The road movie finally goes drag in Stephan Elliott's 'The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.' And like any good road movie, the journey through the Australian outback slowly reveals itself as a spiritual awakening for all those involved — a kind of contemporary walkabout for the more open-minded, progressive age. A job offer to perform at a hotel casino resort in a far-off, secluded town prompts three Sydney friends to face one of the planet's most sweltering and dangerous terrains. Using only their wits and humor to survive, they each discover a little more meaning to their lives, if not at least a different perspective and respect for the world they live in.
Then again, we can't positively pinpoint what exactly the youngest of the trio takes away from the experience. Though it doesn't mean we can't speculate based on what writer/director Elliott provides. Guy Pearce ('The Proposition') makes his big-screen debut as the ultra confident and flamboyant Adam, aka Felicia Jollygoodfellow, who exudes a great deal of pride and assurance in his lifestyle. The story never criticizes or looks at him in a disapproving light — he actually brings out most of the movie's comedic elements, and Pearce is outrageously marvelous in the role. But there's definitely something being said when the character sees fit to mask the homophobic hatred directed at him and his friends by painting their bus lavender.
The other two, we can tell, have had enough exposure to such contempt and bigotry that they know how to deal with it in their own way. Their days of sitting on top of a giant, glistening high-heel shoe in the most ostentatious and theatrical manner possible are already over. Or at least coming to a close, which is part of the dilemma afflicting Tick (Hugo Weaving, 'The Matrix,' in the role that first brought him to international prominence). As the unspoken-leader of this colorful motley troupe, he planned the entire excursion, but conceals the real reasons for it. Alice Springs holds a secret past which Tick has kept hidden, even from himself. Confronting it rejuvenates his passion for dressing in dazzling, gaudy frocks for the entertainment of a screaming audience.
Terence Stamp ('The Adjustment Bureau,' 'The Limey,' 'Superman II') gives one of the finest performances of his career as Tick's transgender best friend, Bernadette — which is also the most convincing of the entire film, though Weaving and Pearce do amazing in their respective portrayals. Retired from the limelight, Bernadette seems the most secure and composed of the group, finding little use for words useless spoken with the conviction and wisdom of a true Cynic. Her concerns are more deeply internal. Her new status as widow raises questions of ever finding another love that's just as understanding. But as would be expected, their open-country voyage brings back hope in the guise of middle-aged mechanic named Bob (Bill Hunter) — out in the middle of nowhere!
There's no denying 'The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' is essentially standard road movie fare, an obvious pilgrimage towards self-discovery. But it's a flashy and fantastic adventure dressed up in high heels and ABBA tunes, the dramedy which introduced mainstream audiences to the world of drag queens. What it lacks in original plot device, it more than makes up in its hilariously unique characters and their personal journeys outside the comforts of Sydney. With impressive photography of the Australian outback by cinematographer Brian J. Breheny, director Stephan Elliott ('Easy Virtue') delivers a terrifically memorable film of some unforgettable individuals.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' hits the home video circuit via 20th Century Fox and MGM Home Entertainment with a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a blue eco-case. It lacks a main menu and goes straight to movie playback, so special features and subtitles are only accessible while watching the movie.
'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' makes its debut on the high-def stage with a splendidly colorful AVC-encoded performance.
Primaries are richly saturated and vividly rendered, bringing the movie's animated spirit to the forefront, while the other hues come across as more natural and accurate. Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, contrast is bright and crisp, giving the transfer a brilliant glow and a sunny disposition. Black levels are on the money and often inky, and shadow details are plainly visible in any given scene. Facial complexions appear healthy with excellent, revealing texture.
Definition and resolution, to be frank, are extraordinary, with consistently clean and distinct lines in everything. Viewers can distinguish every intricate feature in the elaborate costumes as well as see clearly the rough, coarse arid terrain Priscilla drives on. The Australian outback has never looked so gorgeous and majestic. Only drawback is noticeable dirt specks that creep up in several scenes, but overall, the video presentation is fantastic on Blu-ray.
'Priscilla' also puts on a good show with this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.
Though ADR work is made more apparent by the higher resolution codec, dialogue reproduction is consistently strong and clear in the center of the screen. Acoustics and fidelity are satisfying, giving the imaging a wide sense of space and airiness. The mid-range is clean and well-balanced, and bass is kept light throughout, coming in typically during the unique song selection.
The lossless mix is mostly a front-heavy affair, but there are moments when back speakers offer some pleasing atmospherics. It's not something that'll impress or create an immersive pull, but it makes for an enjoyable experience of an entertaining dramedy with a fun cast of characters.
Aside from the still gallery, this is the same set of features found on the 2007 special edition.
Although a conventional road movie where characters learn a great deal about themselves and each other, 'The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' is still an outlandishly good time from director Stephan Elliott. With hilarious performances by Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, and Guy Pearce, the dramedy features an engaging story and gorgeous cinematography of Australia's outback. The Blu-ray arrives with a great video transfer and a strong audio presentation, and while supplements are the same as before, the package is an excellent upgrade for fans and recommended viewing for the curious.