Quentin Tarantino is the poster-child of polarizing movie personas, because with him there’s never a middle ground: people either love him or hate him. But while Tarantino may be the poster child, Monty Python is the originator of all things polarizing. The British comedy troupe — Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin — never met a topic it didn’t want to ridicule, and the results were a slew of movies labeled either “classic” or “classically stupid” depending on your tastes. But love them or hate them, you can’t refute that Monty Python movies are known the world over.
Although “what are you going to do, bleed on me?” is one of the group’s best-known lines (from Monty Python and the Holy Grail), another biblically inspired movie is actually the troupe’s best-known: Life of Brian. Life of Brian was Python’s first biblical comedy and chronicled the life of an unassuming dolt who somehow gets a cult-like following that hangs on his every word and ultimately becomes the victim of crucifixion. The movie’s release in 1979 ruffled some feathers, and its recent “Immaculate Edition” release on Blu-ray Disc is sure to do the same. And unfortunately, although the movie may appear on Blu-ray Disc, nothing else has really changed since 1979 either.
In 1979, the movie flickered at times, and the theater’s projectors made it occasionally look like “fuzz” was crawling up the screen. In 2008, the movie still flickers, and the fuzz still climbs the screen. True, this has a bit of a nostalgic feel, but if I want nostalgia while watching a Monty Python movie, I’d much rather resort to reciting lines from the film rather than watching flawed images crawl up my HDTV in 1080p.
The audio, too, is decidedly 1979. Although it’s transmitted in 48kHz 640kbps and is labeled “multi-channel,” the “multi” essentially means “two,” as the signal only effectively comes through in stereo, not the multi-channel 5.1 or 7.1 audio A/V connoisseurs are now accustomed to with their Blu-ray movies.
I wish I could tell you that things pick up with the bonus features, but, well…. The Deleted Scenes (13:16) are by far the worst of the bunch. Presented in 480p MPEG-2, these five scenes are disgustingly fuzzy to the point that it truly looks as though you’re watching the scenes through a burlap sack. Ironically, the one scene that’s labeled “digitally enhanced,” called “Shepherds,” looks just as horrid, save for the digitized angel that looks akin to something out of an ILM intern’s recycle bin. At least something went through post production.
Two audio commentary tracks, one with Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle and Terry Jones, and the other with John Cleese and Michael Palin, deliver the standard insight and banter, but the meat of the production knowledge actually comes in The Story of Brian (59:51, 480p MPEG-2), a real behind-the-scenes featurette that mixes modern interviews with original home-video footage taken during the movie’s production. It also delves into such topics as funding for the film, which is both interesting from a historical perspective and somewhat refreshing in a world where Hollywood never likes to talk about funding but is always incredibly worried about it.
The final three bonus features are entertaining, but more for hardcore Monty Python fans than anyone else. The first is a Photo Gallery (1:47) of about two dozen photos in slideshow format, followed by collection of four radio ads (2:54) featuring the voices of two mothers and two wives of the Python troupe. Each ad is illustrated with a picture of the person speaking as well as a rendered radio, and the camera does some subtle fly-throughs as well. The second, The Readthrough (1:50:48, 480p), is similarly illustrated with sketches, storyboards and a typed-out script, while the entire Monty Python troupe reads through the screenplay and production notes. This is a unique bonus feature, to be sure (we’ve never seen one like it before), but it seems a bit awkward considering viewers can watch a much better rendition by, say, actually hitting the “Play” button.
Of course, “better” is a relative term with Life of Brian, because like any Monty Python film, people are going to love it or hate it, and there aren’t exactly varying degrees of either. Considering this is a cult-classic film making its Blu-ray debut, I’m surprised Life of Brian looks and sounds as “off” as it does. Blu-ray is Sony’s showcase technology, and Monty Python is one of Sony Pictures” showcase properties. But oddly, there’s nothing about Life of Brian on Blu-ray that says sausage casing, much less “showcase.” You’re probably better off sticking with nostalgia on this one.
– Jonas Allen