The highly influential British comedy troupe Monty Python was comprised of Michael Palin, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and the late Graham Chapman. Mostly active during the 1970s, they were responsible for the landmark Flying Circus TV series (1969-74) and four full-length films including And Now For Something Completely Different (1971), The Holy Grail (1974) and The Life of Brian (1979). The Meaning of Life (1983) was Monty Python's fourth and final outing together on the big screen; though it's not as story-driven as their previous two films, it's no less essential from any perspective.
The Meaning of Life (henceforth shortened to MOL) didn't have to be made, but thank goodness it was. Years earlier, all six Pythons had chosen to go their separate ways professionally...but like all proposed "reunion shows", the promise of a big payday was just too good to resist. Unlike previous Python films The Holy Grail and The Life of Brian, MOL was given a larger budget and more production time: this gives certain aspects of the film a less spontaneous quality, which pulls double duty as a benefit and a handicap. Performances are first rate, from the multi-tasking troupe members themselves to familiar faces like "honorary Python" Carol Cleveland. Even better are the lively musical numbers peppered throughout, including certified Python classics like "Every Sperm Is Sacred" and "The Galaxy Song".
When MOL fires on all cylinders, we're treated to some of Monty Python's very best material. The film's first 45 minutes (including the "short feature" Crimson Permanent Assurance) are nearly flawless from start to finish, and I've lost count of how many times I've simply looped that run of perfectly timed comedy for a quick Python fix. Things get a little spotty during the second half; it's not unusual during most films, but several weaker sketches (combined, again, with the lack of a strong narrative) threaten to derail the film's considerable momentum. In its defense, the consistently terrific song breaks and MOL's final few sketches help to keep the ship upright, allowing most of this production to feel as entertaining, absurd, accessible and thought-provoking as the very best stretches of Holy Grail and Life of Brian. Ranking them is a purely subjective matter, but I'll be diplomatic and say that I'm glad all three exist.
My last formal connection with MOL on this site was through the 2003 Collector's Edition DVD, which was incidentally my first review published on DVD Talk. Since then, the film was also released on HD DVD in 2007, but the disastrous A/V presentation of that disc almost felt like a step backwards. Standards have improved by leaps and bounds since then, and this new 30th Anniversary Blu-ray offers proof: it looks and sounds better than ever before, and there are even two new extras to sweeten the pot a little.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
The 2003 Collector's Edition DVD suffered from an (eventually corrected) video problem and the HD DVD had its own issues, but this 1080p transfer looks good right out of the gate. Like most of Monty Python's film output, MOL has never been and will never be a beautifully polished movie experience, so any glaring problems here are undoubtedly source material issues. With that said, this appears to be taken from the same master as previous releases, although the color timing, grain structure and image detail look stronger than ever before. Dirt and debris can be spotted on occasion, while digital imperfections seem to have been kept to a strict minimum. Would a new master have improved the presentation? Of course. But this is still a good effort and obviously represents the best that MOL has looked at home thus far.
DISCLAIMER: These promotional images are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
The source material is limited, but this DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track still sounds good to my ears. Source material flaws (including slight sync issues) have been present in every format release of MOL I've seen thus far, so their continued existence doesn't bother me in the least. Dialogue is relatively crisp and easy to understand, the frequent music cues open up the soundstage nicely and several effective uses of rear channel separation are also employed along the way. Overall, I doubt MOL will ever sound any better on home video and, under the circumstances, there's basically nothing to complain about.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Presented in Universal's familiar but streamlined style, this nicely-organized menu interface is easy to navigate and loads quickly (and the menu button sounds are turned off by default, thankfully!). This one-disc release is housed in a standard keepcase and includes a Digital Copy
redemption code insert.
Two new extras, plus most of the old ones. First up is a 30th Anniversary Reunion
(60:15) with all five remaining members of Monty Python: Terry Jones, Michael Palin, John Cleese and Terry Gilliam were filmed in London, while Eric Idle was filmed in Los Angeles and connected live with the group via streaming video. It's a lively and entertaining chat, and plenty of the stories shared are new to certain members of the group. Topics include MOL
's unused material, production, regrets about the film's lack of a stronger narrative, sequel ideas, distant Python memories, stories about Graham Chapman, modern comedy, name recognition, fish, TV vs. movie comedy, the universe, death, religion and the afterlife. There are a few stumbles along the way but overall, these five chaps still have remarkable chemistry together and fans will enjoy this laid-back session. Also new to this release is a "Sing-Along Mode"
, which offers subtitles during the songs only and provides immediate access to each one via chapter breaks.
Everything else is ported over from past releases, including an Audio Commentary with Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, an Introduction by Eric Idle, the amusingly horrific "Soundtrack for the Lonely" an earlier Python Interview about the film's production, a few Educational Tips for the Real World, the "John Cleese Cut" of MOL, a selection of Deleted Scenes, a mock Restoration Featurette, two Music Featurettes about the songs themselves and alternate versions, a vintage Virtual Python Reunion, more Fish Thoughts and a collection of Promotional Material. Optional subtitles are only included during these older supplements.
Missing from the Collector's Edition DVD are an optional Director's Cut of the film and a selection of DVD-ROM material. All of the vintage bonus features were covered in more detail in my 2003 DVD review.
The Meaning of Life is neither the best nor worst Monty Python film (if there is such a thing), but their fourth and final big-screen outing definitely has its share of fitfully funny high points. Episodic, ambitious and sporadically brilliant, it's aged quite well in the past 30 years. Universal's Blu-ray package offers a notable improvement across the board, serving up a refined A/V presentation and a strong collection of new and vintage bonus features as unpredictable as the film itself. Without a doubt, this low-priced upgrade belongs on the shelf of all serious (or silly) disciples of British comedy. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.