Monty Python's Life of Brian on Blu-ray disc
Finally, a home video presentation of the Python masterpiece whose video does the film justice!
Oh sure, there's plenty of grain in places, but overall the film looks great. And that's exactly what we were hoping would happen when Sony introduced this highbrow humor fest to the high definition world.
Monty Python's Life of Brian is probably one of the best political/social commentary movies ever made. Far from being a blaspheming screed against organized Christianity, it actually takes Jesus and his ministry at face value, aiming its satirical genius at politicians, terrorists and those who follow a cause or person mindlessly.
Kind of like Hollywood, these days....
So we have Brian, a baby born just a few stable doors down from Jesus and who, through mistaken identity, is eventually revered as a messiah and crucified for the sin of, well, being himself, kind of.
The laughs start with the three wise men visiting Brian (Graham Chapman - though he didn't play the infant) and his mother (Terry Jones), a rat bag who has no idea what the wise men are talking about or who they're seeking - but who warms to them immediately when she learns they're bearing gifts.
Jump ahead 33 years and Brian and his mum are in the back rows for the Sermon on the Mount, as Jesus (Kenneth Colley) outlines the Beatitudes. Except they just can't hear well back there in the cheap seats, which causes confusion among the attendees - and laughter in the audience. "Blessed are the Peacemakers" is heard as "Blessed are the Cheese Makers", which is interpreted by one pompous windbag as referring not merely to cheese makers but to the broader category of people who deal in dairy products.
Or as Reg (John Cleese), leader of the terrorist group the People's Front of Judea, notes, it appears that blessed is anyone with a vested interest in the status quo. And of course, while the meek may be about the inherit the earth, to the PFJ it's the meek who are the problem.
There's a lot of thoughtful observation in the Life of Brian. And a lot of hilarious situations, from the opening manger scene through the title song and opening credits, the rivalry between anti-Roman resistance groups (who'd rather fight among themselves than take on their common enemy), the lisping Pontius Pilate (Michael Palin), and the final crucifixion scene with Eric Idle's famous singing advice to "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."
Hell, er, heck, they've even thrown in a space battle!
The first hour is practically non-stop laughs and while the movie kind of runs out of steam towards the end, it's definitely the Python troupe's finest full-length work.
The movie was protested widely by thin-skinned people, most of whom hadn't even seen it before protesting. It's too bad; if they'd bothered watching the movie they'd have seen that it isn't mocking Jesus or Christianity - rather it skewers mindless zealots (among other things) and could have been an important mirror to hold in front of some of the protestors. Perhaps that's what they really found objectionable....
Brian has seen many video incarnations, of varying quality, but this Blu-ray release is easily the best of the bunch. There's definitely some grain, as mentioned above, but on the whole, this 1080p presentation is top notch! The picture is for the most part sharp and clean and colorful, and it even displays good depth.
Audio is another matter, not so much because this version doesn't exploit the new formats properly but mostly because the original audio was nothing to write home about. Here, it's offered in Dolby TrueHD and uncompressed PCM5.1, but for the most part it sounds a lot like mono, except for the musical score. And just because it says 5.1 don't get your hopes up for a lot of surround and low frequency effects.
Still, considering what the disc's producers had to work with, we're satisfied.
Extras abound, including a 2007 vintage documentary on the film and its aftermath/impact featuring the surviving Python members and others. It's a good one, though on our playback system the film appears in 4x3 aspect ratio and everyone's stretched tall, making us assume it's actually a widescreen presentation but they forgot to flag it so the home video equipment would expand the image properly. Fortunately, it's just the documentary that's like this and not the film!
There's also a 110 minute, illustrated recording by the troupe of the script in progress, two commentaries (one featuring Gilliam, Idle and Jones and one featuring Cleese and Palin), original radio ads for the flick, deleted scenes and more.
For Python fans who also love Blu-ray - this is a must have!
Monty Python's Life of Brian, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.