MGM // 1994 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // June 18th, 2007
"I hereby christen this budget Barbie camper Priscilla, queen of the desert."
Somewhere in the bonus materials, director Stephan Elliott (Eye of the Beholder) states that The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is often considered a gay movie. He then goes on to say that Priscilla really isn't a gay movie but more of a musical.
I have to disagree with Mr. Elliott: Priscilla skews more towards a gay movie than musical. Sadly, while that doesn't bother me in the least, I know that makes it verboten for a good portion of the populace. That is a shame because this movie, while decidedly gay, is also quite funny. It pokes fun at a niche subset of the gay community, but it also has universal themes of love, acceptance, and happiness. Priscilla is gay in the best way.
"How fun. Baby bottles of booze."
Tick (Hugo Weaving, The Matrix) receives a phone call from his estranged wife. She needs some help with the entertainment in her hotel in Alice Springs, Australia. While it's been years since they last talked, he agrees to pack up and leave Sydney. He asks two of his friends to come along: Ralph (Terence Stamp, Superman II) and Adam (Guy Pearce, Memento).
Tick, Ralph, and Adam are also known as Mitzi, Bernadette, and Felicia. They are drag queens. Additionally, Bernadette is a transsexual; Adam is flamboyantly gay, and Tick is seemingly confused about which team he bats.
The three of them procure a bus, christen it Priscilla, queen of the desert, and begin the long drive across Australia. These are their adventures.
"I've said it before, and I'll say it again: No more f***ing ABBA."
Priscilla is a funny movie. But why do I find it funny? Is it the gay humor, or is the humor broader than that? Should this movie appeal to a larger audience? Can it break outside of its cult status? I'd like to think so, but the past 15 or so years have proved that Priscilla shall forever appeal to a niche market. Looking at the jokes and situations in the movie, I can relate to them beyond the homosexual situations. I can see how this absurd road trip can be about any three people. But in this case its three drag queens, thereby limiting its audience.
You should give Priscilla a chance after all these years. It has three genius performances and wonderfully zany moments coming together to form a brisk, entertaining movie.
What makes Priscilla all the more fascinating is those three genius performances. Rarely does one give a drag queen such accolades, but they are well deserved here. Let's review the three men who star in this movie:
Terence Stamp: General Zod as a drag queen? Quite unthinkable. Yet Stamp was bored of being typecast as a bad guy and this script came across at just the right moment. The grand dame, the sophisticated woman, Stamp is a matronly lady (i.e. unconvincingly ugly) that is a stabilizer for the trio. Stamp, a heterosexual, perfectly portrays the transsexual Bernadette -- but he needs to work on his dancing. The man, as good an actor he is, just doesn't have an ounce of rhythm in his body. He's clunky, uncomfortable, and tense. But then again, so am I...a bad dancer, that is.
Hugo Weaving: Agent Smith, the bane of Neo's existence, wearing a dress? Now that would have been an interesting scene in The Matrix trilogy. As the understood leader of this pack, Hugo is the heart of the film, bringing them together and helping them face the difficulties of their chosen lifestyle. Weaving, another heterosexual, portrays Mitzi's ambiguity with a crass subtlety. Too bad he just makes for one egregiously scary (and ugly) woman.
Guy Pearce: While Guy doesn't have a stand out character name to his credit, you may remember him from LA Confidential or Memento. As Felicia, Guy is the icing on the cake. His sheer, raucous flamboyance gives the movie its zing. Primarily added to the cast as eye candy, Guy is so convincingly gay in his role that even now, all these years later, he's still pestered about his sexuality, of which he too is straight -- married, with kids. Of the three men, he is the only one that actually looks like a woman, as long as you like well-muscled women with a little arm hair.
All in all, you have three very manly, macho, straight men convincingly playing three sexually diverse drag queens. That, in and of itself, is worth the price of admission. That the movie is so darn funny is a big bonus.
This is the second release of Priscilla to DVD. I have not seen the original release, and information on the previous release is a bit sketchy. It would appear that the first disc was basically a bare bones release with crappy transfers. As previous reviews take note of errors that I did not detect on my disc, it appears that we have new transfers on this disc. This new 2.35:1 anamorphic print captures the outlandish colors of the girls' costumes and the rich earth tones of the Australian Outback without any imperfection. Every ripple of fabric and every grain of sand shines through with bold colors and excellent detail and contrast. Audio choices are also more abundant, with three to choose from -- if you speak French, that is. Top of the list is a new DTS track. This option is your best bet, with crystal clear dialogue, vibrant use of the surrounds, and a solid bass channel. I heard no distortion. If you don't have DTS equipment, the Dolby Digital 5.1 is a good choice, but clearly inferior to the DTS mix, with less oomph and pop. Dialogue is still clear, but the other channels don't come across as powerfully. The main drawback on the audio front is the DVD is disabled from on-the-fly switching. You're forced to go back to the menu.
The first release had a trailer and some text biographies, so this "Extra Frills" edition is a distinct improvement in quantity if not necessarily quality. First is an audio commentary by Stephan Elliott, which appears to be a semi-recent recording. I was surprised by how bitter and sad he comes across here. It's not an entertaining track, and he spends too much time reminiscing about the movie in general instead of focusing what's on the screen. Much better is the featurette "Birth of a Queen" (25 minutes) that talks about the making of the movie. Here, Elliott and the cast are quite chipper and upbeat, as it's filmed during the making of the movie. This gives a good insight into Priscilla. Next up our four deleted scenes, without a play all option but with introductory text. Nothing much added or lost here. The odd "Tidbits from the Set" is basically scraps of interviews. Most run less than a minute and are, honestly, worthless. "The Bus from Blooperville" (9.5 minutes) is an assortment of not so funny bloopers. And rounding it all out is a photo gallery (Frocks, Frills, and Fotos) and some trailers.
"Are you telling me this is an ABBA turd?"
No, this movie is not a turd. It's an extremely enjoyable, laugh out loud, ballsy, and provocative comedy.
"That's just what this country needs: a cock in a frock on a rock."
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is gayer than Stephan Elliott thinks. It's not a bad thing, and that gay vibe throughout the film is quite delicious. But that's why Priscilla has never quite found a wider audience, and that is a shame. If you looking for a wickedly spirited and rousing comedy that's confident and not afraid to be a bit out there, or if you want to see three manly men act like silly poofters, then this movie is for you. Go out and at least rent the thing. You'll definitely find lots to laugh at. For fans, this is a good release, worth of purchase. Is it double-dip worthy? I'd say yes for the hard core fan.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is hereby found guilty of being tacky.
Review content copyright © 2007 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio Commentary by Director Stephan Elliott
* "Birth of a Queen"
* Deleted Scenes
* Tidbits from the Set
* The Bus from Blooperville
* Frocks, Frills, and Fotos