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Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Looking at things as impartially as possible, one could find difficulty looking at the merits and qualities of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In a vacuum, the story could appear disjointed to some, and perhaps even come off as being a bit too clever for the room, even if that room is full of blank canvasses. In a way, it could be considered a bit of an inside joke, where one would have to see the previous television show with the septet comprised of five Britons (John Cleese, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones and Michael Palin) and one American (Terry Gilliam). However, Holy Grail seems to transcend limitations, similar to its real-life story, and rightfully so, because the film remains damn funny.
The film was written by the group and directed by Gilliam and Jones, and the story itself is basic. King Arthur (Chapman) and his Knights of the Round Table, including Sir Lancelot the Brave (Cleese), Sir Robin the Not So Quite Brave as Sir Lancelot (Idle), Sir Bedevere the Wise (Jones) and Sir Galahad the Pure (Palin), along with Arthur's squire Patsy (Gilliam) join together to attempt to reach Camelot. They are misrouted and instructed to seek out the Holy Grail before reaching Camelot. We see their adventures in the meantime, including battling a fearsome yet determined black knight (Cleese), a three-headed knight (Jones, Chapman and Palin) and of course, a knight who says 'Ni!' as a form of tortuous punishment.
What the extracurriculars have to do with the main plot is something that should really be ignored, if nothing else because to do so as a layman would be to ignore what the 'Pythons' did to get to that point. Their oft-praised and popular BBC show was about ready to part ways with Cleese (who wanted to leave) at the time of the production, and the film would be a sort of 'see you later' for the proper group until they came back for 1979's The Life of Brian. And Holy Grail has a lot of the essence from the show in it. Consider the Black Knight scenes, where Cleese's character is thrown into an increasingly dire scenario, which also gets funnier with each passing moment. It's similar to the 'parrot sketch' in that finality and trying to work around it makes it hilarious. That and equally memorable moments in the film follow this formula.
And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that. The film is rife with those moments, along with various illustrations by Gilliam, looking at the supposed dawdling in the storytelling with jump cuts of people yelling 'Get on with it!' among others. Superficially it could just be another 90 minutes of sketch material that is primarily focused on one topic for the most part, and it would (and should) be devoured just as eagerly. The fact that the backdrop remains in one area may help those not otherwise familiar with Python get into and subsequently enjoy the comedy that's being thrown at them, and it that helps get them into what makes Python so brilliant is fine by me.
All in all, Monty Python and the Holy Grail may not be special for the virtues it holds singularly, but within the pathos of the group and their comedic sensibilities, it remains fun to watch, cite and quote after all this time. It is a superb addition for a group that was already abundant with memorable moments, and I will gleefully take everything Python has given the world rather than overlooking the forest for the trees.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The AVC-encoded 1.66:1 high-definition widescreen presentation Sony gives the film is solid. Dialogue and textures are surprisingly good (the metal on the black knight's helmet shows the wears and tears of battle), and colors are reproduced accurately, though they are slightly muted and not vibrant. There does appear to be some instances of image smoothing via DNR and film grain can flirt with prolonged bouts of nonexistence. That said, it isn't say, an instance of Fox tackling a catalog classic, and ultimately is worth the time in viewing.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is a bit unnecessary personally, but I am not going to complain about it. Dialogue is consistent through the film, and there is evidence of channel panning and even a directional effect or two. Larger-sounding things such as the Holy Hand Grenade's explosion even possess some low-end fidelity which is a minor surprise. The disc also comes with the original mono track as a service to loyalists, but I think one could not go wrong with either selection.
The big extra to pimp with the release of the Blu-ray is an iPad app that is called the "Holy Book of Days." There are, of course, three stipulations: an iPad isn't cheap and the app is a separate $5 purchase, and you'll need an internet-capable and connected player. But past that, diving into the app is a fun process. You can sync the app with the Blu-ray, and when a scene comes on the screen, the app will show you some interview recollections from the cast on that day of shooting. Additionally there are outtakes from some scenes, and script pages for the relevant shots, along with excerpts from Palin's diary that he kept during production. As the film was shot out of order, you can also look at the film as it was shot should you choose, along with playing/pausing the film within the app. There is some redundancy (specifically the Palin/Jones tour footage seems to have been used for the app), but there is a lot here which has not been seen before. If you've got an iPad and Blu-ray player, the app is a no-brainer, and also comes with a mail-in rebate which gets you your finsky back.
The other extras from the two-disc edition appear to be here as well, save for the "Follow the Killer Rabbit" piece, which seems to have been replaced by the app. There are some nice and shiny new extra features for the Blu-ray. Next up is some animation footage which not only was omitted from the film (12:55), but includes an introduction from Gilliam to boot. He shares his thoughts on the footage, gets into some minor overviews to his process, and even talks about why it was cut. The footage itself is decent, with some chuckles here and there. Following that is some deleted/extended film that was cut (18:57) which has an introduction from Jones where he sums up what you are about to see, which includes cutting up at some jokes, along with more of the Three-Headed Knight and the Knights Who say 'Ni!', and some minor chewing out of Gilliam by Cleese. The footage has got a laugh or two in it, and its insertion into the disc is nice.
From there, the commentaries kick things off on two separate tracks. As co-directors, Gilliam and Jones recall some of the genesis of the ideas and logistical problems associated with the production. Gilliam is a DVD commentary all-star, and he drives the track and possesses lots of information, both on and off topic. Additional trivia is spotted by Jones along with discussions as to the process. It is a very good track. The other one has Cleese, Idle and Palin, and they include their own memories on the shoot and some of the laughs in the film, and raving on performances in some of the scenes. While there are some gaps of silence while the trio watches the film, they also have their own recollections of the project and include things such as recalling Chapman's DTs while shooting a scene. It is a fairly active and excellent track, and both are must-listens. "Quest for the Holy Grail Locations" (47:00) is a piece where Palin and Jones go through the locations in present day and are accompanied by the production manager of the film who fills out some of the gaps that may be missing. Palin and Jones walk into a gift shop of the castle where the film was shot and 'recreate' the film to a certain degree. There is also the obligatory comparison footage to the present day locales, and some oral nostalgia from the pair about the production. They also talk with locals from the area as they go through the countryside. Considering Palin's work in Around the World in 80 Days, this proves to be a pleasant segment. "BBC Film Night" (17:12) is the closest thing to a making of featurette from December 19, 1974, and includes interviews with the cast, while Gilliam discusses the logistic headaches of the day. There is the obligatory on-set goofery, but there is also film of the cast performing some shots like the taunting Frenchman. It's a nice inclusion. "Lego Knights" (1:43) is a recreation of the "Knights of the Roundtable" song from the film, while "How to Use Your Coconuts" (2:58) is an educational piece where a crusty, in-character Palin discusses the proper way to use the shells for riding. There are some excerpts of the film in Japanese (8:34) which you can enjoy as well. Sing-alongs (5:10) of four songs from the film are next, along with a photo gallery and a trailer (3:27) of the 2001 US re-release. There is also a code for a redeemable Ultraviolet copy of the film available for your device of choice.
The film merits of Monty Python and the Holy Grail have been passed down from generation to generation, and it remains almost as funny now as it did when you saw it the first time. Technically the disc looks solid in its high-definition debut, and has kept virtually all of the extras from a superb standard-definition edition and improved upon them. I really don't see how this has lost its swagger at all, so let me slap the DVDTalk Collector's Series sticker on this beauty and move along. On my horse. Which is really coconut shells clacking together.