Panavision - 2.35:1
2.29:1 - 16:9 - 1.37:1
Screenplay by: Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, Alan Uger
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Starring: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, David Huddleston, Liam Dunn, Alex Karras, John Hillerman, George Furth, Claude Ennis Starrett Jr., Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, Dom DeLuise
Although director Mel Brooks' first two films - The Producers and The Twelve Chairs - are now considered classics, they were boxoffice flops when originally released. It wasn't until Blazing Saddles that he struck gold with filmgoers everywhere. One of Brooks' best films (alongside his classic Young Frankenstein), Blazing Saddles is an utterly insane, hilarious and often-tasteless spoof of the Western genre. The story involves the little town of Rock Ridge, a town where everyone is named "Johnson" (there's Olson Johnson, Howard Johnson, Van Johnson...well, you get the picture). Since the railroad is going to be built near the town, nasty, evil politician Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) ("that's Hedley, not Hedy!") wants to become rich by grabbing all the local property for himself. Along with henchman Taggart (Slim Pickens), Hedley comes up with various schemes to accomplish this, only to be thwarted every step of the way by Bart (Cleavon Little), the town's new black sheriff. The townspeople don't approve of their new sheriff, but before too long he wins them over and saves them all from a unpleasant fate. Lead actor Cleavon Little's quiet, understated and extremely charming portrayal of Sheriff Bart is absolutely perfect, and I can't imagine anyone else undertaking the role. Gene Wilder is also wonderful as town drunk, formerly known as The Waco Kid, who has the fastest hands in the West (this was also back in the days when Wilder could actually act). Madeline Kahn also turns in a deliciously wicked performance as Lili Von Shtupp, a Marlene Dietrich clone; Alex Karras turns up as Mongo, a giant idiot sent in to destroy the town; Dom DeLuise appears as Hollywood director Buddy Bizarre; and director Mel Brooks appears as the moronic Governor Lepetomane and as a Jewish-speaking Indian Chief (he also puts in a cameo in the sequence where Hedley is interviewing gangsters). The title tune was sung by popular singer Frankie Laine, who thought he was doing a serious Western and gave his all for the performance (Laine was doing such a outstanding job that Brooks didn't have the heart to tell him the film was a comedy)!
The Blazing Saddles DVD was released through Warner Home Video on June 24, 1997. This DVD edition contains both widescreen and standard versions of the film, with each format appearing on its own side on the disc. Filmed in the 2.35:1 widescreen anamorphic Panavision process, Blazing Saddles appears with an approximate 2.29:1 aspect ratio for the letterboxed version (which is also enhanced for 16:9 TVs). For those of you who've only seen Blazing Saddles on laserdisc or on TV, this letterboxed edition is an absolute revelation. Not only does Mel Brooks fill the frame with all sorts of details that were completely out of sight in previous video versions of the film, but all of the gags play so much better when you can actually see what's going on in the entire frame at once (instead of cropping off the sides or repeatedly cutting back and forth across the frame, as has always been the case). If you are interested in seeing how the cropping and panning & scanning processes can destroy a film's composition, we suggest flipping the disc over and viewing the "standard" version. The Blazing Saddles DVD was authored by the folks over at EMA Multimedia, Inc., and as far as we've concerned, they are continually putting together the best DVDs in the business with regard to transfer quality, disc features, interactive menus, etc. Their letterboxed transfer just has to be seen to be believed, and the word "radiant" comes to mind instantly - the image is sharply defined, and I couldn't believe the amount of detail that is present in the transfer. As for the color transfer, the colors are vibrant, fleshtones are extremely accurate, everything just has a very fresh quality to it. I should mention that minor blemishes or marks do make an appearance once in a while, but in no way do they distract from the film or this exquisite transfer. The transfer for the standard version is nearly as good. The entire opening credits sequence is presented fully letterboxed, after which the picture zooms out to fill the entire screen (the end credits also appear fully letterboxed). Because the imagery has been expanded to fill your screen, the overall transfer comes across slightly softer than the letterboxed version, and the lighter portions of the image (i.e. blue skies, white, etc.) are a bit grainy. The color transfer seems just as magnificent. Don't get me wrong - this pan & scan version still contains an incredible amount of detail, it's just that it a little less sharp than the letterboxed version.
Both of the film versions contained on this DVD are far superior to Warner's 1991 pan & scan laserdisc release. On the laserdisc, the picture is very soft and everything had a "washed out" look to it. Colors are pale, contrasts are generally nonexistent, and detail is lacking. For example, just take a look at the ground in nearly any scene - on the laserdisc, the ground seems relatively smooth and only the larger rocks seem to stand out; on the DVD, every little pebble is shown in all its glory, and you see the intricate texture that is present. When comparing the panning & scanning between the two versions, both the LD and DVD features different cropping/panning most of the time. As far as framing choices go, it's a toss-up - sometimes the framing on the laserdisc is better, sometimes the DVD is better. Just take a look at the sequence in which Bart and his friend are sinking into the quicksand - the laserdisc crops the image closely so you can just see the two men as they are sinking; the DVD crops the image on each man and cuts between the two of them. Of course, since you really should be watching the director's intended letterboxed image instead, this is a moot point.
