Monty Python's Life of Brian: The Immaculate Edition (Blu-ray) (1979)
Audio Commentary-Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, and Terry Jones
Audio Commentary-John Cleese and Michael Palin
Featurette-The Story of Brian
Featurette-Script Read Through
Theatrical Trailer-Close Encounters of the Third Kind
|Year Of Production||1979|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Terry Jones|
Sony Pictures Home Entertain
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Linear PCM 48/16 5.1 (4608Kb/s)
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
French Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Hungarian Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.85:1|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
†††† Monty Python's The Life of Brian is widely considered to be one of the best film comedies ever made. Despite being almost 30 years old, its very non-PC, irreverent humour, and cutting religious and political satire, is still intact and as potent as ever. It cleverly lampoons not only the overly serious and pompous Hollywood religious epics that have laboured across the silver screen since the birth of cinema, but it also tackles religious fanaticism, organized religion, and left-wing sectarian politics head-on. The Life of Brian now arrives for us to enjoy as the "Immaculate Edition", in high definition, and amongst the glut of formula-written Hollywood comedies rolling off the production line, The Life of Brian is most welcome indeed.
††† "And now for something that really is completely different . . . "
††† The Life of Brian is of course the creation of a self-confessed group of religious sceptics, the Monty Python team, consisting of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. The Pythons found fame when they created Monty Python's Flying Circus, the now iconic comedy-sketch show that first aired on British television in 1969. Some of these sketches are still well known today, such as the famous "Dead Parrot", "The Lumberjack Song", and "Nudge Nudge" sketches. The program was to end after four seasons, but the group quickly reformed to make a feature film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).
††† Following the success of this relatively cheaply made film, Idle now famously joked that their next film would be "Jesus Christ: Lust For Glory!" But as often mentioned, Monty Python's The Life of Brian isn't about Jesus at all, but rather about the idealistic, Brian Cohen. Brian is the decent, and long-suffering, good Jewish boy born in the stable next door to his famous neighbours from Nazareth.
††† The film opens when three wise men arrive at Brianís manger in Bethlehem, to deliver their offerings to the new-born and his confused Mother Mandy (Terry Jones). Mandy is happy with their gifts, but suggests they "leave the myrrh at home" the next time they pop in. Very quickly the wise men realise their mistake, especially when a golden light shines out of the neighbouring stable, and angels can be heard singing. The three wise men rudely grab their gifts back.
††† We then jump forward to "Judea, AD 33, Saturday afternoon . . . about tea time". Brian (Graham Chapman) is now in his 30s, and he and his unimpressed mother are at the back of the crowd listening to Jesus (Kenneth Colley) delivering the famous Sermon on the Mount. The problem is, in the days before a PA system, the crowd at the back are finding it difficult to hear. As a result, Jesusí speech gets passed on through the crowd by a system of Chinese whispers: "I think he said, Blessed are the cheesemakers" and "Blessed are the Greek".
††† Our idealistic and naive hero, Brian, hates the occupying Romans, even though he discovers that his father was a Roman Centurion, Naughtius Maximus. When smitten by an attractive young political activist, Judith (Sue Jones-Davies), Brian quickly joins her group, the People's Front of Judea, which is not to be confused with the Judean People's Front, or several other similar sounding fringe political groups, that are far better at whinging and holding meetings, than actually effecting any real political change. Indeed, in a dig at left-wing sectarian politics in late 1970s Britain, the People's Front of Judea is one of many factious and bickering separatist movements, who spend far more time fighting each other than the Romans.
††† The People's Front of Judea's bossy leader Reg (John Cleese) gives Brian his first rebellious task Ė to graffiti "Romanes eunt domus" ("Romans Go Home") on the wall of the Roman Governor's palace. Brian is soon caught by the soldiers, but then forced by the arresting Roman officer (also Cleese), in true English public school style, to correct his Latin grammar, and write it out one hundred times. Brian finishes, but as the guards change, heís forced to make a hasty escape.
††† "He's making it up as he goes along!"
††† To avoid the Romans who are chasing him, Brian pretends to be a prophet, and begins to speak in the public square. Stumbling through a potted version of a parable, he attracts a small and sceptical, but ultimately intrigued, audience. But once Brian has given the Romans the slip, he discovers his new followers are much harder to shake. The more he protests, the more his disciples grow. As one disciple says, "the surest sign that someone is a Messiah is that he denies being the Messiah". Furthermore, even his most banal acts, such as losing his sandal, are seen as symbolic acts.
††† Thinking he has given his followers the slip, Brian awakes the following morning to find a large crowd have gathered outside his home. They are loudly declaring him to be the Messiah. Realizing that he can not hide any longer, Brian finally, and reluctantly, addresses his followers: "You don't need to follow me! You don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves! You're all individuals. You're all different!" But the crowd responds in unison: "Yes! We're all individuals. We're all different!" Then a tiny voice pipes up: "I'm not." Of course Brian's nonplussed mother decides to end this gathering by announcing to the crowd in her (his) famous falsetto, (all together now): "He's not the Messiah - He's a very naughty boy!"
††† Brian has bigger challenges to face, however, when finally captured by the Romans, as he now faces crucifixion.
††† However, the plot synopsis above does not do the film justice, as in true to Monty Python style, along the way there are flights into the bizarre and absolute silly. For example, the zany excursions from the main plot, such as when Brian escapes from Roman soldiers on a suddenly appearing UFO, which takes him on a rapid space-battle, before crashing back to earth. Or the many weird characters, such as a lisping Pontius Pilate and his good "fwiend" Biggus Dickus. Or when a fellow prisoner teases Brian for being a jailer's pet for being spat on in the face. Or even the film's closing credits, which absurdly suggest: "Why not go see La Notte?" In reference to Michaelangelo Antonionioís 1961 Italian film.
††† Each of the Pythons, including director Jones, plays a minimum of three roles, and as many as 12. Palin brilliantly manages to cover everything from his hilarious Pontius Pilate, to an ungrateful former leper who lost his income when he was healed through a miracle. But for me, the standout is Cleese, whose characters Reg and The Roman Centurion are both brilliantly realised. Apart from the myriad of great supporting characters, some of the film's best lines are often overheard amongst the general rabble, such as, "Oh Lord, I am afflicted by a bald patch" and "We'll nail some sense into him!"
††† In The Life of Brian the Pythons excel at putting long-gone biblical times into a more modern context. Not only do the characters speak as everyday people, as opposed to the slow, sombre, and self-important tones found in most Biblical epics, but the characters also exist in a world with modern commercial sensibilities. For example, in one scene we find a stall that sells everything from boulders to bags of gravel for those who have turned up at a public stoning empty-handed.
††††The Life of Brian was shot in Tunisia, using many of the same locations as Franco Zefferelli's recently completed, epic miniseries, Jesus of Nazareth (1977). With a US$4m budget, The Life of Brian was personally financed by former Beatle, George Harrison after original film financier, British media giant EMI, got cold feet and pulled out at the last minute. Apparently, Harrison mortgaged his properties to finance the film, as he had read the script and "just wanted to see it made". Harrison, along with Spike Milligan, can both be seen in cameo roles.
The Pythons agreed to open the film in the USA, and not the UK. After Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant leaders all denounced it, many theatres were picketed. The film was even banned in some areas of the USA. When released internationally, the film was also banned in Ireland, South Africa, Norway, and parts of England for blasphemy. But the effect of the picket lines was the opposite. As the protests and media coverage grew, so did the number of cinemas wanting to screen the film, and in the USA alone, screening numbers tripled. As Cleese famously later commented in relation to the protestors: "They have actually made me rich, I feel we should send them a crate of champagne."
††† Following the outstanding success of Spamalot, Idleís musical version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Idle has recently given The Life of Brian a similar musical treatment. With co-writer John Du Prez, Idle debuted his 60 minute musical, Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy), in Toronto, Canada in June 2007. An expanded 90-minute version of Not the Messiah premiered in December 2007, in Brisbane, Australia.
††† Monty Python's The Life of Brian is almost 30 years old, and obviously the high definition transfer lacks the sparkle of more recent films. That said, it is noticeably better than the standard definition versions. In short, while limited at times by the quality of the aged source material, the high definition disc is now the best presentation of this film to date, and currently, it is the ultimate way to enjoy this film at home.
††† The transfer is presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1, in a native 16x9 frame. This is the film's original theatrical ratio.
