Young Frankenstein Blu-ray Review
You would be hard-pushed to complain about this transfer, even Mel Brooks is happy with it. Encoded via AVC MPEG-4, this magnificent 1.85:1 image retains its full grain structure and perfectly showcases that vintage “feel” that Brooks was so determined to capture. Viewers who had hoped for a digitally clean print will have to look elsewhere as this is one of Fox's most respectful catalogue titles so far. DNR is most certainly not an issue here.
With imagery this moody and spectacularly homage-rife, you can bet that many hi-def fans are going to be gasping with the wrong sort of horror when they clap eyes on it. Make no mistake, this is not a scintillatingly scrubbed-up and noise-reduced Mecca of digital sprucing. This is the original 1974 movie revealed and highlighted in all its nostalgic glory.
Contrast is excellent, when you consider that absolute separation between light and dark throughout is not the order of the day. There are instances when the contrast fluctuates and flutters in portions of the image, and really it is difficult to state, with your hand on your heart, whether or not this is all part of Brooks' and DOP Gerald Hirschfield grand throwback design - but, in my opinion, I think that it is. Whites never bloom and blacks are often stout and thick. I say “often” as opposed to “always” because the film intentionally evokes that flickering, vari-hued look of old film stock for much of the time, thus it does not always remain so steadfast and resolute. The film is suffused with acres of shadow, however, and any slide-off to grey is almost certainly deliberate and not a result of lapsed integrity of the transfer. There are times when the shadows can become a little more diffuse, softening-up and becoming infiltrated by those lingering greys but, once again, this is more in-keeping with the visual style that Brooks wanted to achieve, making Young Frankenstein one of the most accurate presentations of convincing vintage-reproduction that I've seen.
Comparing this to earlier versions of the film on disc reveals tremendous levels of detail upon faces - eyes, especially - objects, clothing and sets. The older versions were glassy, clean and smooth, bereft of texture. Where the 1080p version seems possessive of far more grain, it also yields far more depth and integrity. Just look at the walls, the cobwebs, the paintings, the lab equipment and the books on the shelves - there is plenty of added detail presented. Close-ups offer the most emphatic results, but there is often a lot more to be seen around the frame and further back, though this element is not nearly so consistent, with some scenes losing that degree of detail from the mid-ground backwards. Mind you, the scenes in the cobbled streets of the village - fabulous expressionistic buildings and shadow formations - look much better than ever before.
What you certainly won't see is anything spectacularly sharp. Edges, mostly un-enhanced, by the way, melt into their surroundings and characters move through a misty veil of time-enveloped patina. Three-dimensionality is hardly rife, but there are odd shots, such as the camera prowling around the coffin at the start, or following Frederick and Inga as they descend the stone staircase, that look pretty special and full of depth. Deep-focus photography comes across well, but there is still that enormously deep shot of our heroes having breakfast (“Kipper?”) that leaves them as hardly discernible figures in the far-off distance.
However, this is a delightful aesthetic, to be sure. Personally, I am enamoured by the use of black and white cinematography - whether it be the genuine, misted-over article or a modern-day recreation a la The Mist's more atmospheric B/W version, Night Of The Living Dead's grainy newsreel effect, or either the glowing sheen of the Coens' The Man Who Wasn't There or the beautiful chiaroscuro (light and dark) of The Elephant Man (which, incidentally, Mel Brooks financed) - but Young Frankenstein just has to be the best mock-vintage that there is. And here, on BD, it finally seems to generate that unique monochromatic lustre with the style and mood-draped ambience that it has always cried out for. It shouldn't be clear. It shouldn't be razor-sharp.
It should look like an old Universal Horror film. And it does ... a hi-def Universal Horror film. I once stated, way back when 1080p material was only just surfacing, that I doubted how well such vintage material would hold up with extra resolution. If this is any indication, then those precious old chillers should look very special indeed.
Yeah, well, in-keeping with the vintage visuals, you really shouldn't go expecting too much from the audio side of things, either. Although furnished with a lossless DTS-MA 5.1 track, Young Frankenstein is still pretty much a retro-themed experience. So, basically, you won't get much wraparound surround activity ... or much of a write-up here, actually!
Most of the action is front and centre. Young Frankenstein isn't strictly dialogue-driven - there are plenty of effects with thunder and lightning, creaking doors, shattering timber, electrical circuits and whatnot - but much of this extra dynamism is confined to the frontal array and only sporadically distributed about the set-up. The spread across this front-wave isn't especially wide, nor particularly expressive. Things still sound slightly set-back and timid - not drowned-out or muted, you understand, just not thrust outward at you or with any real sense of either weight or spatial dimensionality. Steerage is there to some degree but there really isn't any example of superb directionality that is worth speaking of. The crackling of electrical discharge accurately mimics the old films' sound, but there are a few louder snaps and buzzes that bring a smile to the face - such as the flash-bang from the “two nasty switches” that Eye-gor manages to evade throwing. The rears are only brought into play to help add a touch of environmental ambience, although Morris' score can sometimes get something of a boost as well. In fact, it is probably his music that comes across the best of all. His strings are sweet and clear, his tumble of brass and percussion well rendered and his gorgeously lush old school orchestrations warm and detailed.
