One of a few Monty Python spin-offs to be made in the eighties, Yellowbeard is definitely a serious case of missed opportunity. You'd think by bringing together a few of the Python alumni, some of Mel Brooks' stock players, Cheech and Chong and comedy greats like Marty Feldman (who passed away during the production), Spike Mulligan and the late, great Peter Cook the movie would leave us rolling in the aisles, but no such luck. At least Mel Damski's film, co-written by Graham Chapman, Cook and Bernard McKenna occasionally looks cool…
The movie, not surprisingly, follows the dreaded pirate Yellowbeard (played by Chapman himself), who has managed to hide away a massive amount of stolen treasure before being nabbed by the authorities for tax evasion. Sent off to do time for two decades, as his time comes up Yellowbeard is convinced by British officer Commander Clement (Eric Idle) that his sentence is in fact going to be extended. This, predictably, causes Yellowbeard to make his escape, which Clement intended all along knowing that he'd lead he and his men right back to the treasure that's been hidden all these years.
Now free, the rest of the movie basically follows Yellowbeard as he tries to make his way back to his stashed loot, followed every step of the way by Clement and also by various other parties, made up of strange characters and some of Yellowbeard's old crew members. Along the way he reconnects with his wife and learns that while incarcerated she gave birth to his son!
There's definitely a novelty factor at play here that makes all of this watchable even when you're aware as you watch it that what you're seeing really isn't all that funny. A large part of that novelty is playing spot the famous person in the movie. Not only do we get Chapman and Idle but John Cleese shows up here too, so Python fans will appreciate that. Cheech and Chong have small roles and alongside Brooks regular Feldman we get Peter Boyle and Madeline Kahn was well, making this a bit of a Young Frankenstein reunion. Peter Cook shows up in the movie, as do James Mason, Susannah York and even David Bowie of all people. Cleese is fun to watch here and Feldman tends to steal every scene he's able to but the rest of the cast sort of coast through it, doing the best they can with what is essentially a rather bland script.
The film does feature some nice costume work. While the period detail may not be 100% accurate the wardrobe is typically colorful and suiting of each of the different characters that appear in the film. We also get some nice camerawork that does a very fine job of capturing the different locations that this chase movie/treasure hunt film takes us to. It's a shame then that the story doesn't have more bite. While Time Bandits and Erik The Viking have their flaws they're both funnier and more interesting than Yellowbeard is even if Yellowbeard wins on star appeal. The story needed to do more than just cast some recognizable actors and actresses as pirates but it's instead happy to simply slap on some period attire and give them some swords and let them go at it. The characters aren't particularly well defined and while that's not always a big deal in a comedy, here it hurts things because the comedy never catches fire the way it could and should have.
Part of the problem with a cast this great is that there isn't enough time spent with Yellowbeard himself. Graham Chapman is frequently funny enough in the lead but he seems to play second fiddle to all the cameos but it winds up with a film that's wildly uneven. Yellowbeard is far too disjointed to ever really work, it's neither as hilariously absurd as a Python movie or are enjoyably goofy as a Mel Brooks film. It never bothers with the raunchy stoner humor Cheech And Chong made their own and that's a shame given how ambitious, really nicely shot and well-cast it is.The Blu-ray:
Olive Films presents Yellowbeard on Blu-ray in its proper 1.85.1 theatrical widescreen aspect ratio in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. For the most part, the movie looks quite good on Blu-ray but there are definitely spots where things look more than just a little bit soft. Grain gets heavy in spots but that won't bother most. Detail is pretty solid throughout, close ups in particular, while black levels are strong and generally pretty inky but again, consistency isn't 100% here and sometimes colors look a bit faded. Nicely lit outdoor shots really look quite good. Skin tones look nice and natural, there are no signs of edge enhancement or noise reduction and although the disc is single layered compression artifacts are never a problem.Sound:
The only audio option for the feature is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo mix, there are no alternate language options offered nor are there any closed captioning or subtitles options provided. Clarity of the audio is fine. The levels are nicely balanced and there are problems with any hiss or distortion.Extras:
Aside from static menus and chapter selection, the disc includes the film's theatrical trailer as its only extra feature.Final Thoughts:
Given the caliber of talent involved with Yellowbeard it seems like it should have been a comedic masterpiece. It's not. In fact, it's not really all that good or even all that funny. The movie has its moments and there's definitely an appeal to seeing some comedy greats paling around together here, but the movie lacks the laughs you expect it to have, even if it showcases some interesting production values. Olive Films' Blu-ray release of the film looks decent if not perfect and it sounds good but the only extra is a trailer. Python diehards will probably want it regardless, the rest can easily go with a rental on this one.