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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Monty Python & Holy Grail: Special Edition
Monty Python & Holy Grail: Special Edition
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG // October 23, 2001
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted October 16, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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The Movie:

Widely and rightly regarded as one of the funniest comedies of all time, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" took inspired silliness to a new level that I doubt has been reached in the years since. The 1975 feature is somewhat more of a series of episodes rather than an normal, streamlined plot, but the sheer level of hilarity makes up for it. The tale of King Arthur (Graham Chapman)'s quest to find the Holy Grail, he's joined by the rest of the members of the Python troupe (such as John Cleese) in several different roles.

While many of the scenes do tend to border on slapstick, there's such an undercurrent of intelligence running throughout the gags that one can't help but laugh at the outrageousness of many of the scenes and the fact that the performers and writers were able to pack so many gags (both verbal and visual) in each scene. This edition of the film includes "a glorious extra 24 seconds absolutely free!"

But, enough about how good, wonderful and funny the movie is, lets move on to the review of the film's new Special (with capital S!) DVD.


VIDEO: Columbia/Tristar has seen fit to bestow upon "Holy Grail" a new 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation or, as the back of the box states, a "high definition widescreen presentation with pink frilly edges!". While this new edition still isn't without some imperfections, it does provide an improvement over the previous, non-anamoprhic edition of the film. Sharpness and detail still vary throughout the movie, with some sequences appearing noticably soft, while others appear crisper. Still, overall, the picture does look more well-defined overall than I remember the previous edition appearing.

While sharpness and detail are slightly improved, it becomes obvious that the film is still in need of some restoration. Twenty-five years old at this point, there are a considerable amount of print flaws apparent throughout the movie. Speckles, marks, mild grain and the occasional scratch are visible at a consistent rate. Some scenes do come closer to looking "clean", but overall, I would say that "Holy Grail" could use a restoration to smooth out some of the blemishes. Additionally, some minor edge enhancement was visible, but I didn't find it too bothersome. Pixelation was not seen, nor were any other problems.

Colors remained an enjoyable element of the presentation, still appearing natural and occasionally rather vibrant, with no instances of smearing or other problems. Flesh tones looked accurate and natural, while black level appeared decent. While not offering astounding improvements, I must say that this new anamorphic widescreen presentation does provide a more enjoyable viewing experience.

SOUND: While I'd thought that the condition of the elements might make for a 5.1 remix that sounded less-than-appealing, the new Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack included on this special edition actually sounds better than I'd expected. For purists who do enjoy the original mono soundtrack, that option is also available here, although the dialogue sounded slightly muddier on the mono track than it did on the 5.1 presentation.

While a 5.1 presentation, the surrounds are hardly used at all. They do chime in occasionally to provide slight re-inforcement of the music and a few random sound effects, but that's about it. The majority of the film kept to the front speakers, which was fine, since I wasn't exactly expecting this soundtrack to be turned into a whiz-bang flurry of activity, anyways. I was simply pleased that the new 5.1 presentation sounded noticably cleaner and clearer in comparison to the mono soundtrack. The insert says this about the Dolby Digital 5.1 version: "In order to make the Dolby Digital soundtrack, we re-built the sound from the basic mono magnetic tracks, stereoized Neil Innes' songs and the incidental music and added new atmospheric backgrounds to make a full stereo version of the Grail for the first time." Some may get anixious from the "new atmospheric backgrounds" bit, but I personally thought the film's new audio sounded better than expected.

MENUS:: As the back of the box states, "extraordinary animated menus with very loud 5.1 Dolby Digital sound!. These really are terrific menus with clever and fun animation that will likely delight fans of the film. The DVD also comes in a nifty, shimmery slipcase.


Commentaries: The disc includes two commentary tracks, one by directors Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones and the other by actors John Cleese, Eric Idle and Michael Palin. The first track with Gilliam and Jones is nine parts information and one part comedy, as the two mainly discuss (and quite well, considering they're sitting down to watch the movie years and years later) the production of the film, from the locations to the actual filming. Gilliam is especially honest about his feelings looking back on the production, occasionally discussing what he would have done differently had he been able to go back and do some sequences over. Although this track was more informative than funny, the two occasionally do get a good joke across. While not hilarious, I must say that I was still very engaged and entertained by this discussion - the two pointed out a great deal of behind-the-scenes info that was quite cool to hear.

The second commentary with Cleese, Idle and Palin provides the laughs, but not as much in the way of information. The three joke about the experiences that they had during filming and share some hilarious stories about what happened on-set. Although there are some pauses throughout the track, the three seem as if they're having a great time as they discuss what it was like to work with one another and the various other members of the cast and crew.

Follow the Killer Rabbit: A take-off on the feature that has been often used since discs like "The Matrix" and others, if viewers choose to watch with this feature on, a small rabbit logo pops up on screen. Selecting it with the remote takes the viewer to another screen that shows either an "expense report" for an item in that scene or items like a storyboard before taking the viewer back to the movie. The only problem is that the logo is on-screen for a very small amount of time, so be ready with the remote control.

Subtitles For Those Who Don't Like The Movie: These are subtitles in "Shakespearian" dialogue.

Screenplay Viewer: Viewers can read the screenplay while watching the movie - the only thing is that the screenplay text often literally fills the screen, which isn't a major complaint because, well, I don't know how else they could have done this feature unless it was a DVD-Rom supplement.

Sing-Along: The first section of the second DVD, this offers viewers the chance to sing mightily along with such gems as "Knights of the Round Table", "Sir Robin" and "Monks Chant".

Quest For the Holy Grail Locations: This is a newly produced documentary where co-director Terry Jones and actor Michael Palin go back to visit some of the locations from the film. There's some terrific and very funny moments throughout the documentary, such as early on when the two find that one of their locations has become a tourist spot. Python fans will likely find the two provide a very entertaining and informative tour of where Python went during filming - they often stop to point out details about how locations were prepared for the film and remember stories about what went on there. The documentary is 46 minutes long and presented in anamorphic widescreen (!).

Sacred Relics: This section provides the features listed below.

How To Use Your Coconuts: A very funny little feature, this featurette jokingly shows the seemingly infinite amount of ways that one can put coconuts to use.

Japanese Clips: 8 1/2 minutes worth of the film presented in Japanese.

BBC Film Night: On Location: This is a 19 minute 1974 BBC featurette that often seems incredibly silly, as the cast and crew goofily attempt to answer questions about filming, performances and trying to work with one another.

Old Rubbish: Press releases, a review and other various documents.

Artifacts: An assortment of posters and ads for the film.

Photos: Uh, photos. Well, production photos, actually.

Trailers: The film's original UK trailer and the 2001 re-release trailer.

Cast/Crew Bios: These show the different roles the actors play (a list of the different characters comes up, then a picture is shown after selecting).

Unshot Footage: This section includes what could be described as a short clip of "Holy Grail" in "Legomation", a goofy commentary by the directors over an old travel clip as they discuss their thoughts on picking locations as well as "unused ideas", which offers storyboards of...unused ideas.

Also: Weblink, insert with notes about the new DVD that you've just watched if you've bought this DVD that I've been talking about for the last fifteen paragraphs or so.

Final Thoughts: Wonderfully hilarious, clever and able to hold up over multiple viewings and many years, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" is a comedy classic. Although the picture quality isn't an amazing improvement over the original edition, it is noticably more enjoyable here, as is the new Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation. Python fans will be extremely pleased with the 2 DVD set's major set of supplements, though. A must for fans of the film.

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