Monty Python and the Holy Grail Review
After the massive success of their BBC television series, the Monty Python comedy team, consisting of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin made a film version of their sketch show entitled And Now For Something Completely Different which was released in 1971. Choosing their next adaptation to be based on the Arthurian legend that...GET ON WITH IT!!!.
OK, OK! Think Monty Python meets King Arthur in cinemas, and that's what you have here! The film is as chaotic and funny as the hit television series primarily because the Python team throw out all the rules of cinema and create their own, and then throw out their own rules and create some more. Try and think of another film which contains scenes such as these - Firstly, The opening credits, that last for three and a half minutes, and feature fake Swedish subtitles and an apology regarding the fault of the subtitles and an announcement that the man responsible has been sacked! Or King Arthur and his assistant riding on horseback without horses; using instead the sound of coconuts clip-clopping together. Then, when Arthur has reached a Castle and wishes to speak to it's king, he isn't allowed in because he argues with the guard over his use of coconuts and the discrepancies of coconuts appearing in medieval England! This review is going to use many exclamation marks, and that essentially sums up Monty Python - clever, almost surreal humour that you will either love or hate. If you love it, Monty Python And The Holy Grail is certainly the film for you, as it is Python humour pushed to its limit. Alongside it's sister film Life Of Brian, released four years later, Monty Python And The Holy Grail has been faithfully preserved as a British comedy classic more than twenty-five years after its release.
Please don't expect a plot, because there isn't one. That doesn't matter, as there are many almost immortal sketches - The Knights who say "Ni"; the cute and yet killer bunny rabbit; the Frenchman who thinks he is rude but actually isn't if you listen to him; the three-headed knight, or the Black Knight who refuses to concede defeat in a sword-fight despite having all of his arms and legs chopped off! Everyone has their own favourite.
Monty Python And The Holy Grail is more consistent with the content of the television series but isn't as funny or worthy as Life Of Brian. A few of the sketches are more tedious than funny, but this is the same as any comedy, and at times some of the humour might be too in-jokey and in-your-face for some prudes, but this is arguably the point of Python humour. In short, the question isn't so much as whether you like this film or not, but whether you prefer Holy Grail or Life Of Brian.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1, the picture is excessively grainy and contains a few digital artefacts, but is still the best available version of the film, and the PAL transfer beats the quality of the NTSC version which reveals more print limitations. Even so, some of the scenes, particularly ones which have a distinct green colouring, are given a new lease of life on this DVD.
Although remixed in 5.1, this isn't a particular immense sound track and most of the sound elements are monaural in terms of origin. Some score and background effects are given the surround treatment, but there is relatively little difference between this track and the original mono track that is provided.
Menu: An inspired and amazing menu that bases itself heavily on the visual animations of Terry Gilliam, complete with typical Python sounds! Each menu screen has a different animation, and for once the menu contributes greatly to the feel-good factor of owning this release.
Packaging: A slightly underwhelming packaging, with a typical Columbia Tristar template housed in a single amaray with an extra disc holder slotted into the middle of the inner casing. A booklet is included with a few notes and chapter listings.
As the film's hilarity lies in its unpredictable humour, fans will delight at the news that the abundance of extras all follow suit, and are both surreal and hilarious. Read on only if you want to have every DVD surprise spoiled for you.
Dentist On The Job Opening: When you begin watching the film, you are treated to the opening credits of Bob Monkhouse's 1961 masterpiece Dentist On The Job in its full black-and-white splendour, until the 'DVD Projectionist' realises he has shown the wrong film, and changes it. This is typical Python humour; the link supposedly being the Monkhouse film was called Get On With It! in the USA, which is arguably the film's catchphrase.
Audio Commentary With Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones: It is quite the norm for the Monty Python commentaries to be as chaotic and hilarious as the sketches themselves, and this one doesn’t disappoint. The two directors Gilliam and Jones feature on this one, and Gilliam opens right away with the announcement that Terry is dressed as a woman and that he himself might change costume midway through the commentary. It seems that the two are recorded separately which is a pity, but even so, the duo have much valuable and funny information to share with the audience. Such titbits include the production's last-minute panic over their lack of locations (which involved in the same castle being used for each sequence) and how the group wrote material solely to please themselves rather than critics or audiences.
