Controversial Blus: Young Frankenstein (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparisons)

Let's lighten the mood a little. I mean, Bride of Re-Animator wasn't exactly a grim and brooding film, but it's been all horror, holocaust documentaries and crime dramas around here lately. How about a silly Mel Brooks comedy? And hey, it doesn't even have to break theme with Bride, because it's still loosely based on a piece of classic literature of bringing the dead back to life through mad science. All these years later, Young Frankenstein is still a great fun, even though its latest edition, the 40th Anniversary special edition blu-ray, is a little controversial.

Update 5/9/17:  Ah, nice to see a non-horror film (though there's an obvious connection, of course) rise up the right-hand Most Popular column for a change.  So I started thinking if I could add anything as a little treat, and got my hands on the 2006 DVD.  Now it's a little more thorough for ya. 👍

Update 4/12/19:  Okay, another two years and this is still by far our most popular post.  So what can I do to honor that?  I'm adding another disc to the comparisons... this time the blu-ray from the 2012 Mel Brooks Collection.
One of the fun things about Young Frankenstein is that it doesn't just parody Universal's super famous 1931 adaptation of Frankenstein, but also its sequels. In fact, Young's story has more in common with Son of Frankenstein. This helps things from feeling as overly familiar as another retread of the original story would, and it also provides a lot of fun references and in-jokes for people familiar with the rest of the series to pull out. Kenneth Mars' Inspector Kemp character, with his wooden arm and over-the-top German affectations probably strike many viewers as just a crazy, random character Brooks threw into the mix out of pure zaniness. But it's actually a direct parody, with a bit of gentle barb to it, of Lionel Atwell's Inspector Krogh, right down to gag of him sticking his throwing darts into his own wooden arm - that actually comes right from the originals!
The fact that this sticks so close to the classics is a large part of what makes this film work, as we've seen some other Brooks films go off the rails without the core structure to hold them together. It's almost like they're working with an earnest, serious Frankenstein script, and the amazing cast of actors - including Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn and Cloris Leachman - are just goofing around and making it a hilarious comedy. This is helped immensely by the great black and white cinematography, lavish score, and classic editing techniques, including iris fade-outs and dramatic establishing shots. First they made a great, traditional Frankenstein movie, and then they added the comedy to that foundation. Something Dracula: Dead and Loving It, for just one example, was lacking.
So, Young Frankenstein is quite a popular film that's naturally had a number of DVD releases over the years. It debuted on laserdisc in 1983, and got a special edition in 1996, where a lot of its current extras debuted. It came out on DVD in 1998, and again in 1999 - and that's the DVD I first purchased, and the first one we'll be looking at in our comparisons. There was a remastered edition in 2006, which was made as part of a Mel Brooks Collection boxed set but also sold separately; and that lead the way to its special edition blu-ray in 2008, both of which we also have today. In 2009, it was also included in the Mel Brooks Collection blu-ray boxed set. that was originally sold in a big, somewhat unwieldy-sized box with an impressive 116-page book, and in 2012, that same collection was sold in a more standard amary-sized case with a pretty generic 16-page booklet. And then of course, you probably remember all the press and hype last year's 40th Anniversary blu-ray release got, with all sorts of exciting new special features and an amazing transfer. But, whether you got the the original 2008 blu, the MB Collection blu or the new 40th, you actually got the same disc. Hence the controversy it generated among collectors. Now I've got all three blus here on my desk, and those DVDs, so let's have a look.
Fox 1999 DVD first; Fox 2006 DVD second;
Fox 2008 blu third; Fox 2012 blu third; Fox 2014 blu fifth.
Ooh, I forgot my old DVD was non-anamorphic; that makes me extra glad I updated to blu. Apart from that, the DVD doesn't look too bad.  And the 2006 DVD looks almost identical except that it's been anamorphically enhanced, which in the days of widescreen TVs is nothing to sneeze at.  Also, the framing has been shifting around ever so slightly.  The original DVD is a little off of a proper aspect ratio at 1.82:1, the 2006 DVD is a smidgen closer at 1.83:1, and finally the blus land squarely on 1.85:1.  What this winds up meaning is that the old DVD technically shows a bit more around the sides and bottom, but less on the top.  Then the second DVD shows more on the top but less on the bottom, and the blu finally settles on what you see in the shots above.
left to right: 1999 DVD; 2006 DVD; 2008 blu; 2012 blu; 2014 blu.
So being anamorphic gives the second DVD more resolution than its predecessor, but naturally, in terms of detail and clarity, the blu looks even better than either DVD. Which blu? Any of 'em, because they're all exactly the same! And I don't mean they just use the same transfer, though they do. I mean, both discs are exactly the same - same encodes, same language options, same extras, same menus. The only difference is the label affixed to the exterior. They are exactly the same disc.

