Considering the 1968 version of THE PRODUCERS provided Mel Brooks his greatest artistic triumph in the cinema- an Academy Award for its screenplay, it should come as no surprise that revisiting the property for the theater offered Brooks the crowning achievement in a career that spanned more than five decades. For those unfamiliar with the Broadway production of THE PRODUCERS, this musical reworking of Brooksí comic gem garnered a record setting twelve Tony Awards. And now, coming full circle, the "Broadway Musical" version of THE PRODUCERS has been readapted to the medium that originally spawned it.
While THE PRODUCERS is fun to watch in its latest cinematic incarnation, it isnít perfect. The movie musical version of THE PRODUCERS lacks the magical quality of the original film. The biggest problem with this latest celluloid version of THE PRODUCERS is the fact that the film doesnít feel particularly cinematic. Featuring the stage director behind the camera and much of the original Broadway cast, out front, THE PRODUCERS plays more like a transcription of a stage show, instead of a movie. Of course, the fact that most of the performers are playing to the cheap seats, instead of reining in their performances for the camera is a bit off-putting for an Average Joe moviegoer. Despite the performances being a little too broad for the screen, I myself enjoyed THE PRODUCERS. Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick display good chemistry together (perhaps not as good as Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, but still fun), additionally, Uma Thurman is luminescent in her singing and dancing role, plus Will Ferrell proves to be a genuine revelation with his fine comic performance.
With minor alterations to the story and the removal of one of my favorite characters from the 1968 film, Mel Brook keeps the basic premise of his musical version of THE PRODUCERS pretty much the same. The plot of THE PRODUCERS concerns formerly successful Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane), who has taken to romancing little old ladies as a means getting the money to produce plays. Into the quagmire of Maxís existence comes a neurotic accountant named Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick), who is required to audit the books of the last Broadway flop bearing the Bialystock name. While going over the books, Leo discovers that Max actually raised a few thousand dollars more than the production actually cost, which enabled Max to pocket the difference. It is at this point; Leo suggests that a producer could theoretically make more money with a flop, than he could with a hit. That is if one were unscrupulous enough to repeat what Max did accidentally on his last production- only on a much larger scale.
Seeing dollar signs before his eyes, Max hatches a scheme to produce a surefire flop and head off to Rio with a small fortune in investor money. In his quest to produce the mother of all Broadway flops, Max selects Springtime For Hitler, a love letter to Der Fuhrer penned by demented former German soldier Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell). Springtime For Hitler is such an abomination that that Max guarantees the play will close shortly after the curtain rises on the first act. Of course, Max isnít taking any chances with his flop, so he hires Roger De Bris (Gary Beach), the worst possible director to turn the show into an even more tasteless pieceÖ as a gaudy musical extravaganza. Shortly after setting up shop, Max and Leo hire the statuesque Ulla (Uma Thurman) as their receptionist and future leading lady of their first production. While Springtime For Hitler would appear to be destined to close on opening night, a last minute casting change miraculously changes the flop into a riotous comic hit, which leaves our underhanded Broadway producers holding the bag. The cast of THE PRODUCERS also features Roger Bart, Michael McKean, Eileen Essell, David Huddleston, Debra Monk, Andrea Martin and Jon Lovitz.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has made THE PRODUCERS available on DVD in a 2.35:1 widescreen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. In general, this is a really nice looking transfer that delivered a fairly crisp and nicely defined image. Sure, there are some shots that come up mildly soft, but there is nothing here worth complaining about. Colors are nicely saturated, completely stable and produce highly appealing flesh tones. Blacks are pure, whites are crisp, plus the image produces smooth contrast and more than respectable shadow detail. The film elements from which the DVD had been transferred are virtually pristine, plus there is little appreciable grain. Digital compression artifacts are very well concealed.
Aside from the musical numbers, the 5.1 channels of Dolby Digital featured on THE PRODUCERS sounds like a fairly standard comedy mix. The talky nature of the production keeps most of the sound localized to the forward soundstage. As for the surround channels, they provide general ambience and add presence to the musical numbers. There are some odd moments where the outlying channels see some mild sound effects action, but itís never particularly showy. Fidelity is excellent, with the track creating a good musical presence throughout. The bass channel is solid enough to keep the track from becoming anemic, but the material doesnít lend itself to anything else. Voices have a warm, natural quality, plus the filmís dialogue is always completely understandable. A French 5.1 channel track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few nice extras. Director Susan Stroman is on hand to provide a highly detailed running audio commentary. The DVD also features nineteen minutes of Deleted Scenes, fifteen minutes of Outtakes, plus the sixteen minute Analysis Of A Scene: I Wanna Be A Producer, which examines to creation of this particular musical number in great detail.
While THE PRODUCERS may not be a perfect movie, I had a lot of fun watching it and the DVD is certainly a lot cheaper than $125 orchestra seats. The presentation on Universalís DVD is quite nice and added to my pleasurable experience. If you missed out on the Broadway production with the original cast, the movie version of THE PRODUCERS proves to be an enjoyable transcription that is worth checking out.
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