The soundtrack for Blazing Saddles has been made available in English, French and Spanish 1-channel Dolby Digital mono mixes. Although the film has a monaural mix, the English soundtrack is so clear and distinct that I almost swore that it was in stereo at times! The dubbing for the French-language version is extremely good as well, and the dialogue sounds a bit brighter than the original English due to the nature of the dubbing process (all the songs have been redone in French as well). Then we come to the Spanish-language version, which is a mixed blessing. All of the songs remain in their original English and sound just fine, but the remaining Spanish dubbing sounds worn and fuzzy. One nice touch on the Spanish-language track is that the written text (such as signs posted on doors) is spoken. Audio channel 4 also features an audio interview with Mel Brooks (details to follow later in this review). The soundtracks can be selected with your remote or through on-screen menu options.
The DVD contains English, French and Spanish subtitles, and is also encoded with standard English closed-captions. The subtitles and closed-captioning are fine and all the dialogue is apparently intact for the most part (there were a couple of translations I wasn't too sure about). Additionally, Madeline Kahn's dialogue is appropriately misspelled to match her lisp! The subtitles can be changed with your remote of through the on-screen menu options, but the closed-caption track requires an external decoder.
The interactive menu functions of Blazing Saddles are identical on both sides of the disc. "Jump to a Scene" first presents you with a main scene index divided into four pictured sub-divisions each representing six chapter choices (a start movie and end credits selection is also included). Each individual chapter is represented by a picture and written description, allowing for easy access. Additionally, you can easily flip back and forth between each of the four sub-division sections, so you don't have to go back to the main scene index to make your choice. The "Cast" section provides you with biographies and film highlights for stars Cleavon Little (3 frames), Gene Wilder (4 frames), Slim Pickens (4 frames), David Huddleston (2 frames), Mel Brooks (4 frames), Harvey Korman (3 frames), Madeline Kahn (4 frames), and director Mel Brooks (4 frames - same material as the previous Brooks selection). The "Production Notes" section (4 frames) is relatively worthless, featuring mostly minimal information. Most of the material talks about screenwriter Andrew Bergman's career, and is followed by one paragraph on the support cast, and a single sentence regarding the filming locations. The "Interview with Mel Brooks" selection features a brand new, exclusive-to-DVD audio interview with the director (by choosing this selection, the DVD changes to audio track 4 and goes to the beginning of chapter #2 which is where the audio interview begins). Since this 52m42s interview was not recorded while Brooks was watching the movie, his comments are not scene specific. However, they provide some valuable insight into the creation of the film and into filmmaking in general. Brooks starts out discussing the genesis of the screenplay and the startup of the project, and goes on to discuss how he really wanted screenwriter/stand-up comedian Richard Pryor to play the lead role (the studio nixed this choice due to Pryor's known drug habits). We find out that Gig Young was originally cast in the role of Jim, the town drunk, and Brooks explains the thinking behind getting a real live, known alcoholic to play an alcoholic - unfortunately, during the first day of shooting, Young got massively sick on the set thanks to his "little problem," and was taken away by ambulance never to return (Brooks' friend Gene Wilder was immediately brought in as a replacement). Also discussed are such items as the real Hedy Lamarr suing the production, the trials of getting Warner to actually release the film, and cuts the studio insisted he make (which he didn't). At the conclusion of the interview, the audio for the film's English-language soundtrack is brought slowly up. This interview is presented in a 1-channel Dolby Digital mono mix and sounds perfect. "Theatrical Trailer" brings forth an original 2m13s theatrical trailer for Blazing Saddles - overall, the trailer is in good condition considering it's age, but the print is somewhat dirty and the colors are faded. The trailer has been letterboxed at a 1.73:1 aspect ratio on the widescreen side, and has been both squeezed and cropped for the standard side (all the credits/text are squeezed, and the remaining footage is cropped). "Film Flash" offers Mars Attacks!, Maverick, National Lampoon's Vacation and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as future viewing choices. Finally, there are selections for "Language" and "Subtitles" options.
I was desperately hoping that the supplementary section would include the various deleted scenes and alternate takes that make an appearance in the television version (including some of the ones I know about that were not present in any version), but Warner has apparently opted not to include those scenes at this time. It's too bad, since these would have made a nice extra addition to an already exciting DVD (there is definitely more than enough room on the disc to have included these). Oh well...
The Blazing Saddles DVD is encoded for Region 1 players only (U.S., U.S. Territories, Canada), and comes packaged inside Warner's standard plastic and cardboard "keep case." The inside flap contains a full listing for all 25 chapters, and the packaging includes a two-sided insert card with "DVD Care Tips" and a "Regional Coding" world map.
Many people have been awaiting a letterboxed version of Blazing Saddles for many years, and laserdisc enthusiasts have been up-in-arms over Warner's decision to release it exclusively on DVD for the time being. Although no announcements regarding a letterboxed laserdisc edition have been made thus far, I would be very surprised if it didn't get released later on this year. Although it's not a consolation by any means, at least those of you with DVD players can finally enjoy the film the way it was meant to be.
Review by Jeff Krispow
Original Review: 06/27/97
Last Updated: 08/22/97