Monty Python and the Holy Grail
- Street Date:
- March 6th, 2012
- Reviewed by:
- Michael S. Palmer
- Review Date: 1
- March 28th, 2012
- Movie Release Year:
- 91 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Rated PG
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
I wave my private parts at your aunties, you cheesy lot of second hand electric donkey-bottom biters.
I'm not really sure where to begin. I've already written up the technical portions below, but I'm a little stuck here. How in the world can one sum up Monty Python in a few hundred words? I'm certainly what one would call a fan of the "surreal comedy" group that sprung to popularity in 1969 with the debut of their BBC sketch comedy series, 'Monty Python and the Flying Circus', but I'm no expert (hell, I had to go to Wikipedia to see what I was supposed to call this comedy subgenre).
In fact, by the time I was old enough to watch television or movies, Monty Python had released its last feature film project, 'The Meaning of Life'. Luckily, thanks to reruns and passionate fans, Monty Python lived on. In the late '80s and early '90s, it was pretty much required for all American movie geeks to gather and watch well worn VHS copies of 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' or 'Monty Python's Life of Brian' (along with all their other TV shows, concert specials, and films).
You wanted to watch because of the adult language and humor; it made you feel smart and older. And yet, in a weird way, it was also family entertainment because there was a good chance your parents laughed their asses off 10 or 20 years ago when the material was new. I guess I'm trying to say appreciating Monty Python, much like Moxie soda, makes you feel like you're part of an exclusive club (I would say elite, but for some reason that's now a derogatory term here in the US). Like the early days of Facebook, you didn't just become a Monty Python fan on your own; someone had to show you, aka invite you.
But once you knew the sheer, silly genius of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin, man there wasn't much funnier. And now, years later, these films are still pretty terrific. 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' is arguably their second best film after 'Life of Brian' (that's a personal choice, of course), and because it was only their second feature film, and made on the cheap, it is also pretty raw and rough around the edges.
Taking a cue from their television series, 'Holy Grail' is about King Arthur's quest for the cup of Christ, as told through a series of loosely-woven sketches poking fun at human nature, government bureaucracies, as well as medieval and fantasy film tropes. This is a world where Arthur's "horse" is just his squire following him around clapping coconuts together to sound like hooves. Or where a man who was murdered while carving ancient runes, actually took the time to carve his death cry of, "arrrrrgh." Or where the evil monster is nothing more than a simple piece of 2D animation, which proceeds to chase around 2D animated stick figure versions of the heroes. Or where there's an Intermission for no reason with 10 minutes left in the film. It's all silly, witty, and surreal. The six man team swap in and out of numerous roles, playing villains, side characters, and Arthur's Knights, often all in the same scenes.
Appreciating 'Holy Grail' is to embrace the absurd. It's kinda like watching 'Family Guy' without all the literal parodies. As a kid, I thought this film was perfect. Re-watching it again last night, the comedy remains as fresh and biting, but I can definitely see the limitations of their small film budget (which they hilariously embrace). Focus and other technical mistakes are everywhere, but in the end it doesn't matter. This film is a classic, and Monty Python stands alone for its unique sense of silly.
I guess my only question, for those Python fans reading who might have teenagers, have you shared Monty Python yet? I'm not sure what age is exactly appropriate, but will there be a next generation of people who love this stuff? Will it be cool again? I'd love to know.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' to Blu-ray on a single BD50 that works in Regions A, B, and C. There are no forced trailers, and there are included instructions to access your UltraViolet digital copy of the film.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Sony's HD transfer of 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' is probably the best this film has looked in a long, long time. That being said, this MPEG-4 AVC encode (framed in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 -- leaving small pillar boxes on the side of a 16:9 displays) is an average high definition experience.
'Holy Grail' has always looked pretty bad on home video, thanks to its limited budget and whatever film stock(s) were used. The great news here is that Sony has used (or restored) pristine source materials for this release. While there are a few odd aberrations on the edges, as well as some occasional dirt, overall there aren't any huge blemishes or scratches. This is about as clean as it gets. Further, the brighter sequences (such as the daytime exteriors and the animation) attain nice levels of depth, clarity, and sharpness. Costumes, sets, and fake beards stand out nicely. Also, black levels are decent, with the film's greens, blues, and brown tones attaining a realistic quality. Lastly, the film grain appears intact, with no signs of noise reduction or other digital tinkering.
However, there's only so much to be done with a movie that doesn't seem to have been filmed or preserved on the best possible sources. This movie, as it has since the first time I saw it on VHS, remains overly dark, often out of focus (more clear now in HD), and extremely flat most of the time. Skin tones never look quite right either.
Overall, there's nothing to fault in terms of transfer or encoding, but high definition highlights the best parts and limitations of any original source material. For 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail', it looks terrific. For Blu-ray, this is an average release (at best).
The Audio: Rating the Sound
'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' sounds better than it looks courtesy of an English 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround sound track.
