Religulous (US - DVD R1)
Gabe clenches his teeth, squints his eyes, and braces for the feedback...
Over the last few years I’ve seen a wide array of shocking documentaries, including Tony Kaye’s Lake of Fire, an epic meditation on the abortion issue from every side of the argument, Amy Berg’s Deliver Us From Evil, a frank exploration of a Catholic priest that raped several children across America, and Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure, a detailed look into the torture of and death of Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib prison. It’s time for something a little more light-hearted. How about comedian Bill Maher complaining about the hypocrisy of religious beliefs? Sounds pretty light, right?
I can’t honestly review Religulous for you guys without given a brief rundown on what I bring to this table. I was raised agnostic by an ex-Catholic father, and a half Jewish/half Unitarian mother. I’m not a religious person, I keep up on scientific findings, and I’m a passing fan of Maher. I have problems with the film. I don’t really enjoy watching unscripted arguments. Maher is an expert berater, and even when I vehemently disagree with the person he’s berating, it kind of hurts to watch the process. It’s also obvious that Maher’s claim of ‘not knowing’ is untrue, he’s entirely made up his mind to be an atheist, and he and director Larry Charles are creating a movie to tease the various religious institutions. The film’s final statement is a powerful, and ultimately very brave message, but it comes suddenly after a whole bunch of generally comedic exploration, and sounds surprisingly similar to the exact brand of preaching Maher and company are railing against.
Maher and Charles pick the right things to argue against, and I am drawn in by their choice in targets—creationism, anti-gay movements, and the zealous belief in some of the sillier Biblical parables. It’s mean spirited, and it’s not all inclusive, but it’s satisfying in an amusing sense. My favourite thing in the entire film (even if it’s short) is the trip to the (at the time) unfinished Creationism museum, which has got to be one of the daftest collections of stuff claiming to be an educational establishment in America. Other highlights include Maher interviewing Israelis that invent machinery that gets them around the rules of the Sabbath, Charles intercutting a pimp interview with a priest’s interview, a cannabis priest catching his own hair on fire while high, and a Muslim Cleric whose cell phone interrupts the interview. His ring tone of choice? Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’.
Larry Charles isn’t a documentarian filmmaker concerned with pretty images, so there isn’t a whole lot to say about this anamorphic transfer. The image quality varies with the source material. The random, speedy inserts of old films, propaganda pieces and stock footage run from crisp to YouTube quality. The stuff filmed for use in the movie specifically is generally clean and clear, with your basic television special resolution, mostly source lighting, and no stand out colours. There’s very little compression noise in these section, but there is some edge enhancement, and there is some minor bleeding.
Though presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, Religulous is mostly a mono film. It’s mostly made up of interview footage, which is well recorded by a single mic, and it’s pretty thoroughly centred on the track. There are outburst of rock and pop music which fill out the stereo channels and push the LFE channel a bit, but the surround channels are usually either silent, or for use of echo effects. There is a sort of bombastic montage at the very end, which includes a lot of stock explosions, so the whole system gets a minor work out, but overall we’re talking about pretty minimal stuff.
The minimal extras begin (and nearly end) with a commentary track featuring star/producer Bill Maher, and director Larry Charles. Maher and Charles are mostly scene specific with their commentating, and delve into the various characters interviewed for the film. The strange thing about this particular track is that Maher is such an important personality in the film that we pretty much already know how he feels about these people, unlike most documentaries, where the interviewer tries to keep his or herself out of the picture. There’s some sidelining stuff, but it’s almost all interesting stuff. There is a point where Maher and Charles whine about their lack of Oscar nomination, claiming it has everything to do with the offensive content, never pausing to think that perhaps their film just wasn’t one of the year’s best documentaries.
‘Monologues from Around the World’ is a series of eight unused bits of Maher monologuing about various problems with religion. These include talks about the Dead Sea Scrolls (concerning Biblical editing), suicide bombers (who Maher considers sex depraved), Nazi’s, extra thoughts on the ‘Rude Man’, Catholic Dogma, afterlife promises that can’t be proven, L. Ron Hubbard, and more. This is followed by seven deleted scenes (as opposed to the monologues?). These are entirely deleted sections, not bits from other sections, meaning these people aren’t in the finished movie at all. Things end with Lionsgate trailers.
The ultimate problem with Religulous is the size of the issues it attempts to cover. Any one idea could sustain an entire ninety-minute documentary, thus none are covered to a satisfying extent. It’s an entertaining movie, and at times a hilarious movie, but it’s not a fully realized movie. I’d prefer a television series, with Maher covering a different aspect of world religion every week. I know Maher’s had a couple shows, but they aren’t ‘road’ shows. Even on a budget producers could find crazy stuff in the US, Canada, and Mexico alone. Maybe if we buy enough copies of this DVD HBO will pick up a series…
…Hey guys, you should totally buy this DVD.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 17th February 2009
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Director/Producer Commentary, Deleted Monologues, Deleted Scenes, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Larry Charles
Cast: Bill Maher, Steve Burg, Francis Collins, George Coyne, Jerry Cummings
Genre: Comedy and Documentary
Length: 96 minutes
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