Case Number 17571

MONTY PYTHON: ALMOST THE TRUTH (BLU-RAY)

Eagle Rock Entertainment // 2009 // 463 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Bromley // October 27th, 2009

The Charge

And now for something completely different.

Opening Statement

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the insanely influential and insanely British sketch comedy group Monty Python, IFC put together Monty Python: Almost the Truth, a six-part documentary series chronicling the Pythons' origins, rise to prominence, eventual dissolution and legacy. Now, the documentary comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Eagle Rock Entertainment.

Facts of the Case

Here are the six parts that make up Monty Python: Almost the Truth, spread out over two discs:

* "The Not So Interesting Beginnings" Charts the childhoods and upbringings of the members of Python (John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin), covering their first forays into comedy and writing and wrapping up just as the group that would become Monty Python is finally formed.

* "The Much Funnier Second Episode" The second part actually is much funnier, covering the official formation of Monty Python and their landmark TV series Monty Python's Flying Circus.

* "And Now, the Sordid Personal Bits" Part Three features each surviving cast member (all but Chapman for those unfamiliar) sharing their feelings about and memories of each other member.

* "The Ultimate Holy Grail Episode" Covers the making and eventual reception of the Pythons' first cinematic effort, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

* "Lust for Glory!" Part Five looks back at the making of the Pythons' second film, Monty Python's Life of Brian, and the controversy that followed its release.

* "Finally! The Last Episode (Ever...) (For Now...)" The final episode of the series covers the making of the Pythons' final film, Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, the loss of member Graham Chapman and the dissolution of the group.

The Evidence

It would be almost impossible to overstate the influence and impact that Monty Python had on comedy. In the early 1970s, the British sketch troupe ushered in a new absurdity that would change the comic landscape forever. Their show, Monty Python's Flying Circus consistently delivered inspired anarchy that was actually carefully structured (sketches would link together in inventive ways) and expertly performed by the best ensemble comedy has ever known. And while I'm on record as liking Mr. Show with Bob and David more than any other sketch comedy (for me, it was less hit-or-miss), I'm fully aware that the show wouldn't even exist without Python paving the way. They were and always shall be the godfathers of sketch comedy.

But to tell (almost) the truth, you don't need to be a lifelong Python fan to enjoy Almost the Truth, as it's compelling enough for both fans and the uninitiated alike. It helps to be something of a student of comedy, of course, because it's that interest that would draw viewers to the series in the first place. Still, Almost the Truth played like a really good book for me in that I was always excited to know what happens next (even though I basically already knew -- one of the characters dies); though it's six hours long, I could have easily watched it in one sitting. These are smart, interesting people saying smart, interesting things. Each of the Python's is totally candid and honest in his reflections, sparing no one's feelings (it's never catty, but no one pretends to have always seen eye to eye) and never rewriting history to match the end result. Holy Grail was a nightmare to shoot and everyone was unhappy pretty much the whole time, but the movie still turned out great (reinforcing what William Goldman always says: a good shoot does not equal a good movie and vice versa). Life of Brian was an endlessly pleasant experience, and that turned out great, too (back to Goldman: no one knows anything). Almost the Truth doesn't just show us things that are achingly funny; it helps us to understand why they're funny without every becoming overly-analytical or sinking in self-congratulatory back-patting.

If I have any quibble with the documentary at all -- and it's a very, very minor one -- it's that I could have done without most of the celebrity reflections from the likes of Jimmy Fallon (who earns his own spot on the second disc's menu, despite having only 30 seconds of screen time over the course of six hours) or Seth Green, because their contributions are too tiny and inconsequential to matter. That doesn't apply to Steve Coogan, who can recite entire Python sketches from memory -- and does, in the disc's bonus material. Luckily, it's the five surviving Pythons who are almost always on screen.

Monty Python: Almost the Truth arrives on Blu-ray on two discs; the first four episodes are on the first disc and the second contains the final two episodes and the bonus material. The 1080i MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer looks solid, though this isn't the kind of feature that's going to blow anyone away. Consisting mostly of talking heads in front of a (solid-looking) black background, the video presentation is handsome and clean. Interspersed with the interviews is archival footage from Monty Python's Flying Circus, which was recorded in SD and doesn't hold up nearly as well; still, it's nothing too distracting. Both the LCPM Stereo and the 5.1 surround audio tracks are fine, too, in that they're basically only required to deliver the interview dialogue. They do that.

The second disc contains a generous amount of bonus material, the best of which is a collection of classic Python sketches (including "The Parrot Sketch," "Cheese Shop," "Spam," "Lumberjack Song," "Spanish Inquisition" and more) in their entirety. Not only is this a nice reminder of just how funny Python truly was, but also help place some the interviews in proper context (several sketches are mentioned by name, and some of the bonus interviews are devoted entirely to them). About two hour's worth of extended interviews and deleted segments are also included, for those who simply didn't get their money's worth from the first six hours. The final bonus feature is a gallery of Terry Gilliam's weird, wonderful artwork.

Closing Statement

What more could a Monty Python fan ask for? Almost the Truth is comprehensive and exhaustive, honest, revealing and funny. It's the definitive history of the definitive sketch comedy group.

The Verdict

Always look on the bright side of life.

Review content copyright © 2009 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 85
Audio: 89
Extras: 65
Acting: 95
Story: 95
Judgment: 92

Perp Profile
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* Danish
* French
* German
* Norwegian
* Portuguese
* Spanish
* Swedish

Running Time: 463 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Sketches
* Interviews
* Outtakes
* Image Gallery

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1422182/combined

* Official Site
http://www.ifc.com/monty-python-almost-truth-lawyers-cut/