Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Extraordinarily Deluxe Edition
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle,
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Review by Mark Bourne
With some half-dozen editions released just in Region 1, a new DVD of Monty Python and the Holy Grail isn't exactly something completely different any longer. If you're a longtime fan, you're shouting "My brain hurts!" Gumby-style at the prospect of yet another dip into the Python troupe's shameless-capitalists well.
Or perhaps (rather unlikely, to be sure, but still) you're one of those Upper Class Twits of the Year who still have not yet added this title to your DVD shelves at all.
Either way, I'll bet one dead parrot against your box of Whizzo Chocolates that the absurdly redundant yet enticingly thickened "Extraordinarily Deluxe Edition" is something not even the Spanish Inquisition would expect.
Upgrading the fine two-disc Special Edition from 2001, this 2006 release delivers a new transfer that increases and improves the image a bit. The abundant extras from the Special Edition are all still here, plus now we get a not-entirely-gratuitous selection of new stuff, including a third disc that's the audio CD of Monty Python's 1975 novelty album devoted to the film.
So whether we need it or not, like a giant Gilliam foot the Extraordinarily Deluxe Edition of Monty Python and the Holy Grail has arrived. And what a wonderful, somewhat moist thing it is. Much, much better than a dead bishop on the landing. No visit to the Argument Clinic here. Particularly for those who still have a grail-shaped hole in their DVD libraries, this three-disc set, overstuffed to seam-bursting proportions with creamy cheese-shop goodness, offers excellent reasons to always look on the bright side of life.
To put it succinctly, it's a lumberjack ... and it's okay.
The movie; or, On second thought, let's not go to Camelot. It is a silly place.
To make them a symbol in these dark times (932 A.D.), King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and his Knights of the Round Table are charged by God ("It's like those miserable psalms, they're so depressing") to find the Holy Grail. They look for it. They find things. These things include, but are not limited to, several taunting Frenchmen, one killer bunny rabbit, one Black Knight (soundly freed of limbs), numerous eccentric performances, a dead historian, another man who's not dead (yet), one shrubbery, eight score young blondes and brunettes all between sixteen and nineteen-and-a-half, Tim the Enchanter, a brave retreat by Sir Robin, catapulted cows, routines and chorus scenes with footwork impecc-able, the violence inherent in the system, one Bridge of Death, migratory patterns of European and African swallows, coconuts, huuuuge ... tracts of land, the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, a witch that weighs the same as a duck, knees-bent running about behavior, the dreaded Black Beast of Arrgh, and, of course, the Knights Who Say "Ni!"
To reveal more would risk giving away the fun. Oh, who am I kidding? If you haven't already seen it at least once via one medium or another, write me. I know this planet called Earth you might like to visit.
It's outrageous, anarchic, clever, and exhibits the Pythons' signature lunatic intelligence. Saying that it's achieved "cult" status is like saying Star Wars has a quaint little appreciation society. To plenty of folks not just the roving street gangs of script-quoting Pythonphiles Monty Python and the Holy Grail is the funniest movie ever made. Now, humor is the most subjective force in the universe, up there with religion, politics, sex, or any combination thereof. And there are a lot of funny movies out there. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a movie that's more joyfully, giddily silly ... and so enormously popular more than three decades after its premiere ... with so many lines having entered the common vocabulary to be dropped like non sequitur hail into everyday conversations in office cubicles on at least two continents ... and that happens to be written by, directed by, and starring the most famous British comedy team to ever come out of, um, Britain.
Okay, sure, its pace is a tad uneven. Perhaps it does run out of steam before the final scene and it doesn't so much end as stop. It's occasionally coarse and naughty, which diminishes the humor for some (and increases it for most). It was made for only £200,000 by two first-time directors, and that shows (though there's also plenty of silk-purse-from-sow's-ear inventiveness and signs of the confident creative sophistication that expanded in subsequent Python films). Quite likely that unpolished "our first movie" aura has enhanced its appeal and durability.
But it's a serious world out there, and in that serious world MPatHG grants us full and complete license to be unashamedly, coconut-clomping unserious.
The transfer; or, Ecky Ecky Ecky Pakang Zoom-Ping!
Things you look at
Back in 2001, the Special Edition's "new high definition widescreen presentation with pink frilly edges" sported a new master print struck from the original negative. Now this Extraordinarily Deluxe Edition cleans up that print even further, then gives it a new transfer that opens it up to a comfy-chair anamorphic 1.66:1, so we get noticeably more image than the previous anamorphic 1.85. As before, this one is touted as "remastered for High Definition," and it does display a slight improvement in sharpness and vividness over its predecessor; however, on this score the uptick is nominal and the Special Edition's image was so good that this new one is an optional upgrade chiefly for the HD-DVD warriors who demand only the latest for their HD players and screens.
