"A History of the World: Part 1" Blu-ray Review
June 03, 2010 by Zach Demeter
Although the quality of his movies can vary wildly, there are few directors out there with the resilience of Mel Brooks. His films have spanned generations and spanned nearly three decades worth of entertainment with some of the best, brightest, and funniest talent in Hollywood. Although you don’t see much of him anymore (aside from the rather disastrous attempt at a Spaceballs animated series), his catalog speaks for itself and this recent wave of his classics on Blu-ray is fantastic representation of his works (if you didn’t already pick up that box set from around Christmas at least…in which case if you did, you can ignore these individual releases) if you aren’t already well-versed in the world of Mel Brooks.
The term “revisionist history” is given a new meaning in History Of The World: Part I, a laugh-filled version of the story of mankind. Featuring an all-star cast with Brooks, Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn and Gregory Hines, the film proves that nothing, including history, is sacred.
How does one tackle what is essentially the life’s work of Mel Brooks? Well I guess you could point out that they left out one of his more prolific works (The Producers) and one of his worst works (Dracula Dead and Loving It) from the set for whatever reason, but instead we’ll focus on the absolutely groundbreaking and hilarious films that are included here. While I grew up with Mel Brooks films getting a lot of playtime in my house, I hadn’t seen all of them (notably History of the World – Part I) until recently. This recent wave of Mel Brooks re-releases includes all of those from the previous Blu-ray box set except for The Twelve Chairs, so if you don’t own any of the Blu’s from that set, then you’re better off picking it up rather than these individuals (assuming you want to own all of them anyway).
Honestly it was nothing short of a delight to go through each of these films again (or for the first time). I’d seen most of them all on worn out VHS or bad cable signal TV airings before, so the Blu-ray renditions were rather eye-opening (although they all aren’t impeccable). At the same time some of these films I’d only seen once or twice and watching a Mel Brooks film only once is to it a great disservice; I watched Robin Hood – Men in Tights recently for the eleventh or twelfth time and I still pick up on jokes or looks on characters faces that I’d never seen before.
I’d only recently dug into A History of the World, Part I so my exposure to the film to the film prior was very limited. The R rating meant it was pretty much banned in my household while I was growing up and finally watching it when I was in the MPAA designated age group made the film come off as a lot more tame than I initially expected; granted, there are quite a few more sex jokes (as well as some drug references and a few F-bombs sprinkled here and there), but overall it really isn’t any worse than Brooks other efforts. It’s pretty disappointing that there was never a sequel to this film though, as it really was probably one of Brooks works that truly deserved to be given a follow-up (hell, there was basically a trailer for it in the end credits!).
Having said that this is far from my favorite Brooks film, which is odd considering it has so many great elements in it. Like watching a modern remake or a movie that is “inspired” by other older works, you get so used to the jokes in the newer movies that when you see them in older ones you can’t help but yawn and wonder when the critically acclaimed film will actually make you laugh. I felt that way during some of History of the World: Part I, simply because a lot of the jokes were reused in future films (at least two of which were brought up again in Men in Tights) and I’d already seen those so it immediately felt less original to me.
Overall it’s hard to really discredit this film though; it really was the first to unleash some of these jokes unto the viewing public and it really is a hilarious way of telling the history of the world, even if it is so warped and disjointed that it rarely makes sense. That probably is one of my least favorite things about the film—the real lack of a story to progress it along; it just hopped from time period to time period with little (if any) coherence. The ultimate re-appearance of a character from earlier in the film at the end only furthered to confuse me as to what this film was trying to be, as I thought for sure I’d pegged it as a kind of sketch comedy piece…but, nope. I give up, as it really doesn’t matter—Brooks is a master at what he does and like all his works this one only gets better with repeat viewings. I can’t say I’ll be jumping at the idea of watching it again anytime soon, of course, but it still is a Recommended outing if you’ve yet to see it.
With the DVD having been out of print for awhile, it’s nice that Fox has released the film singly on Blu-ray so fans of it aren’t forced to buy the pricier set (although if you like Brooks stuff, you should probably just bite the bullet since it’d be cheaper in the end likely). As is this a pretty decent release and is identical to the aforementioned (many times) Mel Brooks Collection, so if you’ve read a review of that box set then you know what to expect here from these individual releases.
When I’d first seen this movie it was on the DVD release from Fox that saw release five or six years ago (or more, I honestly don’t remember when I bought it). The image then even impressed me given the films age, but the Blu-ray transfer that Fox pulled out for this release really blew me away at how clear it was. There is plenty of detail on the screen at any given moment and considering the films nature to change scenery every few minutes, there’s plenty of different sets, time periods, and clothing styles to gaze upon. Audio, a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, is equally as impressive, with a crisp and clean presentation throughout, although the LFE and surrounds don’t get used a ton. It’s the musical number halfway into the film that stands out the most, as it spreads itself all around the room quite well and reminds you that you do indeed have a surround system hooked up. Overall a solid A/V presentation and a very impressive one given the film is almost 30 years old at this point.
Extras are, again, identical to the Mel Brooks Collection. Included:
• Musical Mel: Inventing “The Inquisition” (10:40, 1080p)
• Making History: Mel Brooks on Creating the World (10:05, 1080p)
• The Real History of the World - Trivia Track
• Isolated Score Track (DTS MA)
As with a few of these Brooks re-releases, the DVD editions that existed previously were either bare bones or damn near close. These new Blu-ray releases don’t always sport the newest of material, but the half-hour recap of the production of this film is a nice addition. I could’ve gone for more, but overall it’s a satisfactory addition to what could have been a very barren release. Plus the fact that these are all new extras help too—the original DVD release had the theatrical trailer and that was it.
Overall a solid Blu-ray and one that’s Recommended as the bonus extras may warrant dumping the old DVD release for some (depending on how much you enjoy the film, I suppose).
A History of the World is now available on Blu-ray.