Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones
John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Makes Ben Hur look like an epic.
King Arthur and his knights venture into medieval England in search of the elusive Holy Grail in this riotous parody that takes on the Arthurian legend, chivalry, movie epics, and bunny rabbits. Terry Gilliam's irreverent comedy, featuring the Monty Python troupe in many memorable roles, is very simply one of the funniest films ever made. Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, John Cleese, Eric Idle, and Gilliam successfully transfer their television success to the big screen, laying the groundwork for a series of hysterical farces that would follow.
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 92 min.
Release Date: 3/6/2012
• “The Holy Book of Days Second Screen” Interactive Feature
• Lost Animations
• Outtakes and Extended Scenes
• Audio Commentary with Python Members and Co-Directors Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones
• Audio Commentary with Python Members Michael Palin, John Cleese and Eric Idle
• “Quest for the Holy Grail Locations” Documentary
• “Monty Python and the Holy Grail in Lego”
• “Monty Python and the Holy Grail in Japanese”
• Subtitles for People Who Don’t Like the Film
• “How to Use Your Coconuts” Featurette
• “Film Night” BBC TV Report
• Cast Directory Photo Album
• Trailer and Previews
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Monty Python and the Holy Grail [Blu-Ray] (1975)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 20, 2012)
Important question of the day: is it possible to like Monty Python and the Holy Grail but not be a total geek? Man, I hope so, for I rather enjoyed the film. Granted, I won’t memorize its routines any time soon, but I felt it offered a witty and winning experience that holds up well after nearly 40 years.
Grail follows the legend of King Arthur (Graham Chapman) as he and the Knights of the Round Table – including Sir Lancelot (John Cleese), Sir Robin (Eric Idle), Sir Bedevere (Terry Jones), and Sir Galahad (Michael Palin) – go on a mission to locate the titular grail. Plot-wise, that’s it; they split up and attempt to find the thing. However, the fun is in the details, as the Python style takes on a variety of subtopics for a comedic romp. The knights’ side quests make up the majority of the film as they encounter the stupidly indomitable Black Knight, Tim the Enchanter, the Knights Who Say Ni, and many other odd characters.
Grail was the first film attempted by the Pythons, and in some ways, that newness showed. For the most part, it came across as little more than a conglomeration of sketches. Various tools tried to unite the skits, and they generally did so successfully, though the structure felt forced at times. Nonetheless, I had no problem with the manner in which the tale was constructed, as the Pythons openly acknowledged the artificiality and mocked it at times.
Like virtually all Python offerings, Grail was a hit or miss affair, but most of the time, their arrows reached their marks. While many of the pieces have achieved great fame, I preferred some of the smaller, lesser-known bits. An early segment in which some peasants argue the validity of King Arthur’s claim to the throne was priceless, and a number of other elements worked well also. The Pythons love to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks, and most of Grail adheres.
Ultimately, I didn’t think that Monty Python and the Holy Grail was the greatest work of the Pythons. 1979’s Life of Brian was more far-reaching and ambitious, and it also seemed more coherent. Nonetheless, Grail offers a lot of solid laughs and Python nuttiness, and it deserves a spot in comedy history as a fun piece of work.
The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus A-
Monty Python and the Holy Grail appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Expect a good 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 stems, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtracl 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 quite 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 Blu-ray compare with the 2006 “Extraordinarily Deluxe” Edition? Audio was a little bolder, while visuals seemed a bit tighter and cleaner. Because this was an inexpensive movie made in 1974, there wasn’t a ton of room for growth, but the Blu-ray delivered a more appealing presentation of the film.
The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras. These include two separate audio commentaries. The first piece comes from Python members and co-directors Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones. Both 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 fact 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; 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 three 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.
For something new, we get an interactive The Holy Book of Days Second Screen. If you have an iPad, you can synch it with the movie and access all sorts of info and behind the scenes materials – I guess. Since I lack an iPad, I couldn’t run it. (Note that some Blu-rays – such as the one for Real Steel - provide a “Second Screen” that still works on a limited basis for those without the necessary hardware, so the absence of a “dumbed down” option here disappoints.)
At least I was able to view the new Lost Animations. In this 12-minute, 55-second reel, we see 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 and 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 and 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 and 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 was played for laughs, of course, but we still got 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 103-second piece is inconsequential but amusing and well-executed.
In addition to the trailer for the film’s 2001 re-release – which essentially recreates the original promo - we get Previews for Not the Messiah (He’s a Naughy Boy) and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
Does the Blu-ray drop anything from the 2006 DVD? Yup, as it omits items like a quiz, some still galleries and some short featurettes. Nothing crucial gets the boot, but it’s still a shame that the Blu-ray doesn’t port over everything from the prior set.
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 generally informative and enjoyable set of supplements. All of that with a low list price of less than $20 and Holy Grail earns my recommendation.
To rate this film visit the original review of MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL