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"Monty Python's Life of Brian-The Immaculate Edition (Blu-Ray)
Reviewer:
Wayne Klein
Studio: Sony Home Video
Genre: Comedy
Release:
1/29/08
Special Features: "The Story of Brian" documentary, Audio Recording of the Early Screenplay with Storyboards, Radio Spots, Photo Gallery, Deleted Scenes, two audio commentary tracks featuring the surviving members of Python
Review:

Nothing like heretics to bring a little spice into life. The Monty Python troop fresh from making "The Holy Grail" and enjoying the spoils of their now international fame decided it was time for a follow up. The idea came from the late Graham Chapman. He suggested jokingly "Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory" as their next comedy. Everyone thought it was brilliant but how would they tackle such a monumental task and offend as many people as possible AND get their film made? The group poured over the Bible and found that it wasn't Christ that was the problem--but his followers who were thick and ordinary in their eyes. It made sense then to point their satire at the mythology of religion and the politics that made Christ a martyr essentially changing the course of history in the Western World for the next 2008 years. ***

Brian (Graham Chapman who is perfectly charming and believable in the title role) has the misfortune of being born NEXT DOOR to Christ. When the Three Wise Men show up at his mother Mandy (Terry Jones) door with their gifts she thinks they are there to rape her. Once she comprehends that they have gifts she knows exactly what to do--take them and rush them out the door. Unfortunately for Mandy and the infant Brian, the Three Wise Men quickly discover their error. That's exactly how Brian's life unfolds as well--he becomes an also ran savior with followers when all he wants to do his help his impoverished people and push the Romans out of Jerusalem. In the process of pursuing his dream he becomes involved with the Judean People's Front (John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle). He falls in love with one of their members (Sue Jones-Davies) complicating his life even more. ***

The "Life of Brian" film had a life similar to Brian himself. Initially EMI agreed to underwrite the film but then pulled out at the last minute just as the Pythons were headed to Tunisia where the film was shot. Luckily George Harrison of Beatles fame stepped in and took out loans on several of his properties to finance the film for a paltry $4 million. If the film looks more expensive than that put it down to use of the exceptional sets built for "Jesus of Nazareth". When "Life of Brian" was released it didn't court controversy it invited it. Even before the film was shown the Coalition of Light a British based fundamentalist Christian movement was on the attack. Likewise, in the United States fundamentalist groups aggressively went after the film. All of this just generated more publicity for the film. The ironic thing is that those who ATTACKED the film had never SEEN the film and thus had no concept what they were attacking. ***

"Life of Brian" is a brilliant but flawed satire and one of the Python's best works. It's also the most coherent with a narrative that actually works (although it moves in fits and starts). Director Terry Jones lacks the style of Terry Gilliam (who acted as art director and animator here) but he handles the comedy well and also does a solid job of keeping the narrative linear and uncomplicated. ---

Image & Sound:

A superb transfer, "Life of Brian" looks better than it ever has on home video. I was surprised at how good the film looked because, well, it was shot on a very low budget and truth be told previous transfers haven't always suggested it could look this good. Although the colors aren't as lively as I would have liked (and that's not a surprise given 1) the age of the film and 2) the low budget) the film looks remarkably crisp. The film has been cleaned up of any analog flaws and I didn't detect any digital artifacts whatsoever. ***

Audio sounds quite strong with a nice lossless Dolby Digital True HD 5.1 sound track. If anything the terrific sound quality of the Blu-Ray format only highlights the shortcomings of the film's original soundtrack recording.

Special Features:

Sony does a terrific job with the extras. First up we get two commentary tracks one featuring Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam and a second featuring Michael Palin and John Cleese. ***

The former focuses on the technical challenges as well as providing lots of great production stories. It's edited together so there's little to no dead air time. ***

The latter is also quite good focusing more on the location issues that the team faced, how they got along and changes made during the shooting of the film. ***

We also get an audio recording of the original screenplay presented with storyboards giving us a unique insight into the creative process of the Pythons. ***

"The Story of Brian" is a 30 minute documentary that focuses on the genesis of the project, the controversy and how, in retrospect, the film stands up. We also find out a bit about the casting process and how Graham Chapman ended up as Brian (quite simply John Cleese sums it up nicely--Chapman was the best actor of the bunch). The documentary is pretty fair balanced giving the group that protested its release in England its due as well as including excerpts from the Python's appearances on "Late Night with Tom Snyder" and a BBC TV program defending their work. ***

We also get deleted scenes. Many of these scenes were on the Criterion edition but they look better here and clearly are sourced from the original rough cut that Terry Jones had assembled on videotape. ***

We also get the original radio spots where the Python's moms promote the film saying what good boys their kids are and poking fun at the promo process as well. Things are rounded out with a photo gallery. ---

Final Words:

Sony has done a terrific job for this classic satire of religion by the Pythons. "Life of Brian" is, quite possibly, their best film with a stronger narrative and a sense of purpose in telling the story of Brian the kid who was born next door to Christ.

 

 
 
 
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