PictureLife of Brian has been on DVD several times - but the definitive edition up to now has been The Criterion Edition. This has been long out of print, but luckily it resides in my collection so I have been able to do a direct comparison. The Criterian was special because not only was it the best presentation of the film released, but it also contained many fascinating extras that had not been seen before. The Blu ray release is dubbed “The Immaculate Edition” and is being released simultaneously on Blu ray and DVD.
The first thing to note is that the transfer we get here is in the OAR that we also got on the Criterian - a 1.85:1 transfer presented in 1080P. It should also be noted that Life of Brian is a low budget film from the late seventies that is never going to look stunning or be a reference disc.
The reason for this is the quality of the source print, which does display some levels of dirt and damage. It can also display some levels of grain at times although this is never as bad as some films of the era.
Comparing it up against the Criterian, though, the differences become startlingly clear. The increased detail in the transfer is immense - and this really does matter considering the level of reality that the Pythons were aiming for with this film. Stunning locations are brought vividly to life, and crowd scenes show the level of care taken over costumes right down to the people standing at the back. The sense of scale is also much greater. One good example of this is The Sermon on the Mount at the beginning when the camera pans from Jesus all the way to Brian who is standing right at the back with his mother. You can really see the scale of this shot.
Colours are also much more vibrant in this transfer - although the film is not by nature a colourful film. However, the clothes that the characters wear seem much more colourful, and the detail on the buildings is also much clearer. Flesh tones are also pleasingly natural.
So, this is easily the best that Life of Brian has ever looked. Upgrade decisions will have to depend on the version you already have. If you have the standard DVD version then the upgrade is worth it without a doubt. If you have the Criterion, though - you will have to look at the whole package before making a decision.
SoundThe Criterion was presented in stereo, but the Blu ray comes with a PCM and a TrueHD soundtrack. For the purposes of this review I listened to the latter.
To be quite frank, although the mix does sound a little more expansive than the stereo version, there really is not a huge difference here. The stereo mix on the Criterion sounded very central between the left and right speakers with very little seperation. This mix also sounds very central only the sound tends to come from the position you are sitting rather than further forward.
This means little to no rear action throughout the film at all, and certainly no LFE. To be fair, the film was never made to make use of a 5.1 mix but to be honest - I preferred the stereo mix on the Criterion. It sounded more natural. Unfortunately, that isn't available on this disc.
ExtrasFirst the good news - we have two exclusive extras that have never appeared elsewhere and they are superb. For Python fans, this makes the upgrade a no-brainer.
We kick off with a fascinating documentary ”The Story of Brian” from Monty Python. This is a superb hour long documentary featuring new interviews with the surviving members of the Python team. It offers insights into the making of the film, and the reaction to it on release.
This is followed by an absolute gem - something I never imagined I would get to hear. What we get is an Early Recording of the script being read by the entire Python team and being illustrated with the original storyboard drawings. This is a truly riveting two hours, as we can hear the team corpsing each other, and trying hard to keep on track. They obviously find the material funny and are in a good mood - so it makes this a hilarious listen. We also get to hear some bits that were subsequently rewritten or didn't even make the film.
The package is fleshed out with extras that were up to now only available on the Criterion disc. This includes two audio commentaries - one by Gillliam, Idle, and Jones and one by Cleese, and Palin. These are both genial and contain a great mixture of technical insight and comedy. I am not on the whole a commentary fan - but I found these to be an enjoyable listen.
Also previously exclusive to the Criterion but included here are five deleted scenes and some original radio ads. Sadly, the location documentary included on the Criterion is now missing.
VerdictThis is easily the best presentation of this very funny film that has been yet released. Featuring a sterling picture upgrade and an extensive extras package (many never before seen), this disc is only let down by its very poor sound mix.
If you already own the film on DVD I would say that this is definitely worth the upgrade. Taking the acclaimed Criterion edition as a template, it includes all but one of the extra features on that disc, improves the picture quality, and adds some fascinating exclusives.
If you have never seen the film before then you should definitely check this release out. It is one of the funniest British films ever, getting a deserved excellent disc. Highly recommended.
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