The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert engages in its fair share of campy fun — it is a movie about drag queens after all — but doesn’t let its humanity drown in a sea of glittery frocks either. Part of the Australian film crossover boom in the early ’90s along with Strictly Ballroom and Muriel’s Wedding, Stephan Elliott’s Priscilla has the soul of both a crowd pleaser and an insightful character study.
Much of the film’s charm comes from its superb cast — Terence Stamp as Bernadette, a recently widowed trans woman, and Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce as Tick and Adam, a pair of drag queens who secure a job out in the desert. Tick convinces the world-weary Bernadette to join them, and they take off in a dilapidated bus they dub Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Like any good road movie, the mode of transportation here has its share of problems, and a breakdown in the middle of nowhere forces them to lean on Bob (Bill Hunter), a kindly mechanic who joins their caravan after his mail-order bride goes berserk and leaves him.
Priscilla is a relentlessly episodic film, moving from an encounter with bigoted rednecks to a spontaneous performance for an aboriginal tribe to a host of family secrets revealed at the eventual destination. But that kind of pacing works to the film’s advantage, with the musical numbers and their outrageous — and Oscar-winning costumes — and the individual characterizations helping keep the proceedings coherent from one scene to the next.
Stamp is particularly good as a woman who’s seen and done it all and for whom the frilly ostentatiousness has become completely mundane. Her cynicism is contrasted with Pearce’s simultaneously obnoxious and charming character, with Weaving’s cautious optimism acting as the balance between the two.
It’s almost impossible not to enjoy Priscilla, which knows when to take things seriously and when to indulge in a bit of over-the-top grandstanding.
The Blu-ray Disc
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The image here is fantastic and doesn’t betray the low-budget limitations of the picture at all. The dusty hues of the Australian outback are perfectly rendered, with reds, blues, yellows and greens from the costumes all popping against the earthy background. Fine detail is excellent, especially in close-ups of faces. Even in HD, Guy Pearce still makes for a pretty convincing woman, at least in the face. Some infrequent speckling shows up throughout, but overall, this is a very satisfying presentation.
Audio is presented in a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that handles the musical numbers with aplomb and offers a reasonably immersive experience while driving through the desert. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout.
All the extras from 2007’s special edition DVD are included. You get Stephan Elliott talking about the film in both a commentary track and an interview segment. There’s also a brief making-of featurette, several deleted scenes, a gag reel and the theatrical trailer.
The Bottom Line
A significant upgrade in picture quality makes this an easy choice for fans of the film.