I think I read it best when The Digital Bits said (and I’m paraphrasing here): “There is nothing I can say that will change your mind about this film.” I’m a firm believer that statement is true. But I think in essence, this review will serve one purpose: to prove that this DVD beats the piss out of the lackluster September ’99 version that Columbia dumped on us fans back then.
For those loving under a rock, the plot concerns King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table (consisting of, but not limited to, Not-So-Brave Sir Robin, Sir Lancelot, and Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film) and their quest for the Holy Grail. Many silly exploits ensue, including vestal virgins looking for some good spanking, sorcerers who should know better, knights who say horrible things beginning with ‘N’ and ending with ‘i!’, and other various people and places, all tied together using wonderfully quirky animations and enough hilarious bits to fill a dozen lame SNL spin-off flicks.
Let’s take a moment to notice that this cut of the film is a whole 24 seconds longer than its original theatrical release. And you thought you had seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Nope, with new subplots and dramatic climaxes, this new version just plain rocks the house. Or it could that they simply have included a few longer moments in Castle Anthrax, which I personally see as 24 seconds too long now. Or it could just be 24 seconds of extra darkness at the beginning of the film. Yes, that’s it.
The long and short of this review is that it is neither long, nor short. The movie review is short. The DVD review, which is about to begin, is long. This, ladies and gentlemen, is my single effort to be 1/100th as clever as those wild Monty Python guys. And I do believe I have failed. Damn!
VIDEO ^ In a sparkling new high-definition transfer-in which the box says is adorned with pink frilly edges, though I found none as hard as I tried-the movie has never looked this good and might not look as good again. While it didn’t go through the restoration process we all know and love, it is one fine example of how good a film of this age can look. There are a few moments of the film getting soft and grain is evident here and there, but overall the image is crisp and the video side of the disc is solid.
AUDIO ^ A Dolby Digital 5.1 mix was created using the original mono stems that were enhanced but thankfully not totally reworked (unlike other DVD soundtrack screw-ups *cough*Superman*cough*). The music went from mono to stereo and is fuller, but still sounds like it was made in the early 70’s. Nevertheless Neil Innes’ work has never sounded so good or the dialogue so clear. ^ For the purists there is the original mono track that sounds as good as can be expected, as well as a French mono track.
EXTRAS ^ The cream of the proverbial crop lies here, with all the wonderful helpings of Stuff Not Needed placed here. The extras shine in a true special edition that does all but eclipse the previous DVD release, and even manages to out-do the Criterion laser unleashed oh-so many years ago.
Disc One ^ Commentary by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones ^ In what is a DVD first, Criterion licensed out their supplement material. The original Gilliam and Jones commentary from the laserdisc is included here, and though recorded separately, they still manage to gab their way through this movie in style, with enough great bits (including the wonderful SNL story that has been oft-repeated) to keep even the most die-hard commentary hater enthralled. A must-listen.
Commentary by John Cleese, Eric Idle & Michæl Palin ^ Newly recorded, this track complements the first easily and also features the contributors recorded separately. Whatever the Terry’s didn’t include, these Pythons did. Cleese seems to be the most gab-friendly, and also the hardest on himself, but look for Idle and Palin to come in at just the right time with small anecdotes and stories that are still interesting, even if a few gaps of silence come in now and then.
Follow the Killer White Rabbit ^ Just like The Matrix and Dogma, this special feature makes a white rabbit icon appear periodically in the bottom right corner of the screen while watching the flick. If you see the rabbit, hit Enter on your remote and see Terry Gilliam sketches of the scene in progress and other assorted stuff. If the rabbit has his reading glasses on, you’ll see The Accountants Version, complete with invoices, receipts, and expense reports “specially prepared for Accountants and their families giving the opportunity to see just how cheaply the film was made.”
*Note – As of this writing there seems to be a problem with subtitles magically appearing and disappearing during the scenes that feature the White Rabbit. Columbia is aware of this problem and is trying to correct it, but at press time is still there.
On-Screen Screenplay ^ In one of the coolest features I’ve come across (why doesn’t this happen more often?), you can watch the film in a small window while the script, complete with cues and direction, is seen on the left side of the screen. A great feature for anybody interested in screenwriting, wondering how the film was made, or dispelling those beliefs that the Pythons were so brilliant they just went outside and made it all up on the spot.
