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Mel Brooks
Mel Brooks, Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Ron Carey, Gregory Hines, Pamela Stephenson, Shecky Greene, Sid Caesar
Writing Credits:
Mel Brooks

This Mel Brooks comedy traces Western history from the dawn of man up through the French Revolution, including Brooks' take on the fall of the Roman Empire and the Spanish Inquisition.

Box Office:
$11 million.
Domestic Gross
$31.672 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Monaural
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 92 min.
Price: $139.99
Release Date: 12/15/2009

Available Only as Part of “The Mel Brooks Collection”

• “Musical Mel: Inventing the ‘Inquisition’” Featurette
• “Making History: Mel Brooks on Creating the World” Featurette
• “The Real History of the World Trivia Track”
• Isolated Score Track
• Trailers


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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History Of The World Part I (Mel Brooks Collection) [Blu-Ray] (1981)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 11, 2010)

Although some readers may feel otherwise, I don't usually set out to slam movies. Every once in a while I critique a film that I already know I hate, but usually that occurs because the disc in question is a hot property and we want to post the review of it. Sometimes it happens for other reasons, such as the fact I covered every one of the Oscar Best Picture-winning films on DVD. That meant I needed to confront flicks I knew I disliked, such as Rain Man.

However, I honestly try to remain open to new experiences, no matter how strongly the old ones make me believe I'll be unhappy. I know myself well enough that I'm not often surprised, but it does happen. For example, I expected to hate My Fair Lady because I usually don’t care for musicals, but I actually enjoyed the movie quite a lot.

In that vein, I decided to check out Mel Brooks' History of the World Part I. When I was a kid, I loved Brooks' works, but that was a long time ago, and I haven't felt that way in quite some time. Based on that background, I didn't expect to enjoy World but I figured I'd give it a shot. Ultimately, my original fears proved correct: this film offers a tremendously lame and unfunny experience from start to finish. Even as someone who isn’t wild about Brooks, I thought it seemed very weak.

As implied by the title, the movie attempts no formal plot and instead substitutes a variety of sketches. There are six of these overall - including a "preview" for World Part II at the end - but two of the segments dominate the film: one that looks at ancient Rome, and another that takes place during the French Revolution.

The extended length of those two pieces marks the movie's biggest mistake. Had Brooks featured a very large variety of brief bits, the film could have skated past more easily. The greater the variety, the less likely we are to become tired of one subject. Unfortunately, although these pieces could have featured greater depth, they just drone on well past the point of interest. Granted, they had little going for them from the start, but at times it seems they'll never end and any comic possibilities are long exhausted by the time they finally do finish.

My criticism of the longer segments may imply that the shorter ones are more amusing, but that's not the case either. They're just as insipid and humorless as the others, but at least the pass more quickly. Brooks often seems to confuse "offensiveness" with "cleverness", as we find during the musical treatment of the Spanish Inquisition. Brooks mined comic gold from "Springtime for Hitler" in his early film The Producers and appears intent on repeating this success, but similar victory escapes him. This piece lies flat on the screen and provides absolutely no wit or insight into the subject.

Much of the time Brooks also seems more concerned with cramming the film full of celebrity cameos. I'll leave out the names to avoid any possible spoilers, though most folks under the age of 30 - actually, many under 50 - probably won't recognize a lot of the stars who appear here. Cameos can be fun - in fact, one that occurs during Steve Martin's The Man With Two Brains is absolutely inspired and provides one of the movie's best bits - but the frequent reiteration of them smacks of desperation. Brooks couldn't think of better jokes so he hoped we'd be entertained by recognition value.

It doesn't work, though I respect his attempt to redeem this miserable material. How misguided and poor a film is History of the World Part I? The movie features a bevy of Playboy models - including personal favorite Lisa Welch, AKA the Most Beautiful Woman Who Ever Lived - but they don't take off any clothes! That's like hiring Picasso to perform a comedy routine.

Actually, that's not a bad idea. Unfortunately, Pablo was dead by the time Brooks made this film in 1981, but had he obtained someone similar to work in the project, it might have been more interesting. As it stands, History of the World Part I is a genuinely terrible movie with almost no redeeming value.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

History of the World, Part I appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though not flawless, the transfer held up well after almost 30 years.

