Robin Hood: Men in Tights [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (30th July 2010).
The Film

Prince John: Why should we listen to you?
Robin of Loxley: Because unlike some other Robin Hood's I can speak with an English accent.

By the 1990's, Mel Brooks had already taken on the western, Frankenstein and his monster, silent movies, Alfred Hitchcock, the entire history of the world (up until about 1790), and even ventured into space to poke fun of George Lucas. The recurring theme here, I think, is that with his body of work, Brooks has always liked to make fun of “classic” films, be it from the silent era, golden age Hollywood or more modern fare like “Star Wars: A New Hope” (1977). It seems logical, and even fitting, then that eventually one of cinema and literature’s most prominent figures, Robin Hood, (there are nearly twenty television and movie adaptations of the same story; apparently Robin and celluloid just fit together) would get worked over by the funny-man, who is a great admirer of Michael Curtiz’s “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938) starring Errol Flynn.

It’s his love of the 1938 “original” that made Brooks want to try his hand at twisting the legend and character in his own demented way (which he first tried with the short-lived TV series “When Things Were Rotten” (1975)), but personally I like to think it was the pretentious Kevin Reynolds film “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (1991), starring Kevin Costner, that was the catalyst which got “Men in Tights” finally off the page and onto the screen, because Brooks’ take on the story is as much a send up to Warner Brother’s Technicolor marvel, as it is a bitter parody of the abominable big budget mistake. The basic story is a mishmash of the original legend, the Curtiz film, and the newer remake, but Brooks’ script, co-written by Evan Chandler and J.D. Shapiro, also riffs on unrelated bits of pop culture, like a rapping trio who explain the plot at intermittent points (which is coincidently the most dated aspect of the film; the song and attire place the film squarely in the early, but not too early, 90's), and references “The Godfather” (1972), “Home Alone” (1990), “Gone with the Wind” (1939), and shamelessly, nearly all of the films in Brooks’ own canon.

For me, it’s the latter half of that last sentence – the references to movies that have absolutely nothing to do with the Robin Hood mythos or the adventure-movie genre in general – which sits wrong with me (and the rapping is terrible). These “jokes” are almost solely the reason why I didn’t give this film a higher rating and they are the picture's main problem. The shredding of plot and multitude of gags that pertain to the Robin Hood story or the movies that are based on the legend are perfectly funny, relevant and haven’t dated the film one bit. Sure, Cary Elwes’ line about speaking with an English accent may connect “Men in Tights” with 1991's bastardization known as “Prince of Thieves”, but at least the joke has something to do with the characters and universe in which Robin Hood exists and the parallel has some basis to stand on (actually more than you might know: before Costner was cast, Elwes was approached to star in the Reynolds film). The same can’t be said for the pointless Macaulay Culkin look-alike doing the patented hands-on-cheeks scream; a joke that was already tied and overdone by the time “Men in Tights” was made, and is even less amusing today. Same goes for the Don Giovanni (Dom DeLuise) “The Godfather” skit; sure it might be sort of amusing, but it’s an easy joke and something that doesn’t really belong in 12th century England or a film about Robin Hood, no matter if it’s a meta-reference of not.

I have less of a problem with Brooks’ referencing of his own work – it’s basically a trademark of his films – but I do have a problem with the fact that many of the self-references (and breaking of the fourth-wall jokes) are just so simple, obvious and often, lame. Much like his recycling of the “people-mispronounce-the-name-of-Harvey-Korman’s-character” shtick from “Blazing Saddles” (1974) that he re-used in “History of the World, Part I” (1981), Brooks just lazily throws in jokes he’s already written, namely the “it’s good to be the king” line from “History of the World, Part I”, and also pointlessly makes reference to his other works, like having Dave Chappelle, upon being considered for as the new Sheriff of “Rottingham” (rotting ham, har-har, I get it), mention straight to the camera, “Well, it worked in "Blazing Saddles!’”

