Life Of Brian

Review by Guido Henkel

Life Of Brian  (1979)
Anchor Bay Entertainment

Length:        93 mins.
Rated:          R
Format:       Letterboxed
Languages:English
Subtitles:    None
Extras:        Theatrical Trailer
                     Biographies

You either love them or you hate them, there is simply nothing in between! Monty Python are synonymous with a dark, subversive humor that defies comparison to anything else in the market. Although often attempted, no-one since this legendary British comedy troupe has ever been able to be as extreme, accusatory, blatant, offensive, and off-the-wall funny, while maintaining a good and intelligent entertainment value throughout. It is the extremes that define Monty Pythonís humor. The fact that they never shy away to slaughter the most sacred cows of our societies oftentimes caused anguished outcries in viewers, but at the same time they do it in an almost academic way, which sets these comedians apart from the rest. It is their level of immaculate craftsmanship that allows them not to rely on innuendo, but to smatter their intelligent absurdity right in your face. One of Monty Pythonís most controversial films was, without a doubt, "Life Of Brian", a film that makes fun of the root of Christianity itself, and turns a dim-witted nobody in the Messiah during the times of Christian birth.

On the night of Christís birth in Judea, in a stable next door, another boy is born by the name of Brian (Graham Chapman). Immediately after his birth the three holy man mistake him with Christ and offer their presents, only to take them away from the furious mother minutes later when they detect the real Messiah. Brian grows up a dim-witted peasant, but for some reason his life is crossing the path of Messiah over and over again, until one day the people of Judea actually mistake him for the Messiah once again and follow his very footsteps.

The film doesnít have a truly elaborate story, it is more a series of absurd events that happen to make up Brianís life story. He encounters the most ludicrous characters the world has ever seen, and finds himself constantly caught in the midst of the most bizarre events you can imagine, including an alien abduction and crash landing. Everything about Brian and his life is screwed up and when he gets politically involved with the Peopleís Front Of Judea - not to be mistaken with the Judean Peopleís Front, the Popular Front of Judea or the Judean Popular Peopleís Front - you know it will eventually end in a messy disaster with Brian at the heart of it.

One of the interesting things about Monty Pythonís films is that usually you can watch them over and over and over again, and every time you will detect something new. Something you missed in all previous viewings. Usually these are not elaborate details in the picture, but subtle lines of dialogue that were overheard, oftentimes it is that only after several viewings you finally figure out what they were mocking in a particular scene, and sometimes, it is just the delivery that stuns you. It is exactly this sophistication of their work that makes it so special. There are no cheap potshots really, but always well written and thought-out scenes that reach ludicrousness through the twist of a single word or meaning, and through that, the humor works for everyone. The scene when a Roman centurion corrects Brianís Latin spelling while he tries to smear the walls with "Romans Go Home" paroles, is a perfect example for the complexity with which these comedians go to work. On the surface it is just a joke that the centurion doesnít catch the fact that Brian is actually agitating against him, and it is funny at that. If you dig deeper however you find that the way he lectures Brian is exactly the way Latin scholars are trained in school. In order to learn the Latin language it is essential to be able to completely reiterate all forms, declinations and conjugations of all verbs, adverbs and nouns of the language. This is no easy task because of the
irregularity of these words and as a result you find yourself repeating these words over and over again in endless tirades - and that is what the scene actually makes fun of at its base. Like a schoolboy the centurion grabs Brian by the ear and forces him to go through all forms the words needed to build the sentence, and it is so reminiscent with my own old school days that it almost hurts. This level of depth to their comedy is what gives Monty Python the spice to appeal to different people.

Anchor Bay presents "Life Of Brian" in its original widescreen aspect ratio on this release and the film has been nicely transferred. Although film grain is evident in certain shots, the overall image quality is well above par. The transfer appears a bit soft at times, but is generally well defined. It looks best in the interior scenes where the image boasts with solid blacks and strong colors. This is peculiar and indicates that the film print used is responsible for the grainy quality of the opening shots and some of the other outdoor sequences that appear grainy. Color reproduction of this release is generally good with absolutely faithfully rendered fleshtones and generally strong hues. Very slight compression artifacts are evident in a few scenes, and although dust and dirt are noticeable throughout the film, it never gets to the point that it is becoming distracting.

"Life Of Brian" contains a stereo Dolby Digital soundtrack that sounds a little thin and muffled at times. Given that the film makes use of very strong British accents, this can lead to serious comprehension problems. Unfortunately Anchor Bay have not supplied subtitles either, which could have helped immensely to understand some of the mumbled lines in the film, but I guess you canít have it all. On the upside, the disc contains some extensive biographies of all the members of the Monty Python ensemble, which came as a pleasant surprise, as well as the filmís theatrical trailer.

As I mentioned in my opening, you either love them or you hate them. If you never enjoyed Monty Pythonís off-kilter humor, or if you feel offended by their infamous sacrileges, this disc is definitely not for you. Everyone else will surely have a great time watching this film over and over again on this release from Anchor Bay. While it is not a stellar release like some of their other recent works, they still offer a good presentation of the film on this DVD. Since Monty Pythonís films are still are very rare commodity on DVD, I am sure every fan of the British comedians will cherish this release.

    

May 1, 1999

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