Sharpness consistently seemed strong, with only a few instances of softness to be found during the movie. Some wide shots looked slightly ill-defined, but none of these examples caused concerns. All were brief and minor, so the majority of the flick appeared crisp and distinctive. No signs of jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no edge enhancement. In addition, the film suffered from only a smattering source flaws. Other than a handful of specks, it looked clean and fresh.

Colors seemed nicely bold and accurate, with some especially lush and rich reds on display at times. All the hues looked quite good and were quite lively. Black levels were dark and deep, and shadow detail seemed appropriately opaque without any excessive heaviness. This was a consistently positive transfer.

Expanded from the original monaural track – which also appeared here - the film's DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio provided pretty solid pizzazz. Granted, the soundfield didn’t reinvent too many wheels, as it remained moderately limited. However, music showed fairly nice stereo spread, and the soundscape opened up a bit. Most scenes just contributed some ambience – such as during crowd scenes – but a few were more expansive. With its Star Wars-style audio, “Jews In Space” gave us the most involving material.

Though a bit dated, audio quality was usually fine. Speech occasionally sounded a little dull, but the lines remained natural most of the time and seemed perfectly intelligible. Effects showed acceptable range and clarity; they didn’t excel, but they were fine. Music fared pretty nicely, as the score was reasonably vivid and concise. While nothing here dazzled, the audio was more than acceptable given its age and origins.

How do the picture and audio of this Blu-ray compare to the prior DVD? Both offered improvements. I thought the previous mono track seemed dull and flat, so the new 5.1 mix gave us more dynamic material. The visuals also demonstrated greater tightness and vivacity; while the DVD looked very good, it couldn’t compare to the Blu-ray.

While the DVD included virtually no extras, we get a smattering of elements on the Blu-ray. First comes a featurette called Musical Mel: Inventing the “Inquisition”. In this 10-minute, 40-second show, we hear from writer/director Mel Brooks, composer/lyricist Marc Shaiman, composer John Morris, Broadway director/choreographer Susan Stroman, choreographer Alan Johnson, Sledge Hammer! producer/creator Alan Spencer, writer/actor Rudy De Luca, associate producer Stuart Cornfeld, and actor Dom DeLuise. We learn a little about the film’s “Inquisition” scene and the creation of the musical number. Though we get too much generic praise of Brooks, we find a few decent notes about the song.

For the second featurette, we find the 10-minute, four-second Making History: Mel Brooks on Creating the World. It presents notes from Brooks, Spencer, Cornfeld, and De Luca. We learn a bit about various gags, cast and performances, sets and locations, and the flick’s reception. The other Brooks Blu-rays tend to provide longer featurettes, so I don’t know why World came with such a short one. Yeah, “Musical” compensates, but “Creating” still seems awfully brief and superficial. It throws out a smattering of useful details, but don’t expect much from it.

A subtitle commentary comes next. The Real History of the World Trivia Track gives us background about the periods/events depicted in the movie. It also tells us a little about cast and crew. Other Brooks trivia tracks tended to balance the two areas better, whereas this one doesn’t offer much about the film’s production. It’s a decent way to get some historical information, but it’s not as good as the other commentaries.

Movie music fans will be happy to find an Isolated Score Track. This presents the music in DTS-HD MA 5.1. If you dig film scores, you’ll be interested in this bonus.

Finally, we get a collection of trailers. The DVD includes ads for High Anxiety, History of the World Part I, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Silent Movie, To Be Or Not to Be and Young Frankenstein.

History of the World Part I stands as a perfectly dreadful flick. If there's any fun to be found in this clunker, I must have nodded off during those scenes. The Blu-ray itself provides very good picture and sound along with some interesting extras. Unless you're an absolutely fanatical Mel Brooks fan, skip this one, as it isn't worth the effort.

Note that this version comes as part of the nine-movie “Mel Brooks Collection”. It also includes The Twelve Chairs, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, High Anxiety, Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, To Be or Not to Be, and Robin Hood: Men In Tights. The “Mel Brooks Collection” packages all nine movies together with a hardcover book for a list price of $139.99.

To rate this film visit the Mel Brooks Collection review of HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART I

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