Even with some of it’s more noticeable problems, the fact is “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” is still fairly funny. In fact some of the films more important elements, primarily the casting, are downright brilliant. Cary Elwes, an actor born to play Robin of Loxley if there ever was one, has the character down-pat. He sarcastic, but likable, tough, but just doughy enough to be, well, basically Westley from “The Princess Bride” (1987), which is perfect, because The Dread Pirate Roberts is a thinly-veiled Robin Hood model anyway. Richard Lewis, with his apathetic demeanor, isn’t so much perfectly cast as the supposedly threatening Prince John, as he is perfectly miscast. (And the gag with the shifting of his mole is pretty funny too.) The yummy Amy Yasbeck isn’t terribly difficult to look at, which I guess is about the best thing one can say about a character as hollow and dull as Maid Marian. Roger Rees plays the Sheriff with delight, and is as non-threatening as Alan Rickman’s character in “Prince of Theives” was the opposite (I will admit that Rickman was one of the few good parts of that otherwise dreadful movie; but that’s neither here nor there). Really everyone is good in his or her role, but it’s Tracey Ullman who steals the show as the slovenly witch named Latrine. (Patrick Stewart also has what could be considered one of the greatest cameos ever, as the good King Richard, who arrives just in the knick of time to save the day with his intentionally thick Scottish accent, which is neither technically correct, nor consistent, but hilarious considering it’s a parody of Sean Connery’s role in “Prince of Thieves”).

Bits of the film still slay me; especially Brooks’ Rabbi Tuckman, with his enquiring “Faygelehs?” accompanied by a wishy-washy tottering hand, when he is stopped by Robin and his merry men, to which Robin replies in a rather over-compensating butch voice, “No, no. We're straight. Just... merry.” In fact that whole scene, Tuckman’s joy over Loxley and Bahgel, his explanation as to the purpose of a Moyle and the process of circumcision (plus the punch line that is the recoil by Robin and his men) is just totally, completely funny. Still, I have to admit, in the ten or so years that it’s been since I’d last seen “Men in Tights” from beginning to end before this review, my thoughts and feelings have about the film have significantly changed. For a long time, in my ignorant and small-minded youth, at time when I watched and rewatched the film religiously on HBO, I thought that “Men in Tights” was not just Brooks’ best movie (I was an idiot; for years, I disliked “Young Frankenstein” (1974), not because it wasn’t funny, but because it was in black and white!) but also the funniest comedy of all time. Needless to say my opinion has changed. Not only is “Robin Hood: Men In Tights” about as far from the greatest comedy ever made as you can get, but it’s also a much worse film than nearly half of Brooks’ own catalog. Then again, “Dracula: Dead and Loving It” notwithstanding, most of his films are still solid comedies that work, so that might not be a bad thing.

Video

“Robin Hood: Men in Tights” arrives on Blu-ray with a decent transfer of a somewhat problematic source. I’m positive that the 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded high definition 1.85:1 widescreen transfer accurately reflects the intended look of director Mel Brooks and director of photography Michael D. O’Shea, it’s just that their particular vision isn’t exactly tailor-made for Blu-ray. The film is primarily soft, with a mildly diffused (and sometimes misty) glaze, which leaves detail on the low end of the spectrum. Colors are natural, but fairy unimpressive. Contrast, and the overall texture of the image, is pretty flat with little appreciable depth, although blacks are almost always sufficiently deep (even if shadow delineation is only decent). The transfer retains a mild dusting of film grain, while showing no signs of digital noise reduction, compression artifacts, noise, debris, or any other nefarious print defects or manipulations. A few scenes towards the end of the film do look a tiny bit digital, as if they might have been artificially sharpened, but I can’t say with absolute certainty whether any edge enhancement has been applied (and even if it has, it’s only in those last few scenes). Overall, this is a solid, but unspectacular transfer of a mediocre looking film.

Audio

This is probably the most active English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround (48kHz/24-bit/4 Mbps) soundtrack found on the current Mel Brooks Blu-ray discs, but that’s sort of to be expected considering it’s also the newest. Released theatrically in Dolby Surround, “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” actually has some genuine activity in the rears, and not just from the score unlike most of Brooks’ other films thanks to their remixes, but from subtle effects. It doesn’t have the level of ambience found in a film that was originally recorded in a true 6-channel format, but stereo panning is good and rear activity is decent. The film still suffers from the ills of its genre: bass is just about non-existent and, while clarity is markedly improved, the overall track isn’t that robust. Still, compared to the other Brooks films, this is probably the most dynamic and well-done mix, if only just.
Fox has also included the original English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround (48 kHz/224 kbps) mix from the DVD, plus Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround (48kHz/224 kbps) and French Dolby Digital 2.0 surround (48kHz/224 kbps) dubs.
English and Spanish subtitles are included.