††† The transfer has been mastered in 1920 x 1080p, using AVC MPEG-4 compression, and it is noticeably sharper and more detailed than both the previous DVD releases. For example, consider the details in Pontius Pilate's throne room at 70:03, and the sense of depth in the marketplace at 80:38. The black level and the shadow detail have also noticeably improved from the previous DVD.
††† The BD's cover boasts that this edition has been "immaculately remastered in high definition", and one way that this version really stands out is in the transfer's colour. With this edition, the colours are much better than what was previously seen on the DVD, and far better than the almost sepia-toned VHS cassette that I recall watching numerous times as a teenager. Now, the film's colours appear more vibrant, consistent, and better saturated. The skin tones do suffer at times, but again, they are noticeably better than the standard definition versions.
††† There is grain present in the source material, but there has been an improvement from the apparently dusty and dirty print, seemingly used for previous DVD transfers. There are no obvious problems with MPEG artefacts, but some low level noise†and edge enhancement are visible at times. Considering the age of the film, there are surprisingly few film artefacts.
††† 32 subtitle streams are included, and the English ones are slightly simplified, but accurate.
††† This is a BD-50 disc (50GB Blu-ray disc). The feature is divided into 16 chapters.
††† Monty Python's The Life of Brian BD offers six audio options: English uncompressed Linear PCM audio is encoded at 4.6 Mbps, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround, French Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround, Hungarian Dolby Digital 5.1, and two audio commentaries, both in English Dolby Digital Stereo, encoded at 192 Kbps.
††† There is extensive use of ADR, but the audio sync is reasonable. The dialogue quality is a little muffled at times, and occasionally buried in the mix, but is still a slight improvement over the previous DVDs.
††† The musical score is credited to long-time television composer, Geoffrey Burgon, and is suitably often in the biblical epic style. However, the music best remembered from the film is surely the song at the end, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, which was written by Idle.
††† Unfortunately, as with the previous DVD releases, the audio sounds very dated, and is quite thin and flat. This is a dialogue based comedy, so as such, the limitations in the front-heavy surround audio and LFE track does not bother me at all.
|Surround Channel Use|
††† There are a number of genuine, interesting, and entertaining extras included. They are generally presented in standard definition (apart from the HD trailers), in widescreen format, with stereo audio.
††† As with other BDs, the menu can be accessed while the film is playing.
Audio Commentary One
††† Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, and Terry Jones provide an interesting and thoughtful commentary that includes a lot of anecdotes and production-related details.
Audio Commentary Two
††† John Cleese and Michael Palin also provide a screen-specific commentary which also ventures, at times, into discussing some of the Python's personal problems at the time of making the film, and also mentions some of the in-fighting between the team members during the production.
Featurette - The Story of Brian (59:51)
††† This is an excellent documentary which contains both archival footage and recent interviews with the Pythons. The featurette focuses on how the script came about, the problems of getting the film financed and made, and the public reaction when the film was originally released. Very importantly, the documentary puts the film into a historical context, and also includes plenty of news footage from the time of its release, and interviews with a number of people, including relevant experts, and popular culture historians. I was glad to see that the documentary also does include a few people who put forward a view as to why they see the film as blasphemous, and interestingly, it's a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Great Britain who in just a few lines, thoughtfully explains why he sees the film rebuking all faiths.
Featurette - Script Read Through (110:48)
††† This is a 1977 recording of a read-through by the Pythons of the original script, which is illustrated by the script itself, and Terry Jones' original storyboard illustrations.
Radio Spots (2:54)
††† A series of four comic advertisements for the film's original release.
Deleted Scenes (13:16)
††† There is a short collection of poorly presented, deleted scenes which can be watched with/out an audio commentary.
Photo Gallery (1:47)
††† A slideshow of black and white photographic stills.
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††† The Life of Brian was also released on Blu-ray in Region A (North America), and in terms of content, our disc's are identical.
††† If you're high definition capable, then upgrade your DVD copy of The Life of Brian.
††† The video quality is vastly improved, and is the best presentation of this film to date.
††† The audio quality is limited by the dated source material.
††† The extras are genuine and entertaining.
|DVD||Sony Playstation 3 (HDMI 1.3) with Upscaling, using HDMI output|
|Display||Panasonic High Definition 50' Plasma (127 cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Amplification||Samsung Pure Digital 6.1 AV Receiver (HDMI 1.3)|