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Monty Python's The Meaning of Life: Special Edition

Having reached the status of comedy legends and taken separate career paths, the members of Monty Python's Flying Circus were lured back to the big screen one last time for Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983). Hilarious, if a bit uneven, the film attempted to cover birth, death, and various highlights of human experience through a handful of completely unrelated sketches. Starting with the completely off-the-wall swashbuckler parody "Crimson Permanent Assurance Company," the film zips headlong through some of the funniest material that the Pythons ever produced, including the infamous "Mr. Creosote" sketch, with John Cleese's supercilious waiter insisting that one last mint is only "wah-fer thin," and the religiously incorrect song "Every Sperm is Sacred":

Hindu, Taoist, Mormon
Spill theirs just anywhere
But God loves those who treat their
Semen with more care

With sketches skewering British sex education and Bergman films, and a connecting device featuring the Pythons as fish pondering the meaning of their existence, Meaning of Life is a deeply strange and very funny coda to the troupe's brilliant career. Universal Home Video's two-disc DVD release was accompanied by the news that there were compression problems on Disc One of the set. This has mostly manifested as jagged video interlacing (visible as white lines that occasionally shoot across the screen) but, depending on the user's DVD player, there's also been reports of blurriness and problems with pausing and menus. The transfer appears to be otherwise excellent, though, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio on both discs — Disc Two is problem-free — is exceptional, in English or French with optional subtitles in English, Spanish or French (to get a USPS envelope from Universal in which to mail back the original Disc One, call 1-800-433-4673 — replacements will be available by November 2003). Extras on Disc One include a new director's cut of the film, which features scenes that were originally deleted; a short, funny introduction by Eric Idle (that rhymes!) on the theatrical version; a commentary track with Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, with lots of funny stories and behind-the-scenes anecdotes; a very funny "Soundtrack for the Lonely: A Soundtrack for People Watching at Home Alone" that defies adequate description — you have to hear it to believe it, but it does get old rather quickly. Disc Two offers deleted scenes, which are included in the body of the Director's Cut of the film; the 50-minute "The Meaning of the Making of The Meaning of Life," a new "making-of" featurette with all of the surviving Pythons offering anecdotes about the film; "Educational Tips to Prepare You for Life in the Real World," a not entirely successful sketch featuring John Cleese and Michael Palin; "Un Film de John Cleese," a very funny new trailer for the film, featuring only clips of Cleese; the not-at-all-serious "Remastering a Masterpiece," which purports to show how the film was restored; "Song and Dance," a surprisingly ho-hum featutette on how a couple of the musical numbers were staged; "Songs Unsung," offering alternate versions of the songs from the film with new video; "Selling The Meaning of Life," with all sorts of promotional stuff like trailers and TV spots and posters and radio spots (including a trailer explaining how the Pythons intended to sell the film entirely through telepathy); "Virtual Reunion," a faux-reunion of the group onscreen at once via deliberately bad blue-screen technology, and "What Fish Think," with a tankful of aquarium fish occasionally, um, thinking things. There's also DVD-ROM content, including the screenplay and lyric sheets. Dual-DVD keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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