Not The Messiah: He’s a Very Naughty Boy is a tricky film to review. It’s a film with a very very narrow niche market that specifically targets die-hard fans of the sketch comedy troupe Monty Python. In fact, if you haven’t seen and thoroughly enjoyed the 1969-1974 British sketch comedy series Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the accompanying film Life of Brian (written by and staring the same comedians), then I suggest you stop reading now because there’s probably little reason for you to have any interest in this release whatsoever. This is definitely one that is strictly for the fans.
Not the Messiah is a comedic oratorio performed by the members of Monty Python (save Cleese and Chapman) that parodies Handel’s famous English oratorio Messiah and is loosely based on the Python film Life of Brian. Python essentially takes Messiah, an operatic interpretation of the life of Jesus Christ, and gives it an absurdist twist, retelling the story of the life of Brian Cohen, Christ’s next door neighbor who is mistaken for the true Messiah (hence the name Not the Messiah). Not the Messiah was first commissioned by and performed live at the Luminato festival in Canada and after a hugely successful run, took on a life of it’s own playing live venues around the world (much like Spamalot, a musical similarly based on another Monty Python film). This Blu-ray documents the show’s most distinguished performance at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall.
Now, keeping in mind that I’ve already warned non-Python-ites to steer clear, the oratorio itself is actually pretty entertaining. The retelling of Life of Brian is as silly and dryly humorous as you’d expect from the likes of Eric Idle. Though the whole thing is based on the film of the same name, there is still enough new material, jokes, and twists to keep fans thoroughly entertained. With absurd songs about God, chaos, and sheep, the self-proclaimed “baroque n’ roll” music varies greatly in style, from 50s doo-wop sing-alongs to Bob Dylan styled spoofs. The vocalists all have excellent voices that play well into many of the jokes and actually bring a surprising degree of emotion to the whole performance. There are also great cameo appearances from Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin throughout and some of the show’s highlights include a one sentence interruption cameo by Gilliam, an epic song about a shoe, a mumbly Bob Dylan style guitar solo from Idle, an impromptu mustacioed mariachi performance, and a revival of the famous Python lumberjack sketch. I’m by no means the biggest Monty Python fan there is, but I can appreciate the humor and absurdity of Not the Messiah and respect the Python guys for giving their fans a fun performance to supplement their Life of Brian film.
Not the Messiah‘s picture quality looks absolutely stunning…at least most of the time. The entire film is just a recording of the live performance, but closeups on the vocalists are incredibly vivid and detailed. The level of detail is such that you can actually see dust floating across the stage and bits of saliva fly from the performers mouths as they sing. The lighting is also amazing, with ominous red, blue, and white glowing lights that illuminate the orchestra bringing atmosphere to an otherwise dull setting. Though these well lit shots look fantastic, the darker areas of the image are often draped in a layer of noise, particularly noticeable when viewing the darkened orchestra in the background or shots of the audience. Still, the overall image quality is quite impressive and looks great on Blu-ray.
The 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio captures the orchestra brilliantly utilizing every speaker at all times to make it feel like you’re actually sitting inside the Royal Albert Hall. The voices of the singers are crisp and clear and resonate beautifully with no echo or distracting reverb, an impressive feat given the size of the venue in which it was recorded. Since this is an oratorio, sound quality is absolutely crucial and Not the Messiah truly delivers.
There’s a handful of sinful extras to supplement this foray into biblical mockery. Special Features include:
- The Road to Albert Hall
Interviews with Idle, the show’s creator, and John Du Prez the conductor and composer of all the music. We’re given an in depth look at how the show went from concept to final product and even get to see footage of the early rehearsals. It’s quite interesting to witness the comedic and musical pieces evolve and come together to form the final oratorio.
A short 3 minute behind the scenes clip of the actors, vocalists, and musicians right before the live performance at the Royal Albert Hall. We get a sneak peek at the performers in makeup and costume as they shake out their nerves and get ready to go on stage. We also get to see them after the performance and get their takes on how the show went.
- Bright Side
An analysis of Bright Side, the final song of Not the Messiah. Idle explains how the song came about, why he specifically chose it to close the show, and how he altered it to fit the style of the oratorio.
- Sing-Along Tracks
This takes a few of the individual musical pieces and plays them with the lyrics and musical notation displayed on the screen for viewers to sing along. Songs include: “What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us”, “The People’s Front of Judea”, “You’re the One”, “Amourdeus”, “Take Us Home”, and “Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
Not the Messiah is a must-own for Python fans, but for the average viewer it’s not likely to strike a chord. Without being familiar with Monty Python’s history and comedic style or their film Life of Brian, you’ll only be confused, disinterested, and above all bored.
The screen captures are only a small representation of what the Blu-ray looks like and are not representative of Blu-ray’s true quality.