Monty Python and the Holy Grail appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Expect a nice presentation here.
Sharpness largely appeared quite good. A few soft spots occurred, but these were fairly mild and usually rare. Overall, the image maintained a pretty crisp and detailed look.
Moiré effects and jagged edges caused no concerns, and I detected no signs of edge enhancement. Source flaws were a non-entity, as the movie seemed clean.
England in the Middle Ages wasn’t exactly a tropical paradise, and the film depicted it in a grimy, drab manner that the disc replicated accurately. All of the colors appeared pretty flat and muddy, but that was how they were supposed to look, and I felt the disc showed them with good accuracy and clarity for what they were.
Black levels seemed fairly deep and rich, while shadow detail was quite solid. Low-light sequences displayed positive clarity and rarely seemed excessively dim. This was a consistently positive presentation of an old, cheaply-made film.
Remixed from the original monaural – which also appeared here - the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack felt appropriately restrained and didn’t go nuts with isolated elements, but it expanded the material to a very satisfying degree.
The soundfield remained fairly strongly anchored in the front channels, but it opened up to use the sides well. The music benefited quite nicely, as the score provided pretty solid stereo imaging most of the time, and it showed good presence throughout the movie.
As for effects, those largely stayed in the realm of general ambience, but that usage seemed more involving than it might sound. The effects created a reasonably involving environment given the source material. Little elements cropped up from the sides during a fair amount of the movie, and the rears reinforced both the effects and the music.
Split-surround pieces were very rare, but the back speakers added a nice layer of atmosphere that seemed positive. A few examples of a somewhat artificial display occurred – such as when we heard screaming girls in Sir Galahad’s bit – but usually the soundfield came across as quite useful and believable.
Some dialogue echoed to the sides in a slightly distracting manner, though, such as during the opening chat with King Arthur about coconuts; most of the movie lacked this reverb, but it popped up occasionally.
Audio quality showed its age at times, but it still functioned pretty well. Dialogue generally sounded somewhat thin, but speech remained within age-appropriate limits and generally appeared reasonably accurate and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility.
Effects varied, as they occasionally seemed flat and a little rough, but they also came across as fairly clear and solid for the most part. Those elements didn’t approach great clarity or realism, but they sounded fine for their age and source.
Music came across as the track’s most pleasant surprise. As a whole, the score and other musical elements seemed nicely rich and bright. The music faltered on a few occasions, but usually it appeared positive, with clean highs and fairly deep bass response.
Again, my “B” grade took the age of the material into account; this won’t be used to show off your system. However, I found the 5.1 remix of Grail to seem consistently fine.
How did the 2015 “40th Anniversary” Blu-ray compare with the 2012 Blu-ray? Both discs appeared identical to me – if the 2015 release offered any changes in picture or audio, I didn’t discern them.
The 40th Anniversary Blu-ray mixes old and new extras, and these include two separate audio commentaries. The first piece comes from Python members and co-directors Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, both of whom were recorded separately for this edited but still screen-specific track.
From what I’ve heard, this piece actually was originally done for an old Criterion laserdisc of the film. While Jones also appeared on the commentary for Life of Brian, Gilliam’s a true veteran of the format, and he offers the best aspects of this piece.
Actually, that probably results less from his commentary experience and more from his wonderfully frank and honest nature. Gilliam seems totally unable to dole out the usual “everything was great” pabulum, and his tracks reflect that.
This tendency continues here. Of course, the subject doesn’t merit the venom heard during his splendid discussion of the woes he experienced during Brazil, but Gilliam still provides a nicely candid discussion of the film.
Jones does so as well, but we hear more from Gilliam, so his remarks stuck with me more. Overall, the commentary gives a lot of good information about the creation of Grail and it also goes into lots of interesting remarks about the history and dynamics of Python. The piece covers a lot of ground and does so in an entertaining and compelling manner that makes it a very solid track.
The second commentary features Python members Michael Palin, John Cleese and Eric Idle. Though the three were recorded separately, their comments have been edited together in a clever manner that creates the illusion they’re together.
Each man fills a different area on the stereo spectrum: Palin’s on the left, Cleese resides in the center, and Idle sits to the left. Most edited group commentaries collate them in such a way that we hear only one participant at a time, but this one alters that standard.
Occasionally they actually speak over each other to a very mild degree, but mostly we discern laughter from the others while one talks. Clearly the giggling results from the action onscreen, but the editing makes it seem like the non-speakers are reacting to the statements.
As deceptive as it may seem, I have no problem with the construction, as it makes the track seem a little livelier than usual. Unfortunately, the commentary itself doesn’t up to the standards set by that from the Terrys.
Cleese and Palin dominate the piece; Idle chimes in at times, but not to as substantial a degree. On the positive side, each man offers a number of good anecdotes about the production. Cleese is especially interesting, mainly because he complains about a lot of aspects of the shoot.
However, the track falls flat some of the time because the participants often simply laugh at the movie. It’s nice that they still enjoy the work after more than four decades, but it doesn’t make for a very stimulating commentary. Overall, I feel the piece includes enough compelling material to merit a listen from fans of the film, but it seems somewhat disappointing as a whole.