Things you hear
As before, the disc defaults to the original monaural audio in DD 2.0, although the DD 5.1 mix is the better option. For the 2001 edition, the audio team mixed the 5.1 track from the basic mono magnetic tracks, stereoized Neil Innes' songs and the incidental music, and added a few new atmospheric backgrounds. This is that same 5.1 track, and it's still quite a lot cleaner and more vibrant than the mono. The frequency range is nothing to show off your cool, expensive sound system with, and while the 5.1 track broadens the scope of the sound elements it doesn't over-indulge the surround effects, which are usually reserved for music and special dimensional tricks such as Tim the Enchanter's long-distance fireball explosions. In fact, we get the surround effects most strongly in the DVD's animated menus.
Oh, and we have alternative language tracks in French and Portuguese (DD 2.0 monaural) for those of you with outrageous accents.
Plus we see subtitle options in English, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai, and "For people who do not like the film (taken from Henry IV, Part II by William Shakespeare)." That last one captions the entire movie in dialogue lifted from Shakespeare's history play and it really, I'm not lying, no kiddin' matches what's being said onscreen. Well, more or less, and often with hilarious results. My hat's off to Jessica Tipping, assistant to Terry Jones, who put in the effort to concoct this feature. (Oddly, the subtitles in Spanish didn't make it into this edition.)
Discs One and Two show off their "Extraordinary Animated Menus with very loud stereo sound." The menus are built from Terry Gilliam's distinctive cartoon art that appears within the movie. The menus also employ dynamic full-range 5.1 surround effects. Fun stuff all around, although a bit tedious once the novelty wears off.
The extras; or, ham and jam and Spam a lot; or, What, the curtains?
Not only do we still get all the extras from the 2001 edition, on the new Disc Two there's material added specially for this edition. None of it is essential stuff, and some of it is obviously there to capitalize on the success of the musical Spamalot, Eric Idle's high-kicking, Tony Award-winning Broadway hit adaptation of the movie. But none of it is a complete waste of pixels either, and the new trivia quizzes are fun. All that and now there's a Disc Three to boot. The extras come spread across the discs thusly, with the new items listed below in ALL CAPS:
Enlightening commentary by Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones A full-length, scene-specific audio track from co-directors Terry and Terry, who were recorded separately. First available on the Criterion Collection Laserdisc edition, this engaging, relaxed track is full of director stuff that's informative and entertaining. Reflecting on the history of the production, its details and difficulties, Gilliam and Jones at times seem amazed that they were able to pull off the movie in the first place. Their introspective musings also touch on the nature of Python humor as a team and as creative individuals, and on the history of the Monty Python troupe.
General complaints and back-biting by John Cleese, Eric Idle & Michael Palin A full-length, scene-specific audio track from the three surviving major players. Again recorded separately, the three components of this track were edited together well, so the only notable omission is the absence of personal interaction between the participants. Thankfully, these veteran professionals don't "try to be funny," they just let the funny happen on its own as they watch the movie and comment. They are generous with praising each other's work, the talents of the late Graham Chapman, and the skills on display from their directors and fellow cast members, Jones and Gilliam. A near-identical complement to the Jones and Gilliam track, Cleese, Idle, and Palin reminisce fondly about the day-to-day production details, the shooting of the scenes, and who developed what bits. Warm and cordial, Palin is the chattiest of the three, and is particularly keen on character analysis. Cleese, befitting his reputation, is the most critical and observant. Idle notes that two of the production's primary investors were Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, and we at last learn who played Sir Not Appearing In This Film.
On-Screen Screenplay "Read the screenplay while you watch the film (or vice versa)." Found on the Subtitles menu screen, this presents a graphical overlay of the script, scene directions and all, on top of the left-hand side of the movie. It's like the English captioning with a film school degree.
"Fascinating Scene Selection feature: all-moving, all-singing, no dancing" The scene-selection images come complete with scene-specific audio snippets that float from speaker to speaker to speaker to speaker.