Audio Commentary With John Cleese, Eric Idle and Michael Palin: This is another priceless commentary, with Cleese, Idle and Palin revealing their experiences of the production, albeit with each of them recorded separately. The trio are less insightful than the directors Gilliam and Jones but this is still a fabulously enjoyable commentary. Palin reveals a funny story about how he had just seen The Godfather before making the film and thought it would be funny to add cotton wool to the cheeks of his character Dennis the peasant!
Follow The Killer Rabbit: This is a feature which when selected will display a symbol of white killer rabbit in the top-right corner of the screen on occasions. Pressing enter when the rabbit is displayed will pause the film and present the viewer with either some concept sketches from Terry Gilliam or some witty accounting information regarding the budget of the film (the rabbit will have a pound symbol if it's the latter one).
The Hard Of Hearing: An option to have the menu selections read to you, or rather shouted at you!
Read As You Watch Screenplay: A novel idea indeed, this is an option to have the screenplay presented as subtitle form on the screen when watching the film, which is a much more accessible method compared to DVD-ROM.
Subtitles For People Who Do Not Like The Film: A one joke concept that works surprisingly well, this is an option to have the film's subtitles quoted directly from Shakespeare's Henry IV Part II. It's amazing how much the quotes fit the action on screen. Even more amazing is the fact that some poor soul has trawled through Shakespeare's text having to find similarities!
Singalong: For those wishing they were part of the film's chorus during the musical numbers, here is the opportunity of a lifetime. This is essentially Karaoke versions of the three songs from the film Knights Of The Round Table, Sir Robin and Monks Chant. Watching the lyrics flash up on screen makes you realise that these songs are some of the funniest and cleverest ever written and put musicals like South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut to shame. The Monks Chant number is even preceded by instructions of how to hit yourself over the head with the DVD box; very much in keeping with the Monks' actions in the film!
Quest For The Holy Grail Locations: This is a fabulous forty seven minute documentary filmed twenty five years after the film was made. It features fellow Pythons Terry Jones and Michael Palin revisiting the locations that the film utilised and is both touching and funny, even if it feels more like Palin's Around The World In 80 Days programmes!
Sacred Relics: A fantastic assortment of wonderfully odd short featurettes. Coconuts - This is a three minute parody of a public information film and features Michael Palin as the 'Minister Of Foods' explaining how to best use coconuts to simulate the sounds of trotting horses! Japanese Version: This is a nine minute selection of scenes from the film translated into Japanese and then subtitled in their literal English meaning! Holy Grail becomes Holy Sake Cup! BBC Film Night - A seventeen minute on location featurette produced by the BBC which is far removed from any sort of publicity 'making of', primarily due to the fact that the Python troupe do anything they can to subvert the filmmakers' progress. Eric Idle steals his interviewers' notes, and Terry Gilliam talks like an enthusiastic alien! Old Rubbish - A selection of investors invite materials and 1974 BFI review of the film, read aloud by Terry Jones in a mocking-the-mocker tone! Artefacts - A selection of international posters promoting the film, accessible via user navigation. Photos - A good selection of colour behind-the-scenes photos from the film, accessible via user navigation. Trailers - two trailers are featured, the original UK trailer which is probably one of the funniest trailers ever made, and the 2001 US re-release trailer, which has an extended ending announcing the film's remastering. The Cast - a list of actors that appeared in the film and a photo of each character they portrayed.
Unshot Footage: There are three selections - Lego Knights - This is an inspired piece of Lego animation, with the famous Camelot musical sequence of the film re-enacted entirely using a cast of Lego men! Location Recce - a hilarious parody of The Blair Witch Project, which features Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam commentating on location footage that never made the film. Don't expect this to be genuine! Unused Ideas - This is a series of sketches/storyboard ideas for the film that were never shot.
Excommunication: A mention of the excellent Python website Pythonline.
It's hard to fault a DVD that contains one of the most popular comedies ever combined with some of the most in-depth extras ever devoted to a comedy film. Monty Python And The Holy Grail as a DVD package transcends the enjoyment of watching the film, and should be snapped up by everyone!