I haven't seen the amount of press this blu-ray got in a long time. All the major newspapers and magazines ran articles, I even remember this getting written up in my local paper. And a lot of them implied (surely out of ignorance rather than a malicious attempt to mislead, but I wouldn't be surprised if the press releases they received were happy to give the wrong impression) that this was a fancy new and improved edition, with at least a bunch of compelling new extras. And if you look at them now online, there's tons of people commenting "can't wait to get this!" But we've already got it - it's the 2008 blu. All you got was new, worse cover art and (an admittedly neat gatefold) slipcover.
That said, though, it's not like the 2008 blu was in dire need of improvement. The 1.85:1 image looks nice, and grain is very clear and untampered with. Once you get a good look at the grain, there's not going to be any more detail to be mined from further scans. It's got uncompressed 5.1 audio and the original mono, plus a couple foreign dubs and multiple subtitle options. There's really no need for a 2014 upgrade.  The only real problem re: this controversy is the vast amount of publicity implying that this was something new and more than just a repackaging repress.  Sure, the Mel Brooks Collections were just repackaging the same discs, too; but at least they didn't give fans the impression we'd be getting anything new... just a nice way to get all (or at least many) of his films in one go.  It wasn't marketed to us as some sort of upgrade.  A lot of people were understandably upset they'd been misled into needlessly double-dipping.
Again, the extras are the same on all the blus. My local paper explicitly stated Mel Brooks recorded a brand new audio commentary, but it's the same one that goes all the way back to the original DVD. Still, it's a very robust collection that doesn't call for a whole lot more, and the 2008 blu did come up with a bunch of new extras in addition to the ones from the DVDs (both DVDs have all the same extras), all of which they ported over. So you've got Brooks' (old but still fine) commentary, and eleven interviews that can be viewed over the film itself (that wonky "bonus view" feature) or straight forward by themselves. There's the 21 minute documentary from the DVD and a new 41 minute documentary. Some of it also delves into the Young Frankenstein Broadway musical, which closed in 2009. So you might be wondering why they suddenly cut to a bunch of teenagers to get their interpretations of the characters, but I guess it would've been a little more relevant around the time of the first blu-ray.

Anyway, there's also a collection of outtakes, deleted scenes in SD and deleted scenes in HD. You might wonder why anybody would want to watch the SD ones if the HD ones are available; but it's because they're actually completely different deleted scenes; so be sure to watch both. There's a lot of great footage to go through! There's also a new interview with the composer, and vintage black and white interviews with Wilder and Feldman. Plus, there are galleries, a trivia track, TV spots and multiple trailers. I could've done without the Broadway asides, but overall it's a very fun, rewarding collection that's both informative and funny.
The good news about the 40th Anniversary edition is that it's cheap. It was priced to sell through at less than $8. So definitely pick it up if you haven't got this one already. The DVDs had a bunch of great extras - which, again, were carried over - but the new stuff is worth upgrading for, not to mention the boost to HD. If you've got the original blu-ray though, separately or in the Mel Brooks Collection - whatever you do, DON'T DOUBLE DIP.  😬

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like the marketing was controversial, not the disc.