Overall, the audio recordings seem to be in solid shape for a film originally released in Mono almost 40 years ago. Dialog is clear and warm and the music expresses a nice full range. LFE also fairs pretty well (especially when they meet Tim), though it never roars. Sound effects are clear, but can sound a bit tinny. In terms of a surround sound experience, it's pretty bland. The center is well articulated, and there are occasional interesting front stereo choices, but overall, the two rears (either alone or combined fronts) don't really add to the experience or build any feeling of being in the world. I wasn't really expecting anything enveloping, but because they tried to push mono sound into all the channels, it comes off a bit flat and lacks precision. Again, all to be expected for a almost-40-year-old mono soundtrack that now exists in 5.1 channels.
However, despite not being able to compete with modern soundtracks, 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' sounds great and provide for a fuller sound experience than one would expect.
Alternate soundtracks include English 1.0 Dolby Digital as well as French, Japanese, and Portugueses 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Subtitles For People Who Don't Like the Film, which substitutes text from William Shakespeare's 'Henry IV: Part 2'.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
It appears Sony has ported over all the special features from the 2001 Extraordinarily Deluxe Edition DVD. There are also a few Blu-ray exclusives, which we'll cover in the next section.
- Scintillating Audio Commentary — Directors Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam host a terrific commentary for anyone interested in the film's production. My favorite anecdote is probably about how they accidentally dyed the living killer bunny permanently red.
- Even More Revealing Audio Commentary — John Cleese, Eric Idle, and Michael Palin are on this one. It's fascinating to hear Cleese talk about the co-directors' differing styles of direction. Apparently, Gilliam was more focused on the technical aspect rather than the comedy.
- Quest of the Holy Grail Locations (SD, 47 mins) — Terry Jones and Michael Palin buy a copy of their own script to tour around
Scotland"England 932 AD".
- Lego Knights: (SD, 2 mins) — The Knights of the Round Table sequence, recreated in LEGO form. Sweet.
- Special Japanese Version (SD, 9 mins) — Two scenes dubbed into Japanese, which re-translated English Subtitles.
- How To Use Your Coconuts (An Educational Film) (SD, 3 mins) — A silly instructional piece about how to get the most horse out of your coconuts.
- BBC Film Night on Location (SD, 17 mins) — A 1974 episode where the BBC chronicles intercuts interviews with on set footage.
- Three Songs to Sing-Along (SD, 5 mins) — Now you'll know all the words to Knights of the Round Table, Sir Robin, and the Monks' Chant.
- Cast Directory Photo Gallery (HD) — This is a pretty awesome feature where you can see the small Python troop in the vast number of characters they each play.
- US 2001 Re-Release Trailer (HD, 3 mins).
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
And now for something completely
different exclusive to the Blu-ray.
- The Holy Book of Days Second Screen Experience — This is an all new iPad app, which works on its own, but is designed to sync with the Blu-ray. I didn't get a chance to try it yet, but here's what they say about it: "In order to re-create authentically all 28 shooting days of The Holy Grail, the Pythons have gone back to their vaults and pulled out a treasure trove of never-before-seen (or heard) outtakes, rehearsals, songs, sound effects, scripts, dozens of stills, and much much more." It's a huge 1GB download, which includes more than 70 minutes of never-before-seen video, interactive 360° props, ore than an hour of audio, an interactive map, original animations, never-before-seen stills, an introduction by John Cleese, the screenplay, continuity Sheets, and Michael Palin’s Diaries. Oddly, the app is priced at $4.99 (here in the states; £2.99 in the UK). Usually these things are free. However, the Blu-ray comes with a $5 Rebate Coupon (good until April 16, 2012).
- Lost Animations with Introduction by Terry Gilliam (HD, 13 mins) — Pretty self explanatory. Gilliam introduces animation that didn't make it into the film.
- Outtakes and Extended Scenes with Introduction by Terry Jones! (HD, 19 mins) — A lot of fun here with extra bits too silly to have made it into the film. Or didn't fit creatively, who knows.
'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' remains one of the silliest exercises in film comedy I've ever seen. I loved it as a kid discovering Python for the first time, reveling in the outrageous accents, absurd situations, and fourth-wall breaking. As a Blu-ray, though it's an average release in terms of video and audio, it looks and sounds the best it possibly can and comes loaded with special features new and old. If you're a lifelong 'Grail' fan, I wouldn't hesitate to pick this title up because it's certainly an upgrade over the DVD. If you've never seen Monty Python before, this is a pretty great place to start.
- BD-50 Blu-ray Disc
- Ultraviolet Digital Copy
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
- French Dolby Digital 5.1
- Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1
- Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
- English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin (Traditional), Thai
- Commentaries by Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones, plus general complaints and back-biting by John Cleese, Eric Idle & Michael Palin
- Elephant & Castle
- Run Away!
- The Tale of Sir Robin
- The Tale of Sir Lancelot
- Three Mindless Sing-Alongs
- Henry 4th
- Cast directory photo gallery
- Join Michael Palin and Terry Jones in their special documentary The Quest For The Holy Grail Locations
- Monty Python And The Holy Grail In Lego!
- How To Use Your Coconuts (An Educational Film)
- Japanese Version
- BBC Film Night
- Meanwhile, King Arthur & Sir Bedevere...
Exclusive HD Content
- The Holy Book of Days Second Screen Experience for iPad
- Terry Gilliam introduces his lost animation reel
- Terry Jones introduces the outtakes