Exciting "Follow The Killer Rabbit" Feature! This takes a cue from DVDs of The Matrix and Dogma. When you turn on this feature a white rabbit icon appears periodically while you watch the movie. See the rabbit, click your remote's Enter button, and see Terry Gilliam sketches of the scene in progress and other goodies. If the rabbit is wearing glasses, click to see The Accountants Version photos of invoices, expense reports, and receipts from the film's production, "specially prepared for Accountants and their families giving the opportunity to see just how cheaply the film was made."
Special feature for the Hard of Hearing A brief gag in the Main Menu. (Garrett Morris did it regularly on Saturday Night Live back in '75.)
Extra 24 seconds absolutely free! As if we needed more proof that most of the time "exclusive deleted scenes" are deleted for valid reasons. It's in the Castle Anthrax scene. It gives the deserving Carol Cleveland more screen presence, but it otherwise adds little and breaks the flow of a briskly paced and funny scene.
Dentist on the Job is still here too. Owners of the 2001 edition, mum's the word for the newbies.
And an error on the Special Edition disc, the missing "Mønti Pythøn ik den Hølie Gräilen" subtitle, has been fixed. I'm looking at it now, so you guys at Home Theater Forum can finally, after five years, relax your conniptions.
Sing-Along Karaoke lyrics (really just the English captions turned on) help you through the complete scenes featuring "Knights of the Round Table" (pure poetry) and "Sir Robin's Minstrels." Plus, visual and verbal instructions on how to use your DVD box to chant along with the Monks' forehead-flattening "Pie Iesu Domine. Dona eis Requiem."
Quest for the Holy Grail Locations Arguably the finest of the Disc Two extras, this featurette is 46 minutes long and in anamorphic 1.85:1. A combination documentary and home movie, it features Michael Palin and Terry Jones returning after 26 years to the Scottish highland locations of the rude Frenchmen, the rabbit's cave, Swamp Castle, Castle Anthrax, the Gorge of Eternal Peril, and Castle Arrgh. Holy Grail's original Production Manager works his way on camera pretty quickly because only he remembers the exact spot where the French taunting took place.
Locations such as Doune Castle and Castle Stalker have become shrines for visiting Grail fans. At the Doune Castle giftshop, be sure to ask for the pair of coconut halves available for visitors to ride around the castle Python-style. The lads shot a startling variety of interior and exterior footage at Doune Castle, and it's clear that the castle's current attendants continue to mine that fact for all it's worth. A Scots stereotype is reinforced for another hundred years when the charming Hyborean giftshop keepers make Palin and Jones pay for a commercial copy of their own script. This feature ends with a recreation of the climactic police round-up scene, showcasing four local children whose fathers were bit players in that scene a generation before. The whole entertaining jaunt is pleasant, casual, and informative.
Coconuts It's "How To Use Your Coconuts," a short educational film from the Ministry of Foods (Coconut Information Division). An accident-prone civil servant illuminates exciting ways to use your coconuts. Special emphasis on simulated equine motion. (Michael Palin stars in this delightful new feature.)
Japanese Version Here are the French Castle and the Knights of Ni sequences with the Japanese dubbed track and subtitles newly translated back from the Japanese without reference to the original script. Proof that some concepts are not universal. The sacred sake bowl indeed. (A shorter version of this segment originally appeared on the Criterion Laserdisc.)
BBC Film Night It's "On Location with The Pythons," an 18-minute location report made in 1974 by the BBC. Takes us right there for the filming of the French Castle scene. The boys look so young. Graham Chapman smokes his pipe and appears kingly. Terry Jones frets. Terry Gilliam waxes serious. Eric Idle torments an interviewer. And John Cleese was already rather pompous back then too. One of the best supplements in the bunch.
Old Rubbish "A surprise package of mystery items specially included for the mentally challenged." In other words, a short click-through gallery of preview and premiere paraphernalia, concluding with a narrated snip from a high-minded negative review the film received.
Artefacts A half-dozen theatrical posters of various flavors.
Photos A click-through gallery of some six dozen behind-the-scenes snaps. The DVD creative director gets a bonus point for giving every photo an extra icon that returns you to the Sacred Relics menu without having to click-click-click through the whole damn album.
Trailers The original UK theatrical trailer in mono and the 2001 U.S. theatrical re-release trailer in stereo (which is, in fact, simply a technical upgrade of the UK original). Funny stuff.
The Cast An interactive cast directory. Discover how many roles Michael Palin plays! Each Python's list of characters is revealed to boggle the unknowing. Click a character name to pop up a picture of that character from the movie. Connie Booth, Carol Cleveland, Neil Innes and other supporting players are there too. Who played the old crone King Arthur says "Ni!" to? Now you know.
