've still got.  It debuted on blu in 2010, and that's the same disc I just picked up in the Triple Feature.
1) 2002 WB DVD; 2) 2012 WB BD.
This time, both the DVD and BD have identical, 1.78:1 aspect ratios, but the framing is again different.  Inverse to Caddyshack, this BD pulls out to reveal more information along all four sides.  It also, as you can plainly see, makes some bold changes to the color, which for the most part I'd say is an improvement.  Grain is clearly captured, but the film still feels a bit soft... I'd be curious to see if this is just an issue with the film itself, or if a new 4k scan would enhance it even further, but I'm not too confident we'll ever find out.  This time, at least, we keep the original mono, bumped up to DTS-HD on the blu, with additional French, German, Castillian and Spanish dubs and English, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Norwegian, Spanish and Swedish subs.

Extras-wise, the DVD had an audio commentary by Chevy Chase and the trailer, and nothing's changed for the blu.  It's an okay commentary... an actor alone almost always means we'll get a lot of slow spots and dead air, but he has some good insights if you're patient.  He's rather candid about how he wasn't happy with the film, and you read easily between the lines to surmise just how he gave Heckerling a hard time during the filming, including some scene-specific disagreements.  But he's also come around to this film to some degree and seems surprised at how well some scenes play, which is nice.
So, all in all, this is a pretty hearty recommendation.  It's the nest edition available for two of the three films, and even with Blazing Saddles where a newer edition has since come to replace it... with the same master and the gain one/ lose one special feature situation, it's kind of a tie.  If Saddles is your favorite film (and from what I see online, for many people it is), you may still feel you need the 40th Anniversary edition, but this can still be a nice, cheap way to get the Kahn featurette, plus the other two films.  It's hard to argue against this release.  The tiny irritation is that you have to remember, next time you want to watch European Vacation, to look under "B" on your shelf for Blazing Saddles.  Pretty good for six bucks.

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