Young Frankenstein

Young Frankenstein (1974)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Teri Garr, Peter Boyle
Extras: Documentary, Outtakes and Interviews, Commentary Track, Trailers, Production Stills

It has taken a long time but finally the day is here. The 20th Century Fox fanfare has finally trumpeted out of our DVD review system. It has taken more than 18 months since the official launch of DVD as the new home video platform, but Fox have finally released their first DVD titles. Among them is one of the most powerful comedies of the 1970’s, Mel Brooks’ "Young Frankenstein". Here it is finally, in all its glory, as a Special Edition with a number of supplements.

Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) is a descendant of the infamous Baron Victor Frankenstein, creator of artificial life in Mary Woolstonecraft-Shelley’s classic novel. As do a great many others, he despises his great grandfather’s attempts to alter nature and has become a doctor in his own right. Then, through an unexpected inheritance, he discovers that he owns Victor Frankenstein’s castle, deep in the heart of Transylvania. He travels there and soon discovers his ancestor’s private library with all the documentation of his work. With the help of his hunchback assistant, Igor (Marty Feldman), and the bodacious Inga (Teri Garr), Frankenstein begins the process of breathing life into his own creature (Peter Boyle). Something goes wrong however and the creature turns out to be a monster… desperate for love!

Don’t be surprised if this story sounds somewhat familiar to you. "Young Frankenstein" is Mel Brooks’ and Gene Wilder’s homage to the classic Universal "Frankenstein" movies and filmmakers of silent horror movies like Lang, Dreyer and Murnau. Paying tribute to these influential films and directors, Brooks is very careful and serious about what he does. The film was shot entirely in glorious black & white and its cinematography is absolutely charming. You will see many image compositions that could have been directly lifted from one of those classic movies, though Brooks never plagiarizes. Brooks and his cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld successfully employed a series of traditional movie making techniques in order to match the visual style of the films of the era. As tribute to their efforts, the film never appears "modern" and always maintains the desired moody, gothic feel.

Every director has a film that defines his career. "Young Frankenstein" is this gem in Mel Brooks’ crown, and still ranks as his best film ever. It carries all of his trademark off-the-wall humor, a mixture between slapstick and outrageous silliness, and tops it all off with a good portion of gripping drama. The film is never shallow, and generally stays away from really cheap jokes. Even after seeing the film for the umpteenth time, it makes you crack up over and over again and the humor never wears off. The story surrounding the events depicted is highly dramatic and portrayed in a breathtaking production. The film would be nowhere nearly as good without the absolutely splendid acting of its cast, who carry the humor. Gene Wilder has never been better and his eyes sparkle with excitement, genius, and loveable madness. Marty Feldman lines up one joke after the other while Teri Garr, as the naïve and innocent Inga, brings a sensuality to the film that was missing from the originals. The characters are bursting of energy and literally bubble over with excitement. It is hard to put into words but you have to see the full-bodied acting the cast puts in to this film to appreciate the depth "Young Frankenstein" has. Even the smallest supporting parts – most notably Cloris Leachman and Kenneth Mars – are perfect cast and acted, resulting in an enjoyable film that easily measures up with today’s most hip comedies. As a matter of fact, it redefines the term "comedy" to an extent, because films like "Young Frankenstein" just aren’t made anymore these days. Just drop the disc in your player, sit back, enjoy the ride and you will see what I mean. I am sure it will be an unforgettable experience, and many of the film’s marvellous jokes and one-liners will be sticking around your head forever, together with the superb images Mel Brooks is conjuring up in this film.

The disc reproduces the film’s well saturated black & white imagery with deep, solid blacks and plenty of detail. Although not <$16x9,anamorphic>-enhanced, the amount of detail visible in the image is very high and breathes new life in the transfer. It is great to see that Fox don’t seem to have the start-up problems many other DVD publishers had with their early releases, as this disc is free of <$pixelation,pixelation> and other digital artifacts. The film contains a monaural <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack, featuring an amazing orchestral score by John Morris. It is a sad, almost luring score that perfectly underscores the story, the images, and the characters. It brings together the single pieces of the film and, like glue, ties them firmly together for an involving movie watching experience. The disc also contains a rather new 38-minute documentary as well as a series of trailers, interviews, production stills, and much more.

The film comes fully dubbed in English, French, and Spanish with optional English subtitles and also contains an exceedingly entertaining and informative <$commentary,commentary track> by director Mel Brooks. Unfortunately, the authoring of the disc doesn’t allow you to switch between the different audio tracks on the fly, using your "Audio" button on the remote control. Every time you want to change to a different language track or the <$commentary,commentary track> for that matter you will have to go through the disc’s main menu, which can become somewhat tedious.

If you have never watched "Young Frankenstein", you just don’t know what you’ve been missing. The film is one of the strongest comedies of all time, and no matter how many times you watch it, it never becomes boring. For some reason you always detect something hilariously new, something you have completely missed numerous times before. Not only is the film crazy with slapstick humor, it also has a lot of emotional impact on the viewer and creates a dramatic curve that is just as strong as those of the original Frankenstein movies. Fox’s very well produced disc makes this masterpiece all the more enjoyable. Get this disc!