Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition...to be a song and dance number!
I can't imagine a proper introduction to Mel Brooks' 'History of the World: Part I,' I really can't. How does one breach the topic of a film that covers the history of mankind, through a farsical lens? Possibly Brooks' most ambitious film, 'History' is wide reaching, honest, and yet, at the same time, so horribly twisted that it is probably more real than we'd like to believe.
Narrated by one of the greatest men in the history of film, Orson Welles, 'History of the World: Part I' tells the tale of mankind, through numerous historic events, from the dawn of man, a key Biblical moment, to Roman times, the Last Supper and the Spanish Inquisition, to the French Revolution, to possible events in the future. A slanted eye and ability to accept obvious mistruths is required, but for those willing to believe what they see, a great treasure is waiting.
What makes 'History of the World: Part I' different from other Brooks film is tone, in that it has a more serious sense of humor, put into context, of course. This isn't a fish out of water comedy, but a bizarro-world of sorts. What makes it funny is that it is believable, from Cesar's non-chalant half-eaten chicken throw (which has to be the best moment in the film, just for its legitimacy), to the mannerisms of the cavemen, so unaware of the workings of the world around them. The entire film takes a modern approach to history, with altered sensibilities and gags and speech patterns and phrases not becoming of their time. One could battle the Spartans at Crete, but to fight the Cretins at Spart sounds much more enjoyable!
Brooks staples Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Ron Carey, and Rudy De Luca star, while Gregory Hines does a great job with little time to rehearse, an emergency fill in. Multiple actors play numerous roles, including Brooks, who stars in every segment he's in. There is no fluff in the film, as it runs an incredibly taut hour and a half. Frankly, the film is amazing, talking about it is silly, as it's much better to experience it, and with no better way to put it, you'd have to be a eunuch to not get a rise out of the film.
When invited to Rome, we see a land of fools and...greater fools, and it's hard to imagine our society not being looked at (ahem, mocked) in the same way some two thousand years from now. From corruption to invention and politics, old time Rome seems more a take on the modern world, yet it translates well to also fit the world of excess found in the history books, perhaps one of Brooks' best bits of writing in his storied career.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'History of the World: Part I' was initially available exclusively in 'The Mel Brooks Collection' box set, but has been given a standalone release for those not interested in buying all nine movies. The disc is identical in every way, down to the numbers on the barcodes on the underside of the disc, just like 'High Anxiety' and 'Robin Hood: Men in Tights.'
With a 2.35:1 1080p AVC MPEG-4 transfer, 'History of the World: Part I' benefits from the jump to high definition, though not as drastically as other releases in the set.
From the start, in dark cave shots in the early man sequences, delineation issues pop up, with sparse shadow detail. The rocks in the sets have fine detail, as does the sandy ground the actors trod along. Aliasing is not an issue, even in the large blocks of Rome. Whites are clean, while colors are natural, if not slightly subdued. The picture is quite deep, to boot.
Not all is well, though, as some shots have a hazy/soft appearance along the edges, slightly reminiscent of 'The Final Countdown,' while other shots have serious haloing issues, so thick and dark that they cannot be missed. Brightness can flutter in shots, while matte paintings stand out due to their dullness compared to the rest of the picture. Soft shots are occasional, though few and far between, while dirt is kept to a minimum. A solid transfer, though far from sparkling.
With a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (along with a pile of Mono tracks in varying languages, including English), 'History of the World: Part I' is more or less passable, nothing to get excited about.
The opening moments of score had my hopes up, but they quickly came crashing down as the sound built, with no bass to be found. Trumpets in the title sequence were robust, thankfully, not shrill. Dialogue is comprehensible for the most part, though Moses' lines sound muffled from time to time. Ambience is light, and far too low, considering how crowded many scenes are, especially in Rome. There's no rear activity to speak of, even in the most crowded of rooms or streets. There were a few moments of localization spread across the sound stage to justify calling this track a 5.1 mix. 'History of the World: Part I' is no frills, and somewhat cheap sounding, even for its age.
The lone extra found on the DVD release of 'History of the World: Part I' was the theatrical trailer, which is also included on this release. The remainder of the extras are new and exclusive to this Blu-ray.
'History of the World: Part I' is a great, great film. Sure, it's a tad scatterbrained, but it's so easy to get into, with tons of humor and a story far more coherent than any straightforward film covering the history of mankind could be. With good video and audio qualities added to the mix, this one would have been a definite purchase, but the small pile of extras limits the value on this disc. It's still worth a look at the very least, and is definitely worth a purchase for fans who didn't buy the box set.