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Terry Jones
Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam
Writing Credits:
Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam

Brian is born on the original Christmas, in the stable next door to Jesus. He spends his life being mistaken for a messiah.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1/16X9
English Dolby 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 94 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 11/16/1999

• Audio Commentary with Director/Actor Terry Jones, Production Designer/ActorTerry Gilliam and Actor Eric Idle
• Audio Commentary with Actors John Cleese and Michael Palin
• “The Pythons” Documentary
• Five Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
• Trailer
• Four Radio Ads
• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Monty Python's Life of Brian: Criterion Collection (1979)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 25, 2017)

After 1975’s Holy Grail marked the first narrative film from Monty Python, the troupe waited four years to return to the screen. They did so with a controversial bang, as 1979’s Life of Brian created a major stir.

Which it probably didn’t deserve, as its barbs and mockery don’t really aim at religious icons. When the Three Wise Men (John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin) come to Jerusalem, they offer gifts to a newborn they believe to be the messiah. However, they quickly realize they visited the wrong location, so baby Brian gets left in anonymity with his mother Mandy (Terry Jones).

33 years later, Jesus makes a name for himself while Brian (Chapman) and his mother struggle to work their way through a society dominated by Romans. Along the way, Brian finds himself attached to those who rebel against Roman authority – and eventually viewed as the messiah as well.

As I mentioned, Brian didn’t merit the negative attention it received in 1979. Truthfully, there's nothing anti-God or anti-Jesus in the movie; the few glimpses we have of Jesus are all totally benign in their treatment of the character.

However, the same cannot be said for the way the film treats organized religion. Brian heavily mocks these groups, though in a nonspecific manner. Since Catholics, Protestants, and all the other Christian sects didn't exist during the time period the movie covers, the Pythons couldn't formally address them.

However, the Pythons didn't need to name names to make their point, and Brian scores points in regard to the pettiness and absurdity that can follow such organizations. While religious groups have certainly been responsible for a lot of good throughout history, they've also carried out a lot of nastiness and hatred all in the name of God. It's that side of the equation – the manner in which the messengers distort and lose the message - that often becomes the concern here.

Of course, this does remains a Monty Python film, so don't expect a serious discourse on these issues. Indeed, the Pythons raise their points through comedy so they don't beat us over the head with these messages. Instead, we see a witty, clever and irreverent look at an alternate history that features a man named Brian who just happened to be born on the same day and in the same place as Christ.

The Pythons always produced inconsistent work, and Brian offers no exception. Some parts delight, while some seem pretty spotty.

Still, the movie maintains a fairly high standard throughout and lacks any genuinely lame sequences. The Pythons toss a lot of material at the wall and most of it sticks.

Mainly because the Pythons worked so well as an ensemble, we find no real standout among the film’s actors. Brian receives the most screentime of any character, but I don't think Chapman spends more time on screen than any of the other Pythons.

The difference is that the others play a number of different and hilarious minor roles, whereas Chapman sticks mainly to Brian, a character who acts mainly as a straight man. Happily, Chapman does get to play one juicy role: that of the lisping Roman Biggus Dickus.

Ah, Biggus Dickus - that reminds me of one of the most amazing qualities of Python productions. When they were “on”, the Pythons - as with the better episodes of South Park or Beavis and Butthead - could mine extremely crude subjects for laughs. Suffice it to say that some of the jokes of Brian are quite cheap, but many are also quite funny.

Part of the reason stems from the charm of the performers, and all the Pythons do well here. Again, none really stand out as better than the others, but that's more due to the interrelated and complementary natures of their performances.

The Pythons had something terrific much in the same way as the crew behind SCTV. They all were together so long that they knew each others strengths and weaknesses intimately, so the entire group organism could function well.

And that's the case with Brian. Certainly some of their TV sketches were funnier than parts of this film, but the movie sustains a strong narrative and makes some excellent points through its comedy.

Were one so inclined, one could neatly dissect the film and closely examine all these different lobs and volleys and more fully explore what the Pythons said, but I’ll leave that form of analysis to others. I'll just leave it at this: Life of Brian is a damned funny and entertaining little film. There!

The DVD Grades: Picture D+/ Audio D+/ Bonus B+

Monty Python’s Life of Brian appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The DVD’s package refers to the transfer as “beautiful” – I disagree.

