Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Featurettes, Still Galleries, Interactive Game, Trailers, Much More
"Bring out your dead!" Those devilish pranksters known as Monty Python are at it again in the umpteenth re-release of one of their most enduring films. After their first feature, 1972's "And Now for Something Completely Different, " failed to catch the attention of American moviegoers who were unfamiliar with their work, Python came back with a vengeance with "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" in 1975, a rollicking, irreverent, and often grisly parody of medieval times and the Arthurian legend. More than 30 years later, the movie remains a cult classic that still elicits belly laughs from dedicated fans on both sides of the Atlantic. Between the troupe's anarchic energy and the movie's blatant disregard for the conventions of plot structure, "Holy Grail" certainly has just as many detractors as it has champions, and it takes a certain dementedness to be fully in tune with what they are doing. I, apparently, am just demented enough, because I had a blast following the Knights of the Round Table on their perilous adventure.
From the very beginning, viewers are made aware that this movie has absolutely no intention of telling a serious story. There are enough gags in the three-and-a-half-minute opening title sequence alone to send audiences rolling with laughter. Once the actual film gets going, we are introduced to King Arthur (Graham Chapman), who gallops on foot across Europe to find suitable knights to join him back in Camelot. After recruiting his loyal knights, Arthur receives direct orders from God to search for and bring back the legendary Holy Grail. The merry men then split up and individually attempt to obtain their elusive prize, only to find obstacles at every turn.
In typical Python fashion, the main actors each portray a multitude of characters – male or female, young or old – to great comic effect. John Cleese brings to life two of the most oft-quoted characters in the entire Python oeuvre as the indomitable Black Knight, who insists that his severed arm is just a "flesh wound," and the taunting French guard who spouts confounding obscenities at King Arthur. Michael Palin finds himself in a castle filled with 19-year-old virgins as Sir Galahad, and asking for shrubbery as one of the Knights who say "Ni!" There's just one hilarious and unexpected moment after another, not the least of which is the battle with a deadly rabbit. Troupe members Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones helmed this feature, bringing to it a visual style that is both cinematic and outrageously surreal. Writing credit is shared by all six members, and Gilliam provides a welcome dose of his wacky animation style that first came to prominence on "Monty Python's Flying Circus" (1969-74).
As with that brilliant TV show, "Holy Grail" boasts some truly glorious moments of surrealism and lunacy. Songs, clever subtitles, and a multi-eyed dragon are just part of the fun that is to be had once you step inside their uninhibited world. Much of the humor is very dark and not really suitable for all tastes. Some will simply not understand the subversive nature of Python humor, and I'm sure the Python troupe wouldn't have it any other way. On the other hand, the film's sheer audacity is what has made it a fan favorite for so long.
"Monty Python and the Holy Grail" has already been released three times on region 1 disc. The first release was a bare bones effort with a terrible transfer. The second and third were 2-disc special editions with loads of bonus features. Sony's newest edition, the 3-disc Extraordinarily Deluxe Edition, contains just about everything from the previous releases and a little bit more, but most importantly it features a newly remastered print of the movie taken form a high definition master. Restored to its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio in anamorphic widescreen, it is still far from perfect, as the movie was filmed for very little money at all with footage to prove it. Lots of grain pops up throughout, and there are times when the image is quite murky and soft. Other scenes are crisp and clean, with brightly saturated colors and fine contrast. Black levels are sometimes washed out while at other times they are solid. In spite of the fluctuating quality, this is probably the best the film has ever looked on home video.
Audio is presented in both a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix and the original mono soundtrack. The 5.1 mix is very nice with good, clear dialogue and music distributed through the front speakers. Ambience and sound effects are well integrated around the back and center channels for a pleasing, if not overwhelming, experience. The mono track sounds reasonably good, though there is a bit of hiss in the background, but purists won't mind. A 5.1 Portuguese track is included as well as a French Dolby Surround track. Subtitles are offered in English, French, Chinese, Thai, and Portuguese. For those who are interested, there are several English subtitle options, some yellow and some white. This is not listed on the package or even on the menus, but they are there.
The majority of special features on this release are carried over from the previous one. First up are two audio commentaries. The first is a director commentary with Gilliam and Jones. It is surprisingly straightforward, with the two offering behind-the-scenes information and observations. The second track is definitely the funnier one, with John Cleese, Eric Idle, and Michael Palin mixing jokes with genuine observations and a fair degree of criticism.
Disc 1 also offers a few unusual, alternative viewing choices. The first is the option to read the screenplay as you watch the film. The second is a subtitle feature called, "For People Who Don't Like the Film," showing subtitles throughout that were taken straight from Shakespeare's "Henry IV, Part II." Choosing the "Follow the Killer Rabbit" option will bring up a cartoon rabbit at various points during the movie, and if you click on it you will be treated to photographs, storyboards, and accountants' lists. A humorous feature for the hard of hearing has no real function except to blast noises loudly through the speakers at viewers who select it.
The bonus features on disc 2 begin with three sing-alongs, for "Knights of the Round Table," "Sir Robin," and "The Monks' Chant." The scenes from the movie are merely replayed with the lyrics subtitled.
After this comes the 47-minute featurette, "The Quest for the Holy Grail Locations," with Terry Jones and Michael Palin walking through the Scottish locations where the movie was filmed, including the striking Doune Castle. This is probably the best of all the special features, as it is really the most informative. Jones and Palin are also quite entertaining.
Next is a section called "Sacred Relics," consisting of miscellaneous features. First is the mock-government educational film, "How to Use Your Coconuts," with Michael Palin demonstrating how to produce the galloping sound effect used in the movie by clanking two halves of a coconut together. This is followed by a couple of scenes from the Japanese dubbed version of the movie, with horrendously translated dialogue. A 1974 BBC "Film Night" episode offers a brief behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie with interviews with the cast. "Old Rubbish" features some print reviews for the film, including one very negative one. A poster gallery and photo gallery come next, as well as some trailers and a cast list.
The section titled "Unshot Footage" begins with the "Knights of the Round Table" musical number recreated using Legos. "Location Recce" offers a tongue-in-cheek look at the way the budget was wasted by the producers. We also get some drawings and sketches for unused scenes.
Now we come to the "Extraordinarily Deluxe New Stuff" on this release. First is the "Holy Grail Challenge" trivia game, which offers five different levels of difficulty. "A Taste of Spamelot" is an animated medley of songs from the hit Broadway musical version of the film. "Secrets of the Holy Grail" is nothing more than a promo for the new DVD. Finally, there are instructions for how to play disc 3. None of these new features are really that extraordinary and are certainly not grounds for upgrading DVDs. This is just another example of fluffing out an older release.
Disc 3 is actually a CD called "The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail." According to the package, this album was recorded live at the 3:10 showing at the Classic Silbury Hill Theatre. It consists mostly of bizarre commentary and interruptions during a showing of the movie. I am not sure whether this is on the level or an elaborate joke, but it wasn't all that entertaining. If you want real laughs, stick with the film.
The cult status that has built around "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" is definitely understandable. The film's dark wit and subversive style makes for bloody good viewing time and time again. Except for the remastered transfer, Sony's quadruple dip DVD is not worth an upgrade if you already own the previous collector's edition. As fine a film as it is, this will hopefully be the last edition we see for a while, unless they decide to bring out a Blu-Ray version, which would most certainly be welcome. This is classic Python at their anarchic best, and no comedy collection would be complete without this title. Now, "run away! Run away!"