Sub-action is not a priority, either. But deeper impacts are nicely shouldered by the rest of the set-up and still have presence. Dialogue is fine. It never sparkles, but everything is crystal clear with the odd outburst given life - “Damn your eyes!”, etc. Thus, Young Frankenstein again seems to have done everything as authentically as it could. Fox also supply the original mono track, but the DTS-MA does sound a bit more exciting and detailed, without being stupidly elaborate or sonically pushy.
Wow. There's a laboratory-full of extras stitched into this monstrous package.
We've got the excellent commentary from Brooks that is definitely worth listening to. He has a right old time of it, but is also very good at delivering fact and trivia and embellishing the production. The marvellous thing about it is that he adopts the very same style that frequent disc commentators - film-critics, writer and genre academics Rudy Behlmer, Tom Weaver and Scott McQueen - usually have when they contribute chat tracks to the Universal Horror discs that come along. Starting off with the opening credits, Brooks seems to have a story about everyone listed, and this name-dropping and anecdote career filler sprinkles his golden track throughout. But, far from being a gag-a-thon, Brooks is extremely erudite, knowledgeable and opinionated as well as being extremely entertaining. He stays pretty much scene-specific but seems to be able to deviate liberally whilst still covering the production in a fabulously linear manner. Pointing out jokes here and there that he loves - and a few that he didn't think would work - he is also very keen to praise his cast for their often improvised additions. This is a terrific commentary, folks, that is certainly as respectful and heart-warming as it is informative.
Taking full advantage of Blu-ray's added interactivity, we also get a BonusView-enabled feature, Inside the Lab: Secret Formulas in the Making of Young Frankenstein, that allows us to view copious little vignettes that go behind the scenes and hear from noted fans, writers, production crew etc about various aspects of the film. This array of bonus footage can also be viewed independently of the movie. These snippets can also be viewed separately from the movie.
Seven Deleted Scenes are interesting and come in both HD and SD flavours.
It's Alive! Creating A Monster Classic (31.16) is a very decent retrospective look at the making of the film, featuring lots of interviews with cast members and heaps of amusing stories and praise for what was achieved. The set construction, the photography and the improvisational nature of the cast are all covered. Obviously loving, but never sickeningly fawning this is still a praise-fest that promotes the film un-equivocably.
Making FrankenSense of Young Frankenstein (41:52) is another fine retro making-of that covers much of the same ground, but still manages to shift the focus and throw new light on aspects of the production. Gene Wilder has a lot to say and we get a fairly comprehensive account about how the script came about and how it evolved, how the cast and crew were recruited and what they managed to bring to the party and just how determined everyone was that the film should look and sound exactly right and fit in with the old Universal canaon.
Transylvanian Lullaby: The Music of John Morris (10:29) is a nice look at the film's memorable score and the influences that drove its composer to create it. Very commendably, Fox even allow to us hear his often underrated score on an isolated track in full DTS-MA as well.
The Franken~Track: A Monstrous Conglomeration of Trivia is a basic pop-up trivia track that you can have playing alongside the movie to yield up yet more fun facts about the production and the people behind it.
Then we get the Mexican Interviews that provide us with two interviews in a mixture of Spanish and English, the first being held with Marty Feldman (3:45) and the second with Gene Wilder and Cloris Leachman (2:53). I must admit that I didn't sit through this time around, as I recall them from a previous edition as not being up to much. But, much better, is the sheer wealth of production photographs and stills, the series of TV spots (lasting 3:21), and five theatrical trailers (7:07).The Blucher-Button is a bit of pap - a kooky idea at first, but hardly something that you're going to keep on experiencing. You simply activate the feature and press a button to hear the horses whinny and snort in their time-honoured frenzied reaction to the mention of Frau Blucher. Brooks is in love with this element of the film. If you ever saw him on the Frank Skinner Show a good while back, you would have witnessed the distressing and humiliating sight of him trying to elicit audience participation with a hearty and raucous “Blucher!” - that fell totally and embarrassingly flat.
And, finally, we have the series of Outtakes that somehow aren't as funny as you wish they were. Given the talents and the enormously quick-witted sense of humour inherent within each and every member of the cast, this smorgasbord of fluffs and foul-ups comes across as a little pedestrian and restrained.
All in all, though, this is possibly everything that you could have wished for - except for Garr and Kahn coming along for a roll in ze hay!
VerdictYoung Frankenstein may not have quite the same appeal to a fresher generation, a generation that is perhaps not as familiar with the original Universal films in the first place, or even with Mel Brooks' unique ensemble panto-style of broad parody, but the film remains one of the those genre classics that has made its stamp with unqualified success and a far-reaching influence. Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman were never better. Many cite Blazing Saddles or The Producers as the rascally filmmaker's best efforts, but I would always plump for this lovingly comical tribute any day. He would go on to parody the vintage horror field again with Leslie Nielson in Dracula - Dead And Loving It (1995), but the magic had, by now, dissipated and the film, still enjoyable, fails to hit the right chord.
The hi-def transfer for Young Frankenstein is excellent and a far cry from the detail-scrubbed SD editions that came before. The leap to lossless audio isn't such an obvious success in the grand scheme of things, but it still doesn't do anything wrong - so you pays your money and you takes your pick. I mean, you can't wrong as the original track is there too. And the extras are almost worth the price of admission alone. Everything that has been offered before is present and correct and there is a fine selection of new material as well. All in all, Young Frankenstein makes a truly awesome debut on Blu-ray and gets itself a very rich and rewarding 9 out of 10.
Altogether now - “Blucher!!!!”
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.79
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