A&E has returned for a second release of "Benny Hill: The Complete Megaset" including all 58 episodes from "The Thames Years" from 1969-1989. This contents (transfers, episodes, extras) are identical to the original "Megaset" released in 2007. The following is a reprint of my previous review of the "Megaset." See the "Megaset," "Extras" and "Set Value" section for further commentary on this 2010 release.
As a film scholar, I wanted to come up with some deep philosophical analysis of Benny Hill. Maybe something about the way he represents the repressed inner child or the subversive techniques he employs to undermine the image of British gentility. Upon further reflection, I realized something far more basic.
It´s really funny when they speed up the film.
They speed up the film, everyone looks like they´re moving really fast, throw in some goofy sound effects and a laugh track and, voila, you´ve got all kinds of funny. It´s even funnier when there are a whole bunch of people chasing him. Do I know why? Heck, no, I just know that it makes me laugh, and that´s the only rule of comedy: it´s either funny or it isn´t.
Benny Hill got tremendous mileage from the simplest techniques. He liked gimmicks like sped-up film, jump cuts, or having characters appear and disappear out of thin air. These parlor tricks went out of fashion in cinema when D.W. Griffith was still just a B-movie actor, but Benny milks them for all they´re worth. Then there are Benny´s eyes. Benny Hill could never have been a success without the television camera as his constant partner because so much of his humor comes from his sly, knowing glances. It was Benny´s way of addressing you, the viewer, directly and pulling you into the scene. He was the scamp, the innocent, the precocious little boy who never really grew up.
There are also plenty of Benny Hill gags that don´t work at all. The rambling monologues and "Benny Ballads" seldom lead anywhere interesting. They might have been funny in Britain in the 1970s, but today they´ve lost their sting. Some of the characters aren´t just unfunny but are genuinely offensive such as Benny´s appalling caricature of a "Chinaman" who has trouble telling his L´s and R´s apart. "You broody trit!" Oh, that sophisticated British humor. And his buxom, scantily clad Angels, still somewhat "revealing" even today, will either tickle your fancy or make you see red. Or maybe both.
The 2007 "Megaset" release included six separate keep cases, each with 3 DVDs. The only change the 2010 "Megaset" release offers is the consolidation of the 18 discs into three double-sized keep cases, each with six discs (numbered in order 1-18). The discs (as well as the outer slim cardboard case they are stored) have different cover art than the 2007 release as well. Everything else (all contents) is identical.
The first case contains Discs 1-6. The first three discs include 11 episodes from 1969-1971, three of them black-and-white episodes. Discs 4-6 offer 10 episodes from 1972-1974.
The second case contains Discs 7-12. Discs 7-9 include 10 episodes from 1975-1977. Discs 10-12 have 10 episodes from 1978-1981.
The third case contains Discs 13-18. Discs 13-15 include 9 episodes from 1982-1985. Discs 16-18 wrap up the series, then running on fumes, with 8 episodes from 1986-1989.
The DVD is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The low budget series funded by Thames Television was never big on production values, but the transfer is adequate. It is, however, an interlaced transfer and if you watch the disc on a computer you will see quite a few instances of combing. Image quality is generally soft but nothing too bothersome.
The DVD is presented in Dolby Digital Stereo. The dialogue is all clearly mixed, though sometimes the thick accents may provide viewers some difficulty. Because of that, it´s mildly disappointing that there are no subtitles or closed captions to support the audio.
The extras, identical in every way to those on the original 2007 "Megaset" release, are scattered throughout the set.
Disc 3 features a Thames TV broadcast of "Benny Hill: The World's Favorite Clown" (52 min.)
Disc 6 has an hour-long A&E Biography episode titled "Benny Hill: Laughter and Controversy"
Disc 9 includes a short film written and directed by Benny Hill called "Eddie in August" (1970, 24 min.)
Disc 12 has the short documentary "I Was a Hill's Angel" (16 min.) which features several of the Angels reminiscing about their glory days. Disc 15 has a continuation of this feature called "Hill's Angels: Off the Record" (12 min.) Disc 18 includes a third installment: "Hill's Angels: In Conversation" (10 min.)
Every third disc also offers the "Benny's Cheeky Challenge Trivia Quiz," an interactive text-based trivia game.
The first case has a slim insert booklet tucked into it which includes a helpful list of all the skits on each of the 18 discs.
Benny Hill is certainly an acquired taste and, much like syphilis, you may not want to risk acquiring it at all. On balance, I think the show has more hits than misses, if only by a razor thin margin and the great thing about DVD is that you can fast forward through the duds. It all boils down to a simple matter: you either find Benny charming or you think he´s a sexist pig. I won´t tell you that you´re wrong either way.
The only difference between this 2010 "Megaset" and the 2007 "Megaset" is strictly cosmetic. The 18 episodes are stored in 3 cases now instead of 6 which means the set will take up slightly less space on your shelf. Usually when A&E re-releases these "Megasets" they also offer them for a lower price than their identical predecessors, but this "Megaset" has the same retail price point as the 2007 one. The 2007 one is still in print as far as I can tell (it's for sale at Amazon). If you find it for a lower price than the 2010 release, the only reason to opt for the 2010 release is for its smaller size and the different cover art. No other differences.