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