Easter egg Click the yellow Grail icon and read the credits for this DVD edition.
Lego Knights Sheer snap-tight brilliance. It's the "Knights of the Round Table" song sequence newly filmed with animated LEGO figures, even a LEGO castle, and a little CGI. This was a professional co-production with LEGO Studios. Look carefully to catch the quick salute to the Dead Parrot Sketch.
Location Recce Film of Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones's location scout from 1974, with their commentaries. Actually, it's a short put-on and arguably the one extra here worth discarding.
Unused ideas Terry Gilliam sketches of ideas that were never used. Jesus! Doesn't this guy throw anything away? Imagine Salvador Dali and Chuck Jones collaborating with felt-tip pens and a stack of cocktail napkins. A lot.
EXTRAORDINARILY DELUXE NEW STUFF
THE HOLY GRAIL CHALLENGE This menu list of five click-through trivia quizzes comes spiced with graphics and audio clips from the film. They're lengthy and thorough multiple-choice question sets that do not suffer fools lightly:
- Embarrassingly Easy Quiz for First Time Viewers
- Quiz for the Moderately Fanatical
- The Appallingly Perilous Experts Only Quiz
- The Extra Frightening Dangerous DVD Extras Quiz
- Quiz for People Who Don't Like the Film ("4. Which word best describes you? A. Unloved, B. Humorless, C. Insignificant, D. Sociopath")
A TASTE OF SPAMALOT (6 mins., 13 secs.) A promo for the Broadway musical's Grammy-winning soundtrack CD. Audio clips from the original cast recording get a Gilliam-like animation treatment with cut-out images of Tim Curry, Hank Azaria, David Hyde Pierce, and the rest of the cast. (It's a CD I recommend with some enthusiasm, by the way. Eric Idle will be raking in royalty checks for "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" until the song gets performed at his funeral.)
SECRETS OF THE HOLY GRAIL (1 min., 20 secs.) A promo for this DVD edition. "The quest is finally over," says the narrator. Yeah, right, mate.
THE ALBUM OF THE SOUNDTRACK OF THE TRAILER OF THE FILM MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL Comic text instructions on how to play Disc Three.
THE ALBUM OF THE SOUNDTRACK OF THE TRAILER OF THE FILM MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL Here's the audio CD of Monty Python's 1975 LP. Rather than a straight soundtrack album, this is a full-on Python effort lampooning a fictitious Holy Grail premiere, "recorded live at the 3:10 showing at the Classic Silbury Hill Theatre." Audio clips from the movie's highlight scenes (complete with John Cleese narrating for us at home, plus audience grunts, snorts, and laughs) are interrupted by broken reels, a grizzly attacking the Sino-Scottish projectionist, a bomb threat, treatises from Pythonesque academics (the Logician is especially memorable), and other funny business from the Pythons, some of it naughtier than the film. Its heritage as a pre-digital-era LP record remains intact with Graham Champan's praise for the "Executive Edition's" Swiss-craftsmanship center hole and, half-way through, his berating "This is side two!" It's a novelty album even by Monty Python standards, and its purpose expired once we had the ability to watch the movie itself whenever we want on home video, but it's a must for completists. (For what it's worth, it has its own Wikipedia entry here.)
Nudge nudge, grin grin, wink wink. Say no more.
Now piss off.
- Anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1)
- Two single-sided, dual-layered disc (SS-DL), one audio CD
- Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DD 2.0 mono), French (DD 2.0 mono), Portuguese (DD 2.0 mono)
- Subtitles: English, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai, and "For people who do not like the film (taken from Henry IV, Part II by William Shakespeare)"
- Commentary track with Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones
- Commentary track with John Cleese, Eric Idle, and Michael Palin
- Subtitles For People Who Don't Like The Film
- On-Screen Screenplay
- "Follow The Killer Rabbit" Feature
- "A Special Version for the Hard of Hearing"
- 24-seconds of previously deleted footage
- "Three Mindless Sing-Alongs!"
- "Quest for the Holy Grail Locations" featurette
- "How To Use Your Coconuts"
- Japanese Version (French Castle and the Knights of Ni sequences)
- 1974 BBC Film Night segment, "On Location with The Pythons"
- Old Rubbish
- Photo gallery
- Interactive cast list
- Lego Knights animation
- Location Recce
- Unused ideas
- Five trivia quizzes
- A Taste of Spamalot
- Secrets of the Holy Grail
- CD: The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film Monty Python and the Holy Grail
- Trifold digipak in paperboard sleeve
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