The biggest issue stemmed from print flaws, and Brian came chock-a-block with defects. I saw specks, debris, marks, “cigarette burns”, scratches, lines and other issues. Some scenes looked uglier than others, but much of the movie suffered from these concerns.

Sharpness appeared acceptable for the most part. Wider shots suffered from some softness, and the image could be a bit blocky, but in general, the flick came across as fairly concise. I saw no issues with jaggies or moiré effects, and edge haloes remained minor, but digital artifacts impacted the presentation.

Colors seemed lackluster. The movie opted for an arid palette and the tones seemed somewhat flat. Blacks were inky, and shadows tended to appear on the murky side. This was a consistently problematic image.

The film’s Dolby 2.0 soundtrack also had issues. The soundscape tended to be fairly monaural much of the time, but when it broadened, it did so in an awkward manner. Music would blend to all the channels without real stereo delineation, so the score tended to overwhelm the track.

Effects and dialogue bled to the rear right in a distracting manner. When the mix used the surrounds, this channel also came to the fore in an unnatural way, so the soundfield never felt balanced. A few decent moments emerged – such as when the spaceship zoomed from one channel to another – but the soundscape was usually a liability.

Audio quality was erratic as well. Dialogue was intelligible but could be rough and edgy; the lines didn’t tend to be especially natural. The same went for effects; some were reasonably clear, but others were boomy and distorted.

Finally, music showed more inconsistencies. Some of those elements showed decent range/clarity, but others were flawed; for instance, the title song was awfully rough and shrill. The audio was too inconsistent to deserve more than a “D+”.

In terms of extras, we get two separate audio commentaries. The first features actor/director Terry Jones, production designer/actor Terry Gilliam, and actor Eric Idle. All three recorded separate running, screen-specific tracks that got edited together. They discuss sets, locations and costumes, cast and performances, animation and production design, intra-Python issues, story/character topics,

Despite occasional lulls, this becomes a good discussion. We get a nice look at various filmmaking choices as well as how the Pythons work together and performance elements. The various sides mesh in a positive manner to create a lively and enjoyable piece.

For the second commentary, we hear from actors John Cleese and Michael Palin. Both created their own screen-specific tracks that got edited together into one piece. They look at subjects mainly related to story/characters/script and cast/performances, though other facets of the production arise as well.

While not quite as strong as the first commentary, Cleese and Palin still manage to deliver a nice examination of the movie. They get into matters from their perspective, and these notes add to our understanding of the production. This turns into another fine chat.

A BBC documentary simply called The Pythons lasts 49 minutes, 50 seconds. From 1979, the program takes us to the set of Brian and also offers a history of the Pythons. We find comments from Idle, Jones, Gilliam, Palin, Cleese. Graham Chapman and actors Spike Milligan and Carol Cleveland.

While not the tightest, most coherent show I’ve seen, “Pythons” benefits from good access to the members themselves. We get nice glimpses of the Brian shoot as well as a wealth of insights from the Pythons. That’s enough to make this a solid program, even if it doesn’t tell a particularly clear narrative.

Five Deleted Scenes follow. With a total running time of 13 minutes, 16 seconds, we find “Sheep”, “Pilate’s Wife”, “Otto”, “’The Sign That Is the Sign’” and “Souvenir Shop”. These tend to be comedic pieces that offer entertainment but don’t seem essential to the story. They’re fun to see but inconsequential.

Each scene can be watched with or without commentary. For “Sheep” and “Wife”, we hear from Idle and Jones, while for “Otto” we get Gilliam and Idle. “Sign” offers Jones solo and “Shop” delivers Idle on his own. They give us some basics about the scenes but their remarks don’t bring a ton of insight.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get four British Radio Ads. Each one focuses on why various Pythons – Palin, Idle, Cleese and Gilliam – need you to see the movie to earn them movie. They’re funnier in idea than execution, but they’re still a good addition.

Finally, the set concludes with a booklet. It offers credits and a short essay from film writer George Perry. It comes with some merits but it’s not one of Criterion’s better texts.

While probably not Monty Python’s best work, Life of Brian offers a quality affair nonetheless. It gives us enough irreverent wit to make it entertaining. The DVD offers flawed picture and audio along with a nice array of supplements. I like the movie but this ends up as a problematic DVD.

To rate this film, visit the Blu-ray review of LIFE OF BRIAN

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