'Monty Python's Life of Brian' has been dogged by controversy since its debut in 1979. Christians turned out in mass to protest its release, cities banned the film from local theaters, and Catholic churches labeled it "blasphemous" based on its plot synopsis alone. So its quite ironic that the 'Life of Brian' treats fundamental Christian beliefs with a great deal of respect -- instead, the Pythons turn their sharp wit on the bureaucratic institutions and opportunistic elitists that have haunted religion since its inception.
Three traveling wisemen bring gifts to a newborn under a brilliant star in Bethlehem. After departing, they suddenly burst back into the stable, reclaim their gifts, and rush next door to deliver them to the real messiah. Thus is the life of Brian (Graham Chapman), the boy born in the stable next door to Jesus. Even decades later, Brian is constantly confused for the messiah and followed by people looking for answers to their existence. Yet Brian doesn't preach about love, and he certainly doesn't want to be anyone's holy leader, he simply despises the Roman forces occupying his homeland and joins a chatty separatist movement to undermine Roman influence in Judea. As he falls in love with a woman in the movement named Judith (Sue Jones-Davies) and clashes with its leader Reg (John Cleese), Brian has to decide if he'll chart his own course or follow the crowd.
When it comes to classic comedy troupes, Monty Python did droll humor and clever satire better than anyone in the business. 'Life of Brian' is Python's masterpiece, and many outlets have subsequently named the film one of the greatest comedies of all time. The movie tackles a variety of relevant issues, but manages to keep everything balanced in the realm of entertainment. At the same time, the Pythons deliver some of their most memorable comedic characters.
Scene after scene, the group brings its best to the table. Try not to laugh when Brian is caught painting a slanderous slogan on a building by a Roman centurion educated in the intricacies of Latin grammar. Try to keep a straight face when a bout of gibberish and a lost shoe practically give birth to an entire religion. Hold your breath near the end credits as an ingenious musical number leaves you rolling on the floor. The only criticism I have, and it’s slight, is that the film occasionally overindulges the surreal animated whimsy of Terry Gilliam (an element that worked wonders in 'Holy Grail,' but feels tacked on and aimless here).
'Life of Brian' still has an undeservingly bad reputation (often among people who refuse to watch it), and it pains me to see such an amusing piece of satire shunned. Jesus appears in the film all of two times, and in each instance there isn't a single joke made at his expense. Most of the barbs are directed at those who would trade their individuality for an ideal which they have yet to question or understand. The film doesn't mock blind faith, it mocks baseless faith.
If critics actually watched ‘Brian’ without preconceived notions, they would find that it has a lot of interesting and intriguing things to say about belief and religion. For me, the most amusing thing about the controversy is that its protestors exhibit the very behaviors portrayed by the religious elitists in the film itself. It's clear the Pythons are more perceptive than their detractors give them credit for.
'Life of Brian' isn't just a comedy, it's a smart satire that continues to leave me in stitches after dozens of viewings over the years. If you're new to Monty Python, this film is a great place to start -- in my opinion, it's the most focused, poignant, and elaborate work they produced. If you're one of the many people who continue to avoid the film due to its controversial nature, I implore you to give it a chance. I have to agree with a lot of critics on this one -- 'Life of Brian' is one of the best comedies of all time.
'Life of Brian' is presented with a commendable 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that makes up for the underwhelming high-def release of 'Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.' This time around, colors are more vibrant, black tones are stronger, and the contrast is more eye pleasing. The image is definitely more three dimensional and puts every other DVD release of the film to shame. Detail is remarkable, with crisp edges and sharp background elements that reveal things in the set dressing I hadn't noticed before. Compared directly to the Criterion Collection DVD, the Blu-ray edition is less noisy, more stable, and an altogether impressive effort from Sony.
Unfortunately, the film's lackluster and troublesome source seems to have prevented the studio from turning out a perfect visual experience. Skintones are a bit flushed at times, black crush creeps into the image, and artifacting is immediately apparent in the opening minutes of the film. I was also surprised to catch a few edge halos, especially since the box art brags about the film being re-mastered in high definition. All in all, 'Life of Brian' looks better than ever, but it still has a few problems.
Despite improved picture, 'Life of Brian' sounds all too familiar. Sony has included a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track and an uncompressed PCM 5.1 mix that sound exactly the same to my ears -- thin, flat, and uninspiring.
Prioritization is all over the place -- dialogue gets lost in the shuffle, the film's score often drowns out other elements in the soundscape, and a few scenes sound terribly muffled. Dynamics suffer from throaty low-end bass and hollow high-end pitches, while the rear speakers are no help, offering little more than unreliable ambient support for the majority of the film. As it stands, the entire soundfield is crammed into the front speakers, making the experience more akin to listening to a stage show recording than a feature film. There are a few, brief standout moments (usually action beats or chase scenes), but for the most part, both tracks are disappointingly uneven and inconsistent.
To be fair, the original audio source has never sounded great. I'll give the Blu-ray edition a slight edge over other DVD tracks simply because the increased fidelity does make the tracks sound more substantial than they have in the past. However, compared to other classic catalog releases in high definition, the audio is simply too weak to measure up. Desperate fans may call these tracks passable, but I can't help but long for something more.
'Life of Brian' includes all of the special features that are set to appear on the Immaculate Edition DVD (released day and date with the Blu-ray edition). While this version is missing the feature length documentary ("The Pythons") from the Criterion Collection DVD, it still has a host of supplemental content for the Python enthusiast.
'Monty Python's Life of Brian' is one of the greatest comedies of all time, continuing to deliver laughs almost three decades after its release. The new Blu-ray edition boasts an above average transfer that makes the film look better than ever, as well as a thorough collection of supplements. The only downside comes from the TrueHD and PCM audio tracks, which leave a lot to be desired. Still, considering the problematic 1979 source, fans looking for an upgrade are sure to be pleased with what Sony has accomplished with this release.