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The Complete
MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS
Collector's Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Directors:  Various
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  A&E
Features:  See Review
Length:  Over 36 Hours
Release Date:  November 18, 2008

“Dear sirs, I wish to protest in the strongest possible terms about the sketch which you have just broadcast about the lumberjack who wears women's clothes.

Some of my best friends are lumberjacks, and only a FEW of them are transvestites.”

Film ****

And now for something completely different...

TWENTY-ONE discs of Monty Python?  You bet your dead parrot, friends.  But not to worry...you won't throw your back out lifting this baby to your DVD player.  But I can't guarantee you won't pull a rib muscle from laughing!

The members of Python were modern comedy's true artists…their serious and studious approach to laughter helped filled their groundbreaking BBC television series with revolutionary humor, with a mix of everything from satire and spoof to simple slapstick and basic naughtiness.

Assembled in 1969, the group consisted of reputed comic writers John Cleese and Graham Chapman (veterans of Britain's The Frost Report), up-and-comers Terry Jones, Eric Idle and Michael Palin (of the then-recent hit Do Not Adjust Your Set), and an outrageous American animator, Terry Gilliam.

From the start of Monty Python's Flying Circus, it was anything goes.  Sketches led one into another without the accentuation of punchlines.  Gilliam's animation segued one bit into another.  The lads played virtually every part themselves (unless, by their admission, they needed an ATTRACTIVE woman, in which veteran Carol Cleveland usually filled in), and targeted everything from class structure, the military, the clergy, law enforcement, bureaucracy, philosophy, intellectualism, and more.

Many of their skits have become cultural staples.  Comedy fans everywhere will join you in singing “I'm a Lumberjack”, or doing “The Ministry of Silly Walks” by your side, or chanting “Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam…”  These cemented the Python legend for all time.

But thanks to this complete set, other favorites don't get overlooked!  An all time classic to me was the “Déjà vu” skit, in which a hapless Michael Palin keeps repeating the same experience over and over again!  An all time classic to me was the “Déjà vu” skit, in which a hapless Michael Palin keeps repeating the same experience over and over again!  An all time classic to me was the “Déjà vu” skit, in which a hapless Michael Palin keeps repeating…whoa, that was weird…

Then there's the classic UFO sketch, in which aliens from another world wreak havoc upon the Britons by turning them one by one into…Scotsmen!  Oh, and of course, you can join Palin and Cleese for “The Argument Clinic”, or see Graham Chapman interrogated by “The Spanish Inquisition”.  Then there's “Crackpot Religions, Ltd.”, “Hell's Grannies”, “The Fish Slapping Dance”, and so much more.  What was your favorite Flying Circus sketch?  Oh, yes, that one's a scream, too!  And it's here, just like all of the rest of them!

Watching the shows from beginning to end is both A) time consuming…over a full 24 hours worth non stop, and B) rewarding.  Like the Beatles were to modern pop music, like Marlon Brando was to modern acting, so are the Pythons to modern comedy.  Viewing the programs in sequence is like seeing a textbook of humor come to life.  It also chronicles the rise and fall of the show, which lost John Cleese in its final year, which ultimately grounded the Flying Circus.  Cleese was no more important than the other five, mind you, but the chemistry was perfect with all six of them working together…no single element could be removed without greatly altering the flavor.  

Even after the series had ended, the Python legend continued with feature films and such.  Once you reach the end of the Circus with this set, you haven't finished.  The double disc Monty Python Live set from A&E is included!  You can continue on with Monty merriment with the legendary Live at the Hollywood Bowl film (one of the best comedy concerts ever), see one of the original "lost" German episodes of The Flying Circus (subtitled for those of us who were absent the day they taught German), the ever-popular Parrot Sketch Not Included retrospective hosted by Steve Martin, and their quite recent appearance at the Comedy Festival in Aspen...what a treat to see the living Pythons together on stage again!  (For a complete review of Monty Python Live, just click here!)

