Michael Palin Collection
by Jef Burnham
Coming to DVD on June 7, 2011 from Image Entertainment.
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Image Entertainment presents another in their recent line of HandMade Films releases with the 3-Disc Michael Palin Collection. In the 1970’s, George Harrison co-founded HandMade Films in order to help his pals, the Monty Python troupe, complete their picture Life of Brian. Thus, HandMade became the home for the Python gang in feature films, particularly during the 1980’s; and perhaps no one member took advantage of this relationship more so than Michael Palin (my favorite member of the Python troupe, as it happens). In addition to the Python pictures produced by HandMade, Palin made three films with the company, Time Bandits (1981), The Missionary (1982), and A Private Function (1984), all of which are featured in this set.
Director Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits is something of a children’s film. It follows a gang of time-traveling bandit little people who thieve their way through the ages with both The Supreme Being and Evil himself on their trail. This film was an integral and beloved part of my own childhood; and is wholly entertaining yet disturbing— especially in terms of Gilliam’s matter-of-fact, almost gleeful treatment of death. Even as an adult, certain portions of this film genuinely creep me out. But that’s what I love about it. It is the rare, challenging children’s film. While Palin plays but a series of inconsequential bit parts throughout, Time Bandits is actually co-written by Palin along with fellow Python alum, Gilliam. It is truly the highlight of the collection.
For The Missionary, Palin again provides the screenplay, but unlike Time Bandits, he also takes on a starring role as the titular missionary. The Missionary is a wonderfully-crafted period piece set in 1906, and while not hilarious, per se, it is certainly an amusing film with undeniable charm. After ten years in Africa, missionary Charles Fortescue is called back to Britain and tasked by the church with reforming the nation’s prostitutes. And with a premise so rife with possibilities, you really wish they would get to the mission for prostitutes much sooner than they do. In fact, the mission isn’t even opened until halfway through the picture. The rest of the narrative revolves around Charles’s reluctant affair with the wealthy Lady Ames, played by two-time Academy Award-winner Maggie Smith (A Room With a View, the Harry Potter series). Even though Palin seems to have pursued the lesser of The Missionary’s storylines, at least it doesn’t prattle on forever in doing so, as the film runs a manageable one hour and twenty-two minutes.
A Private Function once again co-stars Palin and Maggie Smith as the Chilvers, a couple who, during post-World War II food rationing in England, unwittingly steal a black market pig from the local elite who plan to hold a private feast in celebration of the upcoming royal wedding. This is by far the weakest film in the collection. While the premise has all the makings of an amusing farce, the film consistently fails to deliver on the laughs. That is, unless you find bathroom humor particularly gratifying, in which case there is always someone farting when the pig (which coincidentally has diarrhea) isn’t defecating on the floor. It’s a truly dull experience overall. (For a more in-depth review of A Private Function, click here.
The only significant special feature in this set is an 18-minute interview with Terry Gilliam on Time Bandits. It certainly would have been nice to see at least one special feature created for this release devoted to Palin himself, given that this is the Michael Palin Collection. Another unfortunate thing about this release is the packaging, which finds the three discs stacked one on top of the other. And I really don’t see how the discs can escape scratching when packaged in this fashion.
Read about Image Entertainment’s concurrently released Bob Hoskins Collection here.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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