Blazing Saddles

Blazing Saddles (1974)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, Harvey Korman, Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Pilot Episode, Deleted Scenes, Trailer

Mel Brooks' 1974 comedy "Blazing Saddles" is generally ranked as one of the funniest films ever made and is number 6 on AFI's list of 100 best comedies. While "Blazing Saddles" is certainly a funny film and great comedy, to me it never stood out as Brooks' best or funniest films. That honor would have to go to "Young Frankenstein" in my book. But be that as it may, Warner Home Video has prepared a HD-DVD version of the movie that I was eager to examine.

In order to snatch up some land that is desperately needed by the railroad, Wild West land shark Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) devises a plan to drive all citizens out of the city of Rock Ridge in order to deflate its value. His devious plan involves shooting the local authorities and then replacing the sheriff with a black man – something that was unheard of during that time.

Of course, his misguided plan backfires and soon Bart (Cleavon Little), the new sheriff, and his new best friend Jim The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder) make friends all over the place. Not only that, together they work on making Rock Ridge a better place, which includes dealing with Lamarr and his henchmen.

Wonderfully acted the film is filled with great gags and dialogue that will have you roll in laughter. Madeline Kahn's Marlene Dietrich impersonation as Lili Von Shtupp is simply hilarious and brings tears of laughter to my eyes every time, while Gene Wilder's completely understated Waco Kid is always a treat.

Warner Home Video is duplicating the 30th Anniversary DVD Special Edition of "Blazing Saddles" on this HD-DVD release, containing the same extras, but with a quality high definition feature presentation.

The transfer is offered up as a 1080p encoded video stream that looks very good. Not quite as breath-taking as some other high definition presentations, the film is free of blemishes and defects. The level of detail in the picture is high and makes sure that every little bit of image information is reproduced faithfully. Sadly, the original film seems to have fairly soft look that does lack some definition and as a result, the high def transfer reflects that as well. Only on a few occasions you will find yourself looking at the image, awed by the amount of detail you can detect. Still the high resolution, the razor-sharp edges and the incredible contrast of the transfer make "Blazing Saddles" a truly enjoyable romp on HD-DVD. Colors are rich and vibrant, and black levels are rock solid throughout.

The disc contains a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital Plus audio track in English as well as mono tracks in French and Spanish. While remastered and running at an improved bitrate, the audio presentation is virtually identical with the one found on the DVD, which is of course, a result of the technical limitations of the movie's original production.

The extras on the release are encoded in 480i standard definition and are identical to the features found on the DVD version. They look a bit better than on DVD, but that is simply a result of the Toshiba player's great upconverting ability and the improved color space of the HD-DVD format.

As extras you will find a commentary track by Mel Brooks on the disc. Though touted as scene-specific on the packaging, it is still the 55-minute interview-style commentary form the DVD. Too bad. A new full-length commentary track would really have gone a long way. Still, for what it's worth, the commentary is filled with valuable trivia and information, including many of the casting problems and issues that surrounded the movie and lead to last minute replacements of the main characters among other things.

Also included are the deleted scenes as well as the featurette "Back In The Saddle" and a 4-minute excerpt from the tribute documentary "Intimate Portrait: Madeline Kahn."

The 1975 pilot episode for the proposed TV series "Black Bart" that would have been a spin-off of the movie, is also included. Fortunately it wasn't picked up by any network because the pilot is not very good, really.

"Blazing Saddles" is not exactly a showcase release for HD-DVD but it will certainly please fans of the movie as it offers up an improved picture and if nothing else, a good excuse to revisit the movie.