MGM Studios DVD presents
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
"Being a man one day and a woman the next isn't an easy thing. "- Bernadette (Terence Stamp)
Stars: Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce
Other Stars: Bill Hunter, Mark Holmes, Sarah Chadwick, Julia Cortez, June Marie Bennett, Alan Dargin
Director: Stephan Elliott
MPAA Rating: R for sex-related situations and language
Run Time: 01h:43m:15s
Release Date: 2007-06-05
DVD ReviewHave you heard the one about the two drag queens and the transsexual?
That could be the setup for a really bad joke, but it's also the plot of this 1994 charmingly oddball Aussie road picture in which a trio of lip-synching glamour boys hit the dusty trail in an old school bus nicknamed Priscilla, bound for a two-week engagement deep in the outback.
It's a journey filled with personal revelations and self-discovery, as well as big heels, feather boas, glittery outfits and a soundtrack peppered with obligatory Abba tunes. And all of this high camp and drama is portrayed by three actors who in hindsight are really playing against type: Terence Stamp (The Limey, Superman), Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings) and Guy Pearce (Memento, L.A. Confidential). The casting alone makes writer/director Stephan Elliott's Australian indie worth a look, with Stamp's aging tranny Bernadette probably the most intriguing one of the bunch.
As the journey into the desert hits the occasional snag—sometimes with violent results—much of the time is spent either bickering or sniping at one another. Pearce's free-spirited Felicia is constantly at odds with Stamp's more reserved Bernadette, as Weaving's troubled Mitzi alternates between peacekeeper and being at the center of a plot point that serves to make their trip even more dramatic. Things take a curious bounce to the next level when the bus breaks down and a kindly smalltown mechanic (Bill Hunter) becomes an unlikely part of the group after his sexpot wife (a scene-stealing Julia Cortez) displays a knack for using ping-pong balls in a very unorthodox manner.
Stamp, Weaving, and Pearce each embrace their character's individual flamboyant nature, and they are able to avoid turning Bernadette, Mitzi and Felicia into swishy overdone stereotypes. Pearce's Felicia—the most carefree of the leads—plays it to 11, a hyper-kinetic young man still struggling and butting heads with rampant homophobia, something that Bernadette and Mitzi have come to regretfully accept as an unavoidable component of their lives. And for all of their personal problems the only time they are completely in their element is when they hit the stage to lip-synch, adorned in tall wigs and gaudy costumes.
The story seems a little thin in spots early on, with one-shot bursts of strange happenings like an encounter with a group of Aborigines or purely visual glitz like having Pearce's Felicia riding atop the bus in a long, flowing gowns while the soundtrack belts another hip diddy. These unrelated sequences give the film a slightly disjointed flow—as if the individual pieces do not have a connecting point— and it's not until Bill Hunter's arrival as the mechanic Bob that the three main characters find a new center of balance, some more so than others. And as things progress to Mitzi's confrontation with his past, Elliott finally reaches the realm of sweet alternative feel-goodness.
Felicia has a special possession he keeps in a small container he wears around his neck. His explanation of its origins is both comical and gross, the ultimate in an iconic fan memento. But as purely off-the-charts as this item is, it is readily apparent how key it is as a Grail-like extension of what gives him the most joy. And we see an expression of this unfettered joy during a spirited mouthing of an Abba song, choreographed within the crowded confines of Priscilla. Without the glittery costumes and stage makeup, it is that simple love of becoming one with a good song that makes them all tick.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||2.35:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: This release sports a new 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Some noticeable softness when it comes to edge detail, but colors look especially vivid and sharp during the flashy production numbers. The remainder of the film never achieves the same level of brightness, instead carrying modestly subdued hues. The print appears to have been cleaned up, and despite a couple of minor imperfections it has probably not looked better.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The main audio tracks are available in either Dolby Digital 5.1 surround or DTS (as well as a French stereo dub), and MGM has authored this one so that you need to make your selections from the menu only. Kind of a retro pain, and something that I thought we'd seen the last of. Regardless, both the 5.1 and DTS are eerily similar, and both really only come to life during the musical numbers or presence of songs on the soundtrack. It's during these moments that the LFE is finally evident, which makes the rest of the presentation sound a little lopsided by comparison. The overall mix is geared across the front channels with some pleasing spatial movement, with clean voice quality (Aussie accents and all).
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Girls Will Be Girls
4 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Stephan Elliott
Packaging: Amaray with slipcase
Extras Review: This one comes packaged in a hot pink Amaray case inside an embossed slipcover. Inside is a six-page booklet with some stripped-down facts about the film's origins and shooting.
There's a commentary from writer/director Stephan Elliott that starts by tracing the history of Aussie drag queens and how a rolling tumbleweed during Mardi Gras became the single image that inspired him to develop the script. Elliott's got a lot to say, and he has stories about music licensing, casting, production design and assorted low-budget tweaks that got things done, including a "not what you think" moment with a sex doll.
Birth of a Queen (29m:18s) offers more in-depth info from Elliott, and this piece covers a lot of the same topics found on the commentary track. There's a mix of film clips and Elliott interviews, and if you're looking for a condensed overview of the film's production, here's your Cliff Notes.
Next is a set of four brief deleted scenes, presented in somewhat smeary nonanamorphic widescreen. There's a quick text screen explaining where the cut footage was to be, and in the case of one scene explains that the punchline was considered too Australian for international audiences. The four cut bits are:
How Trumpet Got His Nickname (01m:04s)
Check-In at the Checkers Hotel (01m:21s)
An Outtage Before Dinner (01m:42s)
Auntie Picks Up the Pieces (02m:31s)
Tidbits from the Set requires a little remote control activity on the part of the viewer, and there are two screens of thirteen short hidden interview bits shot during the film's production, with input from Elliot, Guy Pearce, Terence Stamp and a few members of the crew. The Bus from Blooperville (09m:35s) is a meandering set of goofs and outtakes, while Frocks, Fills, and Fotos is fancy talk for a fairly large stills gallery. A pair of Priscilla trailers are also included.
The disc is cut into 32 chapters, and features optional subtitles in English or Spanish.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsI really dislike the funny little titles that get tacked on re-releases these days, and calling this one an "Extra Frills Edition" is no exception. But the good news is the new transfer is anamorphic, and a pair of audio mixes in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS give new life and dimension to the soundtrack.
A left-of-center feel good film, lots of great music and three adventurously proud performances from Stamp, Weaving, and Pearce.
Rich Rosell 2007-06-19