MONTY PYTHON'S THE MEANING OF LIFE
2-Disc Special Edition - Region 2 (UK) Edition - Reviewed by Matt West
Michael Palin, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman
available on VHS, Betamax and Super 8!Ē
Ö and now
DVD as well. Monty Python's The Meaning of Life is now to be
released on DVD in a lovely two-disc package courtesy of Universal.
Jackson Five released a great many albums - about seven in total as I
recall. Of the contents of those seven albums only two tracks really
appeal. Michael Jackson then went on to do some much better solo stuff
which I prefer to the ensemble work. The same applies with Python. For
each thirty minute programme there was, in this reviewerís humble opinion,
five minutes of fried comedy gold, and twenty-five minutes of heavy going,
repetitive material. However, when they went their separate ways Michael
Palin stood out to me as being the real talent, while the others just
seemed to be lucky in the right place at the right time. I do find Python
over-rated, and perhaps itís because I grew up on a steady 80s diet of
The Young Ones and Blackadder.
of this film was that it lasted well over two hours. You can imagine my
surprise at finding out it was only eighty-eight minutes long (ignoring
Gilliamís little opus, The Crimson Permanent Assurance, tacked onto
the beginning). On a second viewing itís clear that there is a lot to
appreciate. This wasnít the case when I watched The Life of Brian
last year and actually turned it off out of boredom (in truth, I skipped
to each of Palinís scenes, laughed my socks off and then turned it off).
The film as you may or may not know is split into seven parts, and
attempts to explain the meaning of life. Essentially Ė itís a bunch of
sketches with a loose connecting theme.
noticed how well shot the film is. Terry Jones directing solo gives the
whole project a more settled style, with Gilliam only popping in briefly
with some animation. His timing is perfect which leads you to wonder why
Personal Services feels so forced. Here he is energetic, flinging
you from big musical numbers to claustrophobic restaurants and then back
into another musical number, into space, into the war, back into a
claustrophobic classroom. You really donít know what to expect next and
itís that fear of the unknown which keeps you watching.
Pythons as a team are all doing what they do best, but unless you like
their particular brand of humour thereís little point in forcing yourself
through this. Eric Idle especially is giving it his all here, delivering
yet more remarkable songs such as The Penis Song and the
irritatingly catchy lullaby of Galaxy Song.
does the film look on DVD? Well Universal havenít just pushed the boat out
on this one, theyíve kicked a ruddy great yacht into the water. The film
is presented in a crisp new anamorphic transfer with Dolby Digital 5.1 or
DTS sound as options. But wait a minute! Whereís the original stereo
track? Oh yes of course, this is a Universal disc. Typical Universal
problem here as well, and one they really need to address some time soon Ė
not least the added pain of not being able to switch audio tracks using
the audio button Ė it all has to be done through the menu which catapults
you back to the start of the film each time. DVD players have that audio
button for a reason!
transfer does look very good indeed. There are some instances where
sequences are a little dirty Ė the opening animation sequence is probably
the worst. Itís covered in print damage and this section with its crisp
uniform colours I wouldíve thought would be the easiest section to clean
up. In any case, it's pretty safe
to say you wonít have seen the film looking this good before.
Bitrate on the new disc is 6.89Mb/s, rarely
dipping below 7Mb/s..
gives us a few extras, not least a Directorís Cut. Usually
something referred to as the Directorís Cut should be taken with a
pinch of salt Ė but in this case it seems that Jones (and indeed the rest
of the gang) have been involved in this DVD closely from start to finish.
The longer cut runs to ninety-five minutes, Among its additions we have
The Adventures of Martin Luther, a sort of war documentary and an
extended sequence with the Hendys. These sequences are in quite bad
condition, and while the seamless branching didnít seem particularly
seamless on my player, it is very noticeable when you switch to them Ė Iíd
advise watching the theatrical cut first so as not to spoil your viewing.
have a brief prologue from Eric Idle (2m), and a commentary from Gilliam
and Jones. For The Crimson Permanent Assurance sequence it seems as
though Gilliamís commentary is patched together from sound bites, but by
the time you reach the main feature the two Terrys are chatting away
animatedly chronicling their joint efforts. Itís worth noting that a lot
of what they discuss is repeated in the slightly better documentary on
highlight of this first disc is the option Soundtrack For The Lonely
which astonished me. I refuse to spoil this for anyone but coupled
with the incredible array of features on the other disc itís a good reason
to part with your pounds.
Which, of course, brings us on to disc two. The menu structure here is a
little more awkward. Both discs have animated menus with little sound
clips from the film. I quite like their way of labelling subtitles and
alternative audio as Foreigners.
to categories from the front page we have:
Song & Dance
Ė a suitably brief eleven minute featurette interviewing Jones,
choreographer Arlene Phillips and the bird from Frasier (who canít
do an English accent in spite of being English). This is an informative
piece with insights into Terry Jonesí directorial methods.
Ė I think I might have missed something here. Itís three re-recordings of
songs from the film as sung by Jones and Idle. Idle seems to be miming and
itís all quite unnecessary.
contains the typical trailers, TV spots and radio spots Ė but the not so
typical Rejects feature is rather nifty. Again, I wonít spoil the
joke but itís fun. Thereís also a two minute telepathic trailer.
it says on the tin. A few deleted scenes, presented with anamorphic
enhancement, with what appears to be new sound effects and a little bit of
music. These work quite well, and itís interesting to note that some of
what was removed is actually funnier than what stayed. Gastonís sequence
where he takes you from the Creosote spattered restaurant is shown in its
entirety here. A daring and very amusing steadicam shot. Also worth
watching is Mr Creosoteís arrival at the restaurant which lets you see the
beautiful Gilliamesque walking cane he carries.
SCHOOL OF LIFE
The Making of the Monty Pythonís the Meaning of Life
is our main documentary and it runs to a healthy forty-eight minutes. Itís
a very easy watch featuring new interviews with all the surviving Pythons
as well as archive interviews including Graham Chapman. Thereís a definite
feeling of dissatisfaction with the film which mainly stems from John
Cleese. On the whole this is a smashing documentary but it does rather
repeat itself. Thereís a brilliant intermission in the middle of it as
well, with Palin.
(5m) didnít really make me laugh but it does rather prove why the Pythons
are so rarely working these days. I suppose others would call it a ďbiting
satire on public schoolsĒ Ė I call it plodding and lazy and disc-filling.
Un Film de John Cleese
(1m) is a sequence introduced by John Cleese which basically advertises
the John Cleese film youíre about to see including the appearances of John
Cleese in the John Cleese film. Very funny actually.
Remastering a Masterpiece
(8 minutes) will disappoint a lot of people who were hoping for a serious
look at restoration techniques. Itís quite funny but really should have
been half the length it was. Thereís a feeling that the makers got a bit
too carried away and excited at the chance of working with their heroes.
What Fish Think
is funny for a minute, but for fifteen minutes is mind-numbing. But then I
think that might be the point. Essentially you have a fifteen minute shot
of a fish tank with very little going on. I turned off after 3 minutes.
saved the best for last. On top of all of this you also have a Python
which, without any real dialogue had me laughing for a good five minutes.
Itís a superb idea, silly and childish and thatís what appeals to me.
what we have here is five star treatment given to a three star film.
Universal have recently released some superb special editions. The feeling
I have is that they are always missing a little something with their main
documentaries. In this case theyíve got the documentary right, but theyíre
missing something from their main feature.
enough on this two-disc set to make it worth buying but you will find
yourself longing for a good dose of Holy Grail.