Plot: What’s it about?
Following a brilliant star, three wise men come upon a small, humble manger, where a child was just born. Bearing gifts, they praise the child, and proclaim him to be the son of God. Then they realize their mistake, take back their gifts, and go to the right manger. Sound unusual? Well, that’s the life of Brian. Constantly being the victim of mistaken identity and being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Brian is believed at many times in this film to be the Messiah. But he’s not the Messiah, he’s a naughty boy, at least that’s what his mother says. You might think being thought of in such a high manner would be nice, but remember what they did to Jesus? The things that happen to Brian are hilarious, such as when he acts like a prophet to escape from Pontius Pilate’s palace. He delivers a speech to people near him, but when the coast is clear, he just stops talking. The on lookers assume there is a hidden meaning, and believe he is the Messiah! It’s these type of things that cause Brian’s life to be one big case of mistaken identity. But will Brian suffer the same fate as Jesus, or will he convince the crowds that he’s just a normal guy?
Life of Brian is a Monty Python movie, which instantly equals well written comedy and poking fun at common institutions. While many people think Life of Brian is a film making fun of Christ, but really, other than a sermon Brian attends, Jesus has no role in this film. The film instead focuses it’s humor toward religion as a whole, and how some people will jump at the chance to find a Messiah, no matter how inconsequential the actions/words of the person are. Now religion is a touchy topic, but if you’re secure in your faith, you should have no problem watching a film that questions some basics of faith and religion. This picture is not anti-religion by any means, it’s just a humorous look at what happens when someone is mistaken for Christ. According to historical texts, this type of mistaken identity was fairly common during those times, so the idea is not as outrageous as it might seem. Although, I bet Brian’s story is funnier than any of the real ones. So, don’t believe anything you hear about Life of Brian being a sacrilegious movie, because it’s not.
Now, I’m pretty sure if you’re reading this review that you’re somewhat familiar with the players who make up Monty Python. You should know what type of comedy to expect, so I won’t waste time with describing it, other than saying it is well written and very funny. The actors of Monty Python don’t just have a role within their movies, they usually have almost all the roles in their movies. There’s not a real billing order in this movie, so I’ll just list them, in no particular order. John Cleese (Time Bandits, Fierce Creatures) turns in a couple notable roles in Life of Brian, including a Roman official leading a stoning and a centurion in Pilate’s palace. Cleese is a great comedic actor, and his skills are never better represented than in Monty Python projects, although he has many non Python successes as well. Terry Gilliam, who is better known these days for his directing skills (12 Monkeys, Brazil), plays a rather dim witted jailor, covered in make up effects. Gilliam is my favorite Python, mainly because of his choice of pictures to helm, opting for good material rather than commercially viable movies. His battle with Universal over Brazil is legendary, and can be seen in higher detail in Criterion’s release of Brazil.
Terry Jones, who co-directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail with Gilliam, directs Life of Brian alone. Jones also directed Erik the Viking, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. Jones also takes a turn in front of the camera, playing Brian’s loud mouthed over bearing mother. You can also see Jones in front of the camera in Jabberwocky and At Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Playing the lead role of Brian is Graham Chapman, who passed away in 1989. Chapman carries his share of this film and then some. I believe him to be the best actor of the troupe, and he proves me right in Life of Brian. His reactions are superb and delivery is perfect. Chapman can also be seen in Yellow Beard and How To Irritate People, as well as the other Python films. Michael Palin (The Missionary, A Fish Called Wanda) takes on some hilarious roles in Life of Brian. He plays Pontius Pilate, complete with a wonderfully funny lisp, as well as a cured leper who is my favorite character in this picture. Rounding out the cast is Eric Idle (European Vacation, Burn Hollywood Burn), who sings “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” at the film’s closing, while a group of people are being crucified.
If you’re a Monty Python fan, buying this disc is a no brainer. Criterion has made the definitive edition of Life of Brian, and every Python fan should rejoice about this great treatment. While many people overlook Life of Brian in favor of Holy Grail, Life of Brian is a total movie, with a fluid storyline, and steady plot movement. Holy Grail, while extremely funny, and filled with legendary bits, is just a string of skits, which sometimes flow together. Holy Grail is hilarious, but I prefer the complete feel of Life of Brian. I own both films, so I’m not anti-Holy Grail by any means. I do think that Life of Brian is the best film by the Pythons, however they are all great and worth picking up. Non Python fans should rent this one first, as it’s style of humor does not appeal to everyone.
Video: How does it look?
This is the maiden voyage for “Life of Brian” on a HD format and while the film has certainly never looked better, it does leave a lot to be desired in terms of superb visual quality. Right off the bat, I noticed an increased level of sharpness and clarity, though I have to admit that the contrast looked a bit off and some artifacting is almost immediately noticeable. The movie isn’t exactly new and there’s only so much that technology can accomplish, but it’s a given that this is the best that “Life of Brian” has ever looked on any home video format. Flesh tones looked a bit washed out and though not bad, there are certainly more appealing titles visually-speaking.
Audio: How does it sound?
I did a double take when I noticed that “Life of Brian” contained a DolbyTrueHD track. Ok, I’m all for good sound but putting a TrueHD track on this movie is like trying to get blood from a stone – it just isn’t going to happen. The Monty Python movies are entertaining but they’re not really known for dynamic audio. The dialogue is a bit muffled and the surrounds, when active, seem to have a very hollow sound. Had this movie been made last year, then I would be looking forward to a very robust mix but as it stands, I think I’d rather have a decent-sounding mono track as opposed to two sub-par tracks (a PCM Uncompressed track is also included).
Supplements: What are the extras?
On the supplemental front, I’m happy to note that essentially all of the supplements from the Criterion DVD made it over to this Blu-ray disc. I can’t imagine Criterion picking up a HD format in the near future, so I think they might be happy to license out their supplements to be seen en masse. The first features Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, and Eric Idle, the second has John Cleese and Michael Palin. It’s very interesting to hear the troupe comment on their own work and each is worth a listen. Five deleted scenes are shown as well, “Shepards”, “Pilate’s Wife”, “Otto”, “The Sign that is the Sign” and “The Souvenier Salesman”. All good and certainly a bonus to see them included here. We get an hour-long documentary entitled “The Story of Brian” and an original recording of the early drafts of the screen play as the troupe worked on it. Last but not least, we get the original radio ads by certain members of the group. Fans will love this Blu-ray offering of “Life of Brian” it looks and sounds as good as ever and all of the supplements from the Criterion DVD have been included here. I guess that is the bright side of life, eh?