Subtitles For People Who Don’t Like The Film ^ The entire movie is subtitled in dialogue taken from Shakespeare’s Henry IV part II, and the scary thing is, it basically matches what you’re looking at! Often resulting in guffaws of laughter, I woe the poor soul who spent hours upon hours of his life wading through Shakespeare’s long play to come up with this.
Subtitles are also included in English, French, and Spanish.
Fascinating Scene Selection feature ^ A great gag in the scene selection menus that use 5.1 sound to its fullest extent.
A Special Version For The Hard of Hearing I was going to ruin the gag here, but on second thought, nah.
Disc Two ^ The rest of the extras are found here, complete with great zany menus just like the first disc. The menus are worth watching all by themselves.
Quest For The Holy Grail Locations (47:00) ^ The biggest and best of the Disc Two extras, this newly-created piece takes us to all of the locations used in the film. Shot in clear anamorphic video, we go with Michæl Palin and co-director Terry Jones to most of the locations used, including the Castle of Aaaaaargh and a gift shop with Holy Grail relics, including an amusing scene where the Pythons are forced to buy a copy of their own script. Surprisingly engaging, anyone who calls themselves even a casual fan will definitely enjoy this documentary/home movie.
Sacred Relics ^ Many short pieces all bunched into one category. Let’s take em one by one, shall we?
Coconuts (or How To Use Your Coconuts) (3:00) ^ The Ministry of Foods, Coconut Information Division’s, short film on how to properly use your coconuts. Short and very funny, a civil service worker tries to explain how to get the most out of those pesky shells.
Japanese Version (8:45) ^ Holy s**t, when translating to another language I can imagine that comedy is hardest to get right, and this is a testament. While it was shorter on the Criterion Laserdisc, the joke gets a little long in the tooth as the Japanese is literally translated from an overseas print. Even if it’s a one-time view only, an interesting extra nonetheless featuring the Knights of Ni and the French Castle sequences.
Artifacts ^ Posters and one-sheets from all over the world used to promote the film.
Trailers ^ Two virtually identical trailers, the first the original U.K version and the second for the U.S 2001 re-release. The latter simply a technical upgrade, apart from the ending.
Photos ^ Almost a hundred anamorphically-enhanced stills from the production. Kudos to the guy with the idea of making them anamorphic!
Old Rubbish ^ As quoted from the box: “A surprise package of mystery items specially included for the mentally challenged.” Well, not quite, though it is interesting stuff. A few ticket shots, a few premier shots, and ending with a looped snotty review of a high-minded prick who was sure the film was going to be lost in the annals of cinema history. It’s great to prove a naysayer wrong, isn’t it?
BBC Film Night (17:00) 17 minutes of silliness from 1974. Featuring an interviewer who just doesn’t understand that stupidity will always prevail, the reporter tries time and time again for something coherent, and fails.
The Cast A complete directory of the cast and the parts they played. Click on a character name to see a picture, and astound yourself with how many roles these guys played. Low-budget indeed. ^ It’s also important to note that an Easter Egg is included somewhere in the Sacred Relics menu, if you only look hard enough…
Unused Footage ^ In a small tongue-in-cheek feature, we see three choices of stuff that wasn’t included in the final film.
Lego Knights ^ A recreation of the Knights of the Round Table song sequence co-produced by Lego Studios, this great piece is done with flair, humor, and wonderful little details that only show up on the third of fourth viewing.
Location Recce (2:00) ^ Arguably the worst extra included as the co-directors gab over the images of exotic locales and why they couldn’t film there. Boring and overwrought, even at two minutes it feels forced. Next!
Unused Ideas ^ Terry Gilliam sketches not included in the film. Simple as that.
Finally, Excommunication is quick feature that leads you to weblinks for the Monty Python website and Columbia Tri-Star’s web home. Check ’em out if you’re bored.
If you’re looking for more you’re not going to find it here, but what is here should suffice. The casual to die-hard fan is finally given a worthy special edition for our King and his Knights. Highly recommended.
MOVIE: * * * * ½ – 4.5 Stars ^ DVD Ratings ^ OVERALL: * * * – 4 Stars ^ VIDEO: * * * * – 4 Stars ^ AUDIO: * * * ½ – 3.5 Stars ^ EXTRAS: * * * *½ – 4.5 Stars