And if that wasn't enough, A&E has also packaged all SIX of the Python's Personal Best DVDs in this set.  If you think of the complete collection as a comedy juke box filled with every song, these six discs are like handy best-of catch-all compilations.  Of particular note is the Terry Gilliam disc, which compiles plenty of classic Python animation...check out the individual reviews below!

Graham Chapman's Personal Best
John Cleese's Personal Best
Terry Gilliam's Personal Best
Eric Idle's Personal Best
Terry Jones' Personal Best
Michael Palin's Personal Best

Of course, for more than a decade now, Python fans have mourned that a complete reunion can never happen, owing to the death of Graham Chapman.  The other members have toyed with the idea of reuniting…at last count, it was Michael Palin holding out, for the simple question of “can we live up to our legacy?”

It's quite a legacy, indeed.  The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus Collector's Edition is better than a full day's worth of nonstop entertainment together in one potential marathon viewing section, and from start to finish, it proclaims the comic genius of these legendary bad boys from Britain (oh, yeah, and the American guy, too).  This box set represents more than a classic television show and beyond…it's an absolute treasure trove of fun, wit, imagination, laughter, and full frontal nudity…nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean?  Say no more…

Video ***1/2

“This demonstrates the value of not being seen…”

And now for something completely digital…A&E has taken a three decade old British television show, cleaned it up, and made it look better than ever.  If you remember the Flying Circus from its late night run on MTV in the late 80s, as I did, you'll be quite impressed with the restoration job.  Colors look natural and bright again, and there is no grain or compression artifacts to mar the picture (spreading the episodes out over 14 discs helps, no doubt).  Keep in mind, however, that the show mixed video with various film stocks, some purposely made to look ragged and worn…when you see these, they look as they were meant to.  Overall, this is a quality DVD offering from start to finish!

Audio ***

“I don't much like the tone of your voice…”

These simple original mono tracks also benefit a bit from the remastering effort put forth by A&E.  Python was largely dialogue driven, to be sure, but who could ever forget the array of music from “The Liberty Bell March” theme to the classical, folky, and other bits?  Or how about the sound effects from Gilliam's animations?  Car crashes, explosions, mayhem galore…it all renders cleanly, with a fair amount of dynamic range, and no bleeding noise to spoil the fun…nicely done!

Features ***1/2

“Could I have Spam, egg, sausage and Spam without the Spam?  I don't like Spam!”

Each of the Flying Circus discs contains a small smattering of extras.  They all include files on the boys, including pre and post-Python work.  Many of them contain bits of sketches from other discs, which of course, becomes something less of a feature when you've got the whole set at your disposal.  The first disc includes a closer look at Terry Gilliam's animation process, which is a nice bit.  Along the way, you'll also find short interactive trivia games and collections of “pythonisms”, just in case you need to know that “Raymond Luxury Yacht” is actually pronounced “Throat Wobbler Mangrove”.  Amongst others.

There are also two brand new documentaries:  "Before Flying Circus" showcases the lads in their early days, on TV and stage, honing the skills and crafts they would unleash on the world, as well as telling the story of how this legendary troupe came to be.  "Monty Python Conquers America" shows just that...how the Brit bad boys retook the colonies for the mother land.  Many American stars chime in on how influential Python was on them!

By the way, the subtitling is excellent…even foreign language bits get the benefit of printed translations!

Summary:

“Lucky I didn't say anything about the dirty knife.”

Don't be intimidated by the size of the set…if you love Monty Python, there's no reason to deny yourself The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus Collector's Edition.  It contains everything you remember about Britain's landmark comedy show, plus others you will have forgotten about that will bring back fond memories…and chances are, a bit or two you may have never seen before.  A&E's extraordinary box set contains all 45 episodes from the program's four season run plus the double disc offering Monty Python Live, two new documentaries, and all SIX Personal Best disc from the Pythons, all digitally remastered…it's a guaranteed day and a half of fun for anybody who loves to laugh.

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