Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy)
Program Length: 91 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p
Languages: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA
Subtitles: English SDH, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish
It’s just like Handel, only funnier. – soloist tenor William Ferguson
The venue is the iconic Royal Albert Hall in London. The performers include British mezzo-soprano Rosalind Plowright, Canadian soprano Shannon Mercer, American tenor William Ferguson, British bass-baritone Christopher Purves, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus. However, from the opening strains of John Philip Sousa’s “The Liberty Bell,” it is evident that Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy) is a celebration of 40 years of Monty Python, and a very entertaining one at that.
Following the success of Spamalot, the musical version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Eric Idle and composer/conductor John Du Prez set their sights on doing something similar with Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Instead of developing another musical, it occurred to Idle to turn Life of Brian into a comic oratorio. Du Prez went to work composing new music, and they recruited renowned opera singers to take the parts of Brian, Mandy (Brian mother), Judith (Brian’s girlfriend), and Reg (he of the revolutionary People’s Front of Judea). The oratorio debuted as an hour-long performance at the Luminato Festival in Toronto in 2007. This original version was reprised in various venues in North America before it was expanded to 90 minutes for performances in Australia and New Zealand.
This Blu-ray presentation was recorded on October 23, 2009 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Monty Python. This performance includes guest appearances by Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, and Carol Cleveland. The only living member of the Python troupe who does not participate in the production is John Cleese.
Essentially, Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy) is a spoof of Handel’s oratorio, Messiah. Whereas Handel based his oratorio upon the New Testament, this spoof closely follows the storyline of Life of Brian. For the uninitiated, Brian Cohen (William Ferguson) is the son of a Jewish woman, Mandy (Rosalind Plowright), and a Roman soldier who abandoned Mandy. Brian decides that he wants to become a revolutionary and work for independence from Rome. He joins the People’s Front of Judea (not to be confused with the Judean People’s Front or the Popular Front of Judea or the People’s Popular Front!), where he meets Judith (Shannon Mercer) and Reg (Christopher Purves). While fleeing a raid by Roman soldiers, Brian disguises himself as a street preacher and the assembled crowd mistakes him for the promised messiah.
Python fans will be pleased to see that many of their favorite bits from Life of Brian are incorporated into the oratorio. In addition, Michael Palin appears in drag (and later reprises his film role as Pontius Pilate), Terry Jones leads a song dressed as a Welsh coal miner, and Terry Gilliam shows up on stage twice, including the audience-pleasing finale. Leading the way is Eric Idle, who is present throughout. Idle of course does a stirring version of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” but what really brings down the house is when he solos as an extremely famous American singer-songwriter (whom I will not identify so as not to spoil the surprise). The oratorio also includes sheep, bagpipes and Mounties – this is Monty Python, after all.
The production is lavish, with a stirring performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus conducted by John Du Prez. The soloists are outstanding, and they obviously are having a wonderful time doing what is clearly a departure from their usual kind of work. I expect that there are some who will condemn Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy) asblasphemous, just as there were those who felt that same way about Life of Brian. Those people, of course, miss the point. More importantly, they are missing out on a funny and very entertaining work of comedy and music.
This is a filming of a stage performance and therefore has inherent limitations. That said, the 1.78:1 1080p transfer is very satisfying. The image is consistently sharp, and director Aubrey Powell utilizes many different camera angles to give the viewer a real sense of what it must have been like to be in the audience. Flesh tones appear to be accurate and the colors are consistently solid. Mountie uniforms are always a good test for color bleeding, and there is no problem in that regard. It is difficult to imagine how this could possibly look any better.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is outstanding, providing the kind of immersive experience which seemingly replicates how the wonderful music must have sounded to the Royal Albert Hall audience. The surround channels are used effectively to give the soundtrack an expansive soundstage. Although most of the words are delivered in song, there is some straight dialogue which is mostly and clearly confined to the center channel. Reasonably unobtrusive and accurate subtitles are available for those who might have difficulty making out some of the words. The original music and lyrics by John Du Prez and Eric Idle are inspired and a delight to hear.
There are a number of entertaining extras on this Blu-ray disc, all of which are presented in high definition and English stereo.
“The Road to Albert Hall” is a don’t-miss 31-minute featurette about the making of the oratorio. All of the principals are given an opportunity to discuss their participation. The soloists, who clearly relished their roles, talk about how doing the oratorio was almost like a day off for them. This not only reflects upon what a great time they were having, but also is a commentary on how taxing it is to perform in operas. There is also a considerable amount of rehearsal footage, during which the singers and musicians had to learn to stifle their laughter.
“Showtime” is brief backstage look at the night of the Royal Albert Hall performance.
“The Bright Side” is a short featurette which gives Eric Idle an opportunity to ruminate on his iconic song. He describes it as “like a war song from our fathers’ generation, but done ironically.”
If you like to do sing-a-longs, the opportunity is given to do so with “What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us,” “The People’s Front of Judea,” “You’re the One,” “Amourdeus,” “Take Us Home,” and “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” A word of caution, however: if you decide to make a video of yourself while singing “Amourdeus,” do so at your own risk.
Finally, there are trailers for Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway, Across the Universe, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and Nine.
Movie IQ and BD-Live features will be available on the release date.
The single disc comes in a standard Blu-ray keep case.
The Final Analysis
Just as Spamalot was an entirely new way to enjoy Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy) is an original and thoroughly enjoyable take on Monty Python’s Life of Brian. There are also some new bits which are as good as anything the Pythons did in the past. It is impossible to conceive how any Monty Python fan could not be completely delighted by this Blu-ray disc. The enthusiastic and sustained standing ovation by the concert hall audience is a testament to how much those who were present enjoyed the performance, and this Blu-ray disc is the next best way to experience it.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: June 8, 2010