In 1979, Monty Python unleashed The Life Of Brian on a somewhat unsuspecting public. The film followed a parallel messiah in the form of a guy named Brian whose life had some uncanny similarities to what the Bible tells us Jesus Christ went through, all the way up to his crucifixion. Thirty years later, Eric Idle (with some help from Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, both of whom have brief cameos in the production), who did an excellent job of bringing Monty Python And The Search For The Holy Grail to life on stage as Spamalot proves lightning can strike twice with He's Not The Messiah. Performed live on stage in London, England in the historic Royal Albert Hall in 2009, this unlikely candidate for a musical adaptation turns out to be as inspired a slice of comedic lunacy as the film that inspired it and a production well worth the time of any self respecting Monty Python fan, old or new.
The musical version of the movie once again follows Brian (William Ferguson), a regular guy born just down the street from Jesus. His mother, Mandy (Rosalind Plowright) has never thought him to be the messiah and really there's nothing all that remarkable about Brian at all but that doesn't stop the local populace from mistaking him for their savior. This is all in spite of the fact that he wasn't born by Immaculate Conception and has never claimed to be the son of God. When he tires of the ensuing nuttiness that envelopes his previously mundane life, he hightails it out of Jerusalem and joins an underground resistance group called The People's Front Of Judea, lead by a radical named Reg Christopher Purves). It's here that he meets Judith of Judea (Shannon Mercer) and quickly falls in love with her. All Brian really wants to do is help The People's Front Of Judea get rid of the Romans, but his messianic destiny will soon prove impossible to escape.
So basically what Idle and his team have done here is to simply remake The Life Of Brian in musical form, it really doesn't deviate from the story told in the film much at all and many of the jokes do remain exactly the same. Those who know the movie well will have a pretty serious sense of déjà vu as they watch this, but at the same time, Idle has done such a good job with the musical side of things that the familiarity becomes almost a plus. On top of that, not one iota of the original film's lunatic sense of off the wall humor has been lost, and despite the fact that this is being done as a live theater piece it hasn't been overly classed up at all - at least, not to detrimental effect.
The music works well in the context of the story. It takes things just seriously enough and plays it all just straight enough that it's not only funny but really catchy and musically astute. There are plenty of catchy melodies that you find yourself humming along to as the movie plays out, or even after it's finished. Of course, the finale has to be the highlight, and the rendition of Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life actually rivals the version performed in the film not only in its comedic effectiveness but in its sheer sing-a-long-ability. On top of that, unlike some musical adaptations of silver screen classics, the songs here actually work really well in the context of the production in that they further the story and fit in with the narrative, as opposed to simply feeling like a forced musical interlude.
All of the expert musical numbers and fantastic showmanship would be for not if the material weren't captured right for a home video presentation. Thankfully, the crew responsible for filming and editing the production have put a lot of work into that side of things and their efforts have paid off. The production is very nicely shot and well put together, making it easy to follow what's happening on stage and enjoy things from pretty much the perfect angle every time. If you've ever wanted to see Monty Python's Life Of Brian done as a musical with a full blown symphony orchestra - and let's face it, we all have - this is the way to do it!
Not The Messiah debuts on Blu-ray in a strong AVC encoded 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p high definition transfer. Generally speaking, the picture quality here is very good. Some shots look a bit flat, which is probably a result of the stage sets being as limited as they are in spots, but detail and especially texture, which you'll notice in the costumes and wardrobe immediately, are both very strong and far above what standard definition could offer. Color reproduction looks nice and robust while black levels are strong, if occasionally just a little bit noisy in spots. Flesh tones look good, occasionally altered (and understandably so) by the different colors used in the lighting set up for the production, while contrast and brightness all look to be set appropriately. The appearance of the production doesn't necessarily lend itself to a reference quality high definition showcase, but given the minimalist appearance of the performance, this transfer looks very good indeed.
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track on this disc is a winner, with flawless directionality and excellent use made of all six channels in the setup. Most of the action comes from the front of the stage, as you're basically placed in the audience for the duration of the show, but rear channels are used very effectively for audience response and applause. The orchestral music sounds beautiful, with basically every different instrument able to be picked out in the mix, while dialogue and choral arrangements are clear and never hard to discern or understand. The levels are very well balanced, ensuring that the applause gets loud in spots but that it never buries the performers or the music, and there isn't a trace of any hiss or distortion to complain about. This is one of those mixes that really puts you in the middle of it all and makes you feel like you're actually there with the audience. No alternate language options are available, though Sony offers up subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
The most interesting and substantial extra feature, in fact the only one of any real merit, is a thirty-one minute documentary called The Road To Albert Hall that explores how Eric Idle went about recreating Life Of Brian as a musical for the stage, how he got a few of his fellow Monty Python alums to collaborate with him on the project, and how the cast and crew went about rehearsing and preparing for the production. Two shorter featurettes are also found here, the first of which is the three minute Showtime! which is some amusing backstage footage and the second of which is the three minute Bright Side that takes a look at how was rehearsed and worked into the performance. Both are interesting, but quite short and not all that in-depth.
Aside from that, the disc also provides sing-a-long Karaoke versions of six songs from the feature (What Have The Romans Ever Done For Us?, The People's Front Of Judea, You're The One, Amourdeus, Take Us Home and of course, Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, though most fans won't need the words for that last track as they'll have it permanently memorized!), Sony's MovieIQ functionality, Blu-ray Live functionality, trailers for a few unrelated Sony Blu-ray titles, animated menus and chapter stops. The special features on the disc are all in HD.
Not only is Not The Messiah insanely funny stuff, but it's also just really well made on pretty much every level. It doesn't surpass the original comedy but it does offer an interesting and amusing new slant on the same material and Sony has done a very nice job bringing it to home video on Blu-ray with a strong transfer, a beautiful sounding uncompressed sound mix, and a few decent extras as well. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.