What am I going to say about Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)? Honestly? Saying that it is one of the funniest films of all time is like saying Hitler was sort of a bad guy.
For its fans, discovering Python is a life changing experience. Suffice to say, that as a Python nut, I have a high distrust for anyone who doesn't get Python humor. It is just part of my nature, a love for the absurd, the silly, and the more surreal the better. It becomes a defining trait- if you don't find Python funny, you probably won't find me funny either. So, I become as standoffish to someone who doesn't like Python as I do to, say, someone I find out is a raging racist.
The Pythons decided to tackle the quest for the grail in their first feature film outing, and they did so with their absurdity in full force. We get to see Palin's Sir Gallahad be tempted by the lovelies at the Castle Anthrax, who lead a "lonely life, bathing, dressing, undressing, knitting exciting underwear." Cleese as the very, very, very persistent Black Knight and the very, very, very homicidally courageous Sir Lancelot. And, of course, the late Graham Chapman, whose distinguished, straight-faced King Arthur grounds the film, even as he has dead sheep and filth dumped onto his head. Christ, that's just a glimmer. I haven't even mentioned French knights who hurl insults like "I wave my private parts at your aunties, you brightly colored, mealy templed, cranberry smelling, electric donkey bottom biters.", or the Knights Who Say "Ni.", or the peasants who are seen piling mud, slapping streams with a stick, or beating the cat out.
So, I'm just not going to waste my breath too much. What can I say about a classic from a classic group that hasn't already been said? And if you are only hearing about Python for the first time by reading this review, you have more pressing concerns to worry about, like the fact that you are living under a rock and it is getting close to cold and flu season.
The DVD: Columbia/Tristar. Packaged in a thick cardboard, book-shaped case, which easily holds the film cell, screenplay, and any cash you may want to stash. It isn't much taller than a standard keepcase, so it should fit in most DVD storage racks. The discs sit on top of each other in the same spool holder and appear to be pretty secure. I usually don't even take notice of menus, but Holy Grail features some great menus with Gilliamesque animations guiding you along.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Holy Grail was a low budget film and time has definitely shown unkindness to the already often rough image. It is a film in need of restoration, but that said, this DVD presentation is the best the film has looked in ages, perhaps ever. Yes it is still quite grainy, and the color and contrast are not very deep or particularly striking, but it is in the little details that the film has seen improvement. The definition is now nice enough that things I had never noticed before (on vhs) start to come out, like the spittle erupting from John Cleese's mouth as Tim the Enchanter goes on a tirade about the creature guarding the Cave of Caerbannog. Sure, there are still some shots/scenes that are terribly soft, but considering age/budget/and what we've had before, Columbia does a more than fair job with the material.
Sound: Original English Mono track or a 5.1 surround remix, also a French track, with optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles. I'm an original mono man, myself, which was the primary track I listened to for this review. It sounds fine, but mono with all the mono limitations. The 5.1 remix wasn't too much to write home about. The score gets some added push but the dialogue didn't seem drastically improved. I think when a film is made mono, you can remix it all you want, but mono will still sound the most natural, especially for fans who have always heard the movie that way. Also, the film features subtitles "For People Who Don't Like The Film" taken from Shakespeare"s Henry IV, Part II.
Extras: Screenplay--- Collectable Film Cell Senitype
Disc One: The Film--- Chapter Selections--- Menu for the "Hard of Hearing"--- "Follow the Killer Rabbit" feature that lets you click on a rabbit graphic that pops up during the film, leading you to stills, drawings, and copies of the budget slips for costumes and such.--- Two Commentary Tracks: Track One by directors Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam. Track Two by Palin, Idle, and Cleese. None of the Pythons recorded their tracks at the same time, so it is a patchwork job. However, it is edited so that while one is speaking, there is an occasional fade in/mix of the other Python's chuckles underneath. Being the directors, Jones and Gilliam's tracks are the most informed with behind the scenes, location, and technical anecdotes. Idle and Palin add light bits and are enthusiastic when compared to Cleese's sometimes bitchy track. However, one of the commentaries best moments is Cleese giggling uncontrollably at the "Don't leave this room." sketch.
Disc Two: Sing-A-Long: "Knights of the Round Table", "Sir Robin" and "Monks Chant" scenes with sing-a-long subtitles--- Sacred Relics: "Coconuts" (2:58). Palin plays a Ministry of Foods representative who instructs us in the many uses of coconuts, primarily, how to use them for horse sound fx. "Japanese Version" (8:33). Two scenes Knights Who Say 'Ni' and The French Castle in glorious Japanese with fractured English subtitles.--- Unshot Footage: "Lego Knights" (1:43) Self explanitory, Holy Grail in Lego. "Location Recce" (2:43). "Unused Ideas", storyboard sketches of unflimed bits. "BBC Film Night" (17:11) The Pythons are interviewed while on set. The most amusing moment comes courtesy of Idle, who, when interviewed about what the directors have asked him to do, acts like an abused child.--- Artifacts: Posters, behind the scenes photos, trailers, and cast and characters photos.--- "Quest for The Holy Grail Locations" (46:57) Palin and Jones take us on a tour of various Scottish locations, castles, fields, caves, and gorges that were used for filming. Quite good, very informative, intercutting scenes from the film. Nice moments include Palin and Jones buying their own screenplay in one castles tourist shop and happening upon a pack of kids whose fathers were all extras in the film and reenacting the finale scene with the children.
Conclusion: Well, this "Collectors Edition" is just that, for rabid collectors- Duh. Everything is the same as the first SE release, only you get some different packaging, a little copy of the screenplay, and a collectable film cell. But, of course, then take into account that voracious Python fans probably already own the screenplay which has been available for years now in a substantially bigger book.
John Cleese makes a good joke on the recent release of Meaning of Life about the repackaging of their old material so they can endlessly and profit from it. And, it is a fair observation, one that this edition of Holy Grail proves. Although it is a great DVD and one of the best comedies of all time, the "Collectors Edition" only exists to pinch consumers for more $$$$$. I just don't find a film cell and some differnet packaging to be worth $20 more dollars. The basic two-disc edition will suffice for 99% of DVD consumers.