Extras

All of the Brooks Blu-rays from this wave have some form of supplemental material, including at least one featurette (in high definition), an isolated score, and a bonus trailer gallery for Mel’s other movies. “Men in Tights” contains a decent amount of bonus features, some of which are new content (exclusive to Blu-ray), and of some of it… basically older than digital home media itself, going all the way back to the days of Laserdisc. Extras are presented in a mix of standard definition and high definition.

First up, we get the audio commentary from the original Laserdisc, with director Mel Brooks. I usually find Brooks to be a very funny man, even in his commentaries, but unfortunately he isn’t much of a commentator this time around, perhaps because the concept of having to talk over your own movie was still a fairly new experience in 1994. He often just spends the time describing the action occurring on screen, and very infrequently cracking a joke. This isn’t the stuff of great insight, but the track does have some (slight) merit. Also, while the commentary is around fifteen years old, it wasn’t included on any of the DVD's for some reason, so the chance that fans have already heard this track is unlikely (unless you were part of the niche who owned Laser), and that makes it at least a little more interesting.

Next, “Robin Hood: Men in Tights – The Legend Had it Coming” (480i, 26 minutes 14 seconds) is an old “HBO First Look” TV special, hosted by star Cary Elwes. As you’d expect from this sort of early 90's TV special, the show is filled with lots of self-important talking heads and other types of EPK fodder, but the piece isn’t entirely pointless. This thing’s old and a bit too promotional to have true value, but for nostalgic purposes, and a few brief minutes of on-set B-roll, it might be worth your time – once.

“Funny Men in Tights: Three Generations of Comedy” (1080p, 13 minutes 49 seconds) is a newly produced featurette exclusive to Blu-ray. Brooks and many of the cast and crew return to discuss the film, particularly it’s blending of comedians from different age groups to create the cast of characters. In all this isn’t a bad featurette, just a little on the short side. It pales in comparison to many of the other featurettes included on the other Brooks Blu-rays, but so does the film itself in many ways.

Hummie Mann’s original score is also included via an isolated track, encoded in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixed at 48kHz/24-bit. As it’s such a rarity these days (off the top of my head, I can count the number of Blu-ray discs with isolated scores on my fingers and toes, not counting these Brooks discs (all of which feature the option) and of those that do, even fewer offer them in lossless), the simple fact that there’s an option to listen to the score without dialogue and sound effects is a huge plus. Having said that, this is a simply the score sans other audio; it does not include commentary from the composer between tracks or offer an expanded version of the soundtrack, and that’s sort of disappointing. Nope, instead the track takes the untouched audio from the scoring sessions, which is sort of cool (you get a few “1, 2, 3, 4…”s and bit of pre-show chatter), presented in lossless form.

A high definition version of the original theatrical trailer (1080p, 1 minute 14 seconds) rounds off the film-centric extras.

Finally, Fox provides bookmarks and a series of bonus trailers (1080p) for other Brooks films currently available on Blu-ray, including:

- “High Anxiety.” 2 minutes 43 seconds.
- “History of the World, Part I.” 2 minutes 48 seconds.
- “Silent Movie.” 1 minute 53 seconds.
- “To Be or Not to Be.” 2 minutes.
- “Young Frankenstein.” 2 minutes 39 seconds.

Packaging

A majority of the Mel Brooks catalog was first released on Blu-ray as part of the 9-disc, 9-film “Mel Brooks Collection” late last year. Now, three of the films previously exclusive to that set – “High Anxiety”, “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” and “History of the World, Part I” – join three of their companions already available in high definition – “Blazing Saddles”, “Young Frankenstein” and “Spaceballs” – as standalone discs. Each film arrives in an Elite Eco case, with box art that usually replicates the previous DVD cover. For each standalone release, film content and bonus features are identical to what was included in the box set. The elaborate book from the “Collection” fails to make the transition in any form. “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” arrives on a dual layer BD-50 and is region free.

Overall

“Robin Hood: Men in Tights” wasn’t exactly the film I remembered, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s still fairly funny – if not as much as I once thought – and there are certainly worse films (by Brooks even) on store shelves. This standalone Blu-ray edition finally gives fans the option of owning the film without the being forced to buy the far more expensive “Mel Brooks Collection.” Video and audio are both solid, and a few new extras make this worth of a recommendation – especially for Mel Brooks fans.

The Film: B- Video: B- Audio: B- Extras: C Overall: B-

 


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