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MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL
Extraordinarily Deluxe Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Directors:  Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Studio:  Sony
Features:  See Review
Length:  89 Minutes
Release Date:  October 3, 2006

“No, on second thought, let’s not go to Camelot.  It is a silly place.”

Film ***1/2

I don’t think there’s a comedy film that brings me such a sense of nostalgia as does Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  In high school, there was no other film that we knew so much by heart and quoted so frequently.  Some of my friends even won awards adapting the script into oral interpretation for speech contests.  Amazing, considering the movie was nearly fifteen years old at the time.

This is perhaps the most popular, and certainly one of the funniest, of the Python pictures.  From the opening credits, with the “Swedish” subtitles, you know you’re in for something silly and irreverent, but also quite smart.  Listen to how the peasants bicker and argue about politics, for example, and how they react to Arthur’s (Chapman) stirring recounting of the Lady of the Lake legend.  “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government”, one remarks.

Chapman is the comic equal of the other members of the troupe, but it is when he plays the straight man, as in this film, that he services best.  His bewilderment at trying to recruit knights for his Round Table is hysterical.  Those he tries to talk to either belabor moot points, or taunt him, or even fight him (the Black Knight sequence is as funny and twisted as they come).

There are many classic comedy bits in the movie.  My favorites are the musical numbers, including the “Sir Robin” song, and the cabaret style “Camelot”.  No matter how many times I’ve seen that last one, it still always floors me.  And who could forget the Knights Who Say “Ni!”, the Bridge of Death, the farcical Frenchmen, the Trojan rabbit, and of course, the vicious, deadly bunny rabbit that protects the caves.  

Monty Python was definitely never a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.  This team was just the right blend of comic geniuses, who saw humor in anything and everything, from the intellectual to the silly, from the sacred to the profane.  And Terry Gilliam’s classic animations were the perfect touch to enhance the lunacy. 

These six guys were truly the Beatles of comedy…original and daring enough to bring their art form to the next level, and leaving a legacy of work that never seems to age.  And, of course, no matter how much success each member has achieved apart from the group, he will likely always be remembered first and foremost for being a part of Python.

Video ***

Having resolved myself to never seeing a good looking version of Holy Grail on home video, I’m pleased to report that this new transfer is indeed a holy grail.  Some side by side comparisons make the differences very obvious.  Colors are brighter now, with richer tones, and the overall look is less murky and more crisp.  Gone is much of the troublesome grain and loss of detail in lower light shots.  Flesh tones are better, lines are more distinct, and overall, the print seems quite a bit cleaner.  This is what Python fans have been waiting for!

Audio ***

In comparing the original mono with the new 5.1 mix, I didn’t discover a lot of discreet uses of the rear channel, but overall, the sound is much fuller and much more opened up.  The front stage is quite active, with plenty of good panning effects, while the rear carries a bit of the music.  The .1 channel isn’t used much during the movie, but actually comes into play during the menu screens, which feature 5.1 sound.  All in all, a worthy effort.

Features ****

Wow!  This three disc set is as packed as you could want.  For starters, slip in Disc One and enjoy the merry menu screens a la Terry Gilliam’s animation.  Amongst the regular selections, you’ll notice, is one that says “Hard of Hearing”.  Select IT, and you’ll hear the menu choices read out to you quite loudly.  Funny stuff!  There are two terrific, funny and informative commentary tracks.  The first is the original Criterion one with Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones (the directors), the second features cast mates Michael Palin, John Cleese and Eric Idle.  Both are entertaining listens, especially for those of us who already know the movie by heart!

It also has a couple of unique subtitle features…one shows the screenplay in print as the movie plays, while another, for non-Python fans, are subtitles “taken from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part II”.  They’re actually quite funny, and worth a look!

Disc One concludes with a “Killer Rabbit” feature.  Activate it, and whenever a rabbit appears on screen during the movie, use ‘enter’ on your remote for either notes from Terry Gilliam or from the accountant (for him, the rabbit appears with visor, glasses and a pound sign).

Oh, and when you hit “Play Movie”, don’t think you’re seeing things.  Enjoy the extra laugh.

On to Disc Two, which starts with three sing-alongs, including “Sir Robin”, “Camelot”, and “Monk’s Chant”.  There are many featurettes, including an “educational” short with Michael Palin on how to make sounds with coconuts, a 45 minute piece with Palin and Terry Jones on the locations in the film, clips from the movie in Japanese (I assume the subtitles equate to what the Japanese words are…if so, some are pretty amusing!).  There is “On Location with the Pythons”, an original 1974 BBC featurette, photos, two trailers, a Lego version of the “Camelot” number (has to be seen to be believed), sketches, storyboards, talent files, posters, and even a Blair Witch spoof. 

There's also "A Taste of Spamalot"; an animated medley of songs from the hit Broadway show, a new trivia challenge, and a new "Secrets of the Holy Grail" to reveal...well, more than you thought you knew.  And there's also a bonus third disc...it's a soundtrack CD!

Summary:

This Extraordinarily Deluxe Edition disc is all it promises to be and then some.  The film looks and sounds better than ever, and you’ll spend days with the glorious features.  It’ll make you want to...sing.... ;-)

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