MONTY PYTHON'S THE MEANING OF LIFE

2-Disc Special Edition - Region 2 (UK) Edition - Reviewed by Matt West

Director:  Terry Jones

Starring:  Michael Palin, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman

THE FILM

ďÖ itís 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. 

The 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.

My memory 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.

Iíd never 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.

The 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.

THE DVD

So how 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!

The 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..

BONUS FEATURES

Disc one 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.

Also we 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 disc two.

The 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.

Split in to categories from the front page we have:

SHOWBIZ

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.

Songs Unsung 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.

Promotional 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.

SNIPPED BITS

Does what 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.

Education Tips (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.

FISH

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.

Iíve saved the best for last. On top of all of this you also have a Python Virtual Reunion 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. Sorry.

SUMMARY

In closing 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.

Thereís enough on this two-disc set to make it worth buying but you will find yourself longing for a good dose of Holy Grail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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