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The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert: Extra Frills Edition

Well before Hugo Weaving was Agent Smith, Elrond the Elf, and the vendetta-prone V, and previous to Guy Pearce tattooing memories all over himself, betraying the Count of Monte Cristo, or traveling in a Time Machine, the pair put on high heels and falsies to travel the Australian outback in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994). Since most Americans were unfamiliar with either actor at the time of the film's release, the most surprising bit of casting was that of the third member of their party — Terence Stamp, whose four decades of film work have seen him in roles as diverse as Melville's Billy Budd (1962), General Zod in the first two Superman movies, and the embodiment of corporate ruthlessness in Alien Nation (1988). In Priscilla, Stamp played a very different sort of character as Bernadette, an aging transsexual who travels with her drag-queen pals Mitzi (Weaving) and Felicia (Pearce) to perform at a casino in Alice Springs, tooling across the barren desert in a repainted school bus that the ladies have christened "Priscilla." Writer-director Stephan Elliott penned the script in 12 days, and he wisely stuck with the classic road-trip template, creating three marvelously different, complex characters that give each actor a wonderful palette with which to paint. As Bernadette, the elder stateswoman, Stamp is elegant, world-weary, and controlled; Weaving's Mitzi has an extensive past as Ralph, including an ex-wife and a young son; and Pearce almost steals much of the film as the rude, thoughtless, charming, and energetic Felicia, the campiest of the three. As a team, dolled up in their often-ridiculous costumes, they bicker, catfight, and support each other throughout the journey, and they end up as such winning, affecting characters that some of the picture's better elements — like Bernadette's romance with a good-hearted desert mechanic (Bill Hunter) and a fireside performance for a group of appreciative aborigines — transcend camp to become something with real heart. Like its drag protagonists, Priscilla's brash, silly, schmaltzy, and still, over a decade after its release, a fresh look at love and friendship, all covered in sequins and feathers.

MGM's "Extra Frills Edition" offers up a sparkling, sharp anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that gets the best out of this fairly low-budget film, while the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (English or French, with optional English and Spanish subtitles) is quite good, as well. The featurette "Birth of a Queen" is a delightful look back by director Elliott on the writing, casting and creation of the film (29 min.). Also on board are four deleted scenes, the outtake reel "The Bus From Blooperville" (9 min.), short soundbites by cast and crew in "Tidbits from the Set," (including producer Al Clark describing the film as "sort of a deranged transvestite version of Apocalypse Now"), a stills gallery, and the original theatrical trailer. Pink keep-case in a paperboard slipcover.
—Dawn Taylor

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