In an irreverent vein we find Subtitles for People Who Do Not Like the Film. These take bits from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Pt. II and connect them to the Grail action. That aspect made the gimmick more interesting.
I thought the text would just run the play in its normal sequence, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Instead, Shakespeare’s lines fit in with the Python action to essentially create an alternate version of the movie. It’s still a stunt, but it’s a clever and interesting one.
In a 12-minute, 55-second reel, Lost Animations displays Terry Gilliam’s unused art. These clips pop up in fairly random manner and don’t make a lot of sense outside of the film’s content. Gilliam does provide commentary, but he tends to be irreverent, so he doesn’t illuminate the material terribly well.
It’s nice to have for fans, I guess, but it’s not a memorable collection. (Note that the snippets we see in the body of the piece are accompanied by Gilliam, but the end of the compilation shows them on their own; they’re still out of context, but they’re more interesting there.)
Under Outtakes and Extended Scenes, we get seven sequences. Including an intro from Terry Jones, this collection fills 18 minutes, 57 seconds.
This area lets us see “Sir Robin and the Three Headed Knight”, “Constitutional Peasants”, “Get on With It!”, “Shorter Takes”, “Old Crone”, “Wedding Slaughter (With Extra Gore)”, and “Lots of Very Silly Bits”. I can’t claim that anything terrific pops up here, but the clips are fun to see and pretty entertaining.
A 47-minute program called The Quest for the Holy Grail Locations features Pythons Jones and Palin as they traverse the Scottish countryside to revisit the sites used for the movie. Production manager Julian Doyle also comes along for the ride, but he stays in the background most of the time. We also meet a couple of other folks, like Glencoe Rescue Team Leader Hamish Macinnes – who worked on the film’s rickety bridge – and workers at some of the castles.
While I would prefer a true documentary about the making of the movie, “Quest” was a pretty entertaining piece. It starts a bit slowly, but eventually it becomes fairly involving as we watch Jones and Palin examine the original locations and comment upon them. Ultimately it was moderately informative and witty, and it merits a look.
Three Singalongs appear. These include “Knights of the Round Table”, “Sir Robin”, and “Monks Chant”. The first two simply repeat the material found in the film; you could do the same kind of Karaoke if you just watched the movie with the subtitles activated.
The chant, however, is more entertaining, as it starts with an instructional introduction from Terry Jones. It eventually leads in to a movie snippet, but the opening is quite funny.
Coconuts provides a modern-era film from the “Ministry of Foods”. In this two-minute, 58-second clip, Michael Palin teaches us how to use coconuts to imitate hoof beats. It’s mildly amusing but nothing special.
The Japanese Version of the film takes two scenes – “The French Castle” and “The Knights of Ni” – and provides their Japanese-dubbed renditions. In addition, the Japanese translations have been converted back to English in the subtitles, with some moderately amusing results.
Actually, I thought they’d badly distort the original wording, but they weren’t that far astray, despite the description of the film as the “holy sake search”. Anyway, this eight-minute, 34-second piece offers some fun viewing.
One of the disc’s best elements comes with BBC Film Night. A TV program that aired on December 19, 1974, this 17-minute, 12-second program takes us to the set of Grail where we find some fun footage from the shoot as well as lots of entertaining soundbites from the participants.
Much of this plays for laughs, of course, but we still get a good look at the making of the movie, at least on a small scale. The material’s in rough shape but this is still a very interesting and compelling piece.
Cast Directory Photo Album provides no biographical information about the participants, but it may be informative nonetheless. We find mentions of all six Pythons as well as cohorts Carol Cleveland, John Young, Neil Innes, Connie Booth, Bee Duffel, and Rita Davies.
This lets us see photos and listings for all the characters portrayed by the participants. It’s a decent way to see who played which parts. (For the record, Michael Palin took on the most roles with 10!)
Lego Knights takes the “Knights of the Round Table” production number and animates it using Lego figures. The one-minute, 43-second piece is inconsequential but amusing and well-executed.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we get one feature exclusive to the 40th Anniversary set: a 2015 Tribeca Film Festival Q&A. In this 30-minute, 18-second, we find a panel with Gilliam, Cleese, Jones, Idle and Palin along with host John Oliver.
Given Jones’ deteriorating health, this likely represents the final appearance of the Pythons – minus long-deceased Graham Chapman, of course. The notes we hear aren’t especially insightful – mainly because we already learn so much of it elsewhere – but the simple presence of the five surviving Pythons together seems like enough to make it worth a look.
The 40th Anniversary set retains all the older BD’s extras except one, as we lose a “Second Screen” feature that required an iPad. Since I still don’t own an iPad, I can’t say its absence disappoints me.
After nearly 40 years, Monty Python and the Holy Grail remains an inconsistent but generally funny and fresh film. It’s not my favorite Python offering, but it’s entertaining and clever nonetheless. The Blu-ray provides pretty solid picture and audio along with a strong set of supplements. Fans who own the prior Blu-ray don’t need this one, but it’s worth a purchase for those without that previous release.
To rate this film visit the original review of MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL