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  Directed by
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  Specs
  • Full Frame
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Mono
  Subtitles
  • None
  Extras
  • 4 Teaser trailer - All for other releases.
  • Animated menus
  • TV spot - For Amnesty International
The Secret Policeman's The Big Three-O
Umbrella Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 98 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
Contract

The Secret Policeman's The Big Three-0, like the six Secret Policeman's releases before it, is essentially an awareness and fund-raising exercise for Amnesty International. This release celebrates the 30th Anniversary of Amnesty International, the world's "first and best human rights organisation."

Amnesty International began in 1961 and has been most influential in drawing attention to many of the world's greatest miscarriages of justice. It has brought into focus the plight and inhumane treatment of a great many individuals and groups who have stood up to the world's numerous dictatorships. Amnesty International also devotes itself to protecting the basic rights of women and minority groups. Protecting human rights on a global scale requires much human effort and cash, and The Secret Policeman's... series is/was an attempt to gather both.

The concept, originally flagged by John Cleese back in the '70s, was simple - and very successful. It involved calling up top comedians and musicians of the day, and asking them if they'd care to perform at an event that would raise awareness of Amnesty International's struggle to free prisoners of conscience. Fortunately, most said yes. Filming it, and releasing it commercially, ensured the moneymaking side of the project. The original, The Secret Policeman's Ball, was such a success it spawned many sequels, including this one, and while the first were very funny, it might be argued that the laughs subsequently dwindled - significantly.

Hosted by Jonathan Woss (sorry, that's Jonathan Ross) and Alexei Sayle, some of the funnier performers include Emo Phillips, Julian Clary, Spinal Tap, Hale and Pace, Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones, but others are truly awful. Admittedly some of the jokes are very British and concern political and social events of the time (1991), but some of the 'comedians' are so bad it's embarrassing. I can only hope that no one was paid for his or her performance. I swear the organisers must have asked if anyone in the crowd would like to get up and have a go - and some did.

Musically, things are a little better. Under the musical direction of Dave Gilmour (Pink Floyd) and Jools Holland (Squeeze), acts such as Tom Jones, Morrissey, Spinal Tap, Andrew Strong, Lisa Stansfield and Daryl Hall perform quite well. The same cannot be said of Seal, Rick Astley and a swag of others who must not have had any paying gigs that night and thought they'd 'pop in'. BEWARE! Jason Donovan sings (actually he mimes - badly) with Kim Wilde on one of the lamest songs I have ever heard, in a truly naff post '80s performance that will have you frantically searching for the remote. I can honestly say I have never heard an "artist" so out of his depth in my life.

The rest is a hodge-podge of cameos from the likes of Spitting Image, French and Saunders, Rosanne, Kylie Minogue (who thankfully doesn't sing, squawk or even mime), John Cleese, Dave Stewart, Paula Yates and Mark Little. There are quite a few others that history has kindly dispatched, not so much to the "Where Are They Now?" file, but more aptly to the "Who Were They Then?" file.

After 98 minutes, I can say I was rather pleased that it was over. Amnesty International is a worthy cause without a doubt, and while everyone gave their time with the best of intentions, I think a few should have stayed home and watched it on telly, and left the music and comedy to the professionals.

  Video
  Audio
  Extras
Contract

Having seen the original Secret Policeman's Ball, I can report that there has been improvement in both the video and audio, but be warned, neither will leave you in awe.

The Secret Policeman's The Big Three-0 is presented in full frame and thus it is not 16x9 enhanced. Stage lighting plays havoc with the colours and it is the pre-recorded cameos that are significantly better and closer to true colour. Chroma noise is evident in many shots. Grain is a constant problem, particularly in the backgrounds and crowd shots. Shadow detail is fair but also affected by stage lighting.

Black levels vary greatly and there is much evidence of low-level noise. Video artefacts are minimal, with several white and green (?) flecks noted. See 80:50 and 83:03 for examples. To be fair, there is a warning on the back cover stating "The video contains technical anomolies (sic) inherent in historically significant, vintage performance."

On the plus side, there is no layer change as this is a single sided disc.

Dolby Digital mono is never anything to get excited about and my enthusiasm is suitably capped. All vocals are clear and synchronisation is spot on. The low-level sounds are often quite rich and deep which was a pleasant surprise, and trebles are clear. There are several instances of dropout from the right channel, and while this is annoying, it never appeared to happen during the musical performances (although during Jason Donovan's performance would have been a blessing). There is also a total sound dropout from 71:18 to 71:21 at the end of Dave Stewart's musical piece Amnesty, which I mistook for the layer change until I remembered that this is a single layer disc.

The cover proudly boasts DVD Features such as Motion Menu and Scene Index - sorry boys, but these don't really count as features anymore.

There are five silent pages of text in Background which is a short history of Amnesty International and Subtitles during most musical performances which give the barest of information such as song title, author and album.

Included as a further reminder of what this is all about, is a 30 second Television Advert which must have aired many years ago and highlights Amnesty International's tireless work and makes no mention of The Secret Policeman's... releases.

Also included are four Trailers for The Secret Policeman's Ball, Malcolm, Natural History Of The Chicken, and What's Up, Tiger Lily?. All are full frame, Dolby Digital mono presentations ranging in quality from shocking to poor. As these are little more than adverts, time should not be wasted lamenting their quality.

So much was promised, so little is delivered. The original Secret Policeman's Ball and one or two subsequent releases were worthy projects that delivered some great laughs and inspirational musical performances. Sadly, The Secret Policeman's The Big Three-0, does not have the same depth of quality. The cause is just as noble, but the laughs have dwindled to the odd smile or chuckle, and the musical performances, bar a few, are lame. I could recommend this only with the knowledge that it is for a good cause.


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  •   And I quote...
    "Amnesty International UK presents yet another in the Secret Policeman's series, featuring a star-studded lineup of comedians and musicians... and Jason Donovan."
    - Terry Kemp
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Akai
    • TV:
          TEAC CT-F803 80cm Super Flat Screen
    • Receiver:
          Pioneer VSX-D409
    • Speakers:
          Wellings
    • Centre Speaker:
          Wellings
    • Surrounds:
          Wellings
    • Subwoofer:
          Sherwood SP 210W
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