Sony // 1974 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // October 23rd, 2001
And now! At Last! Yet another film completely different from some of the other films which aren't quite the same as this one is.
The irreverent Monty Python troupe takes on medieval times and the legend of King Arthur in typically zany fashion, now presented in the Ultimate Definitive Final Special Edition DVD! Look at all the unbelievably Special Features!!!! (It says so on the box!)
King Arthur (Graham Chapman) is attempting to recruit followers for his Roundtable with mixed success. Suffering from rude castle guards, a political rant from Dennis the Peasant (Michael Palin), and a very silly Black Night along the way, King Arthur gathers around him the wise Sir Bedevere (Terry Jones), Sir Galahad the Pure (Michael Palin), Sir Launcelot the Brave (John Cleese), and Sir Robin (not quite so brave as Sir Launcelot) (Eric Idle). Originally headed to Camelot, a silly song and dance routine convinces Arthur and his group otherwise.
Having assembled the Knights of the Round Table, King Arthur begins his quest in earnest. Rudely turned back by a garrison of French soldiers (at a castle in the middle of England!), Arthur valiantly tries to storm the castle. An utterly futile exercise, of course. Dissatisfied with their collective quest, Sir Arthur and his knights decide that they should split up and pursue individual quests.
While Sir Robin (who personally wet himself at the Battle of Badon Hill) finds a most intimidating three-headed foe, Sir Galahad must protect his virtue from a pack of chaste women, and then King Arthur and Sir Bedevere call upon their landscaping skills to solve a perplexing difficulty. Sir Launcelot, terribly brave but quite thickheaded, misunderstands his quest and is forced to beat an embarrassing, bloody retreat.
Our heroes reunite to find a legendary enchanter, Tim (John Cleese), who is said to know of the grail. He does, but to attain their goal, the knights must defeat a cute white rabbit, reach the Bridge of Death, remember what their favorite color is, and remember to call their solicitor when they are arrested by the local constabulary.
An eclectic group of highly educated Englishmen (and one insane American), the Monty Python comedy troupe made a name for themselves with their original BBC television series. (Check out my reviews of the TV shows on the site for more detail on those enduring classics of comedy.) Upon the untimely demise of the show following its fourth season, the unconventional comedians could not stand to get a real job, and so embarked upon an equally unconventional theatrical endeavor. As Terry Gilliam puts it, he and Terry Jones had a burning directorial ambition and announced one day that they should do a movie and that anyone named Terry would direct it.
If handing a film over to a duo of novice directors is not enough, then the financial backing of Monty Python And The Holy Grail is positively unique. At the time, confiscatory tax rates (80% and higher!) in the United Kingdom were driving wealthy creative types to find ways to lose funds in investments so as to offset the greedy bite of Inland Revenue. So it came to pass that the modestly budgeted Monty Python and the Holy Grail was financed by such groups as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, record companies, and London's West End theatre types to the tune of roughly £250,000. Until I waded through this disc, I never realized just how much of a shoestring-budgeted, guerilla filmed affair Monty Python and the Holy Grail was at the time. The opening credits were stark, Ingmar Bergman-mocking because they had no money left in the budget, Scottish governmental authorities banned the production from using state-run castles and lands (leaving them with a scant week to find Doune Castle, which thanks to lenses and angles stood in for many locations), the production manager was forced to purloin a decomposing sheep carcass and the two Terrys were desperate enough to employ the services of a fan who arrived out of a taxicab on the set one day and begged to do any job they had.
Like it or love it, there are bound to be very few people who don't have a strong opinion on Monty Python and the Holy Grail. If you have seen other examples of Monty Python's brand of humor, then you already know whether you are going to like this film. If you have never been exposed to Python humor, then you have been living a very deprived life! No cow, however sacred, is safe from the biting satire and rapier wit of Monty Python, which in addition to being thoroughly British can be obscure, witty, bizarre, disgusting, over the top, or deliciously ironic, and sometimes veering wildly from one to the other all within a single sketch or scene, interspersed with Terry Gilliam's hilariously low-tech animations. Monty Python is a collective comic genius whose alumni are still giving us the occasional comic gem (such as A Fish Called Wanda).
By the time Monty Python and the Holy Grail came into being, the members of the troupe were so comfortable working with each other that the acting here has been polished to a high blinding gloss. Each of them has their individual shtick down pat, knowing the proper use of timing, voice control, physical comedy, and the full arsenal of the comedic actor. I cannot recommend their performances highly enough, and in the spirit of the DVD format, let me simply say that this is reference quality acting.
The story, well, you expect a tightly written, highly coherent feature movie length script from a comedy team that achieved the pinnacle of comedic genius in a gag-a-second sketch comedy show? That's not really the point, of course, as this is one of the few Python movies to actually have a consistent story to it, but it still is an excuse for loosely connecting some of the best Python bits ever to make it to film. From a political riff on governmental theory by Dennis the peasant, armored men doing a song and dance routine about Camelot, rudely taunting French soldiers, Sir Launcelot's heroic deeds going bloodily astray, to the most vicious rabbit you could imagine, this is priceless stuff.
The new anamorphic widescreen transfer is a solid, decent effort, compared with the poor quality of the initial DVD transfer. Thanks to the age and limited budget of the original film, there are still a few moments where blurriness or graininess makes those pieces of film negatively stand out. However, this transfer has been cleaned up, is not quite as soft or edge-enhanced, and has a dash more zip and zest to the colors. This version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail has about 24 seconds of additional filmed material, amounting to brief self-referential comedy and various people yelling "get on with it!" It is quite funny. Trust me.
The remixed 5.1 audio is an improvement over the original mono track. While neither the rear surrounds nor subwoofer are given much to do, the mix does provide welcome breadth and depth to the audio, lifting up the music and dialogue and throwing in some panning effects. The original mono track certainly shows its age. Dialogue is clearly understood, but the limitations become evident fairly quickly. High frequencies are decidedly attenuated, and the bass is extremely limited. On a different note, I was impressed by the true 5.1 audio of the animated menus. The rear surrounds are used to good effect, and the sound panning from channel to channel is quite a pleasant surprise.
The most dramatic improvement from the bare-bones release is the expected special edition wealth of extra content. The directors' commentary is a quality example of the genre, with only short pauses in Terry Gilliam's patter about the problems and joys of the production and sometimes lengthy digressions about the Python group's inception and development. Terry Jones pops in from time to time, but clearly Gilliam is the more introspective and loquacious of the pair. The cast commentary (with a quiet Eric Idle and the verbose pair of Michael Palin and John Cleese) appears to be an extremely well edited compilation of separately recorded tracks. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a fond memory for them all, and still capable of amusing them even so many years after the fact.
The humorous content is sometimes successful, sometimes not. The Matrix-like "Follow the Killer Rabbit" feature is only mildly amusing, inserting scene-related Terry Gilliam sketch work or fake bits of "The Accountant's Version" at various points in the film. The "Subtitles For People Who Don't Like the Film" (Subtitle #5) is funny, for not only is it text taken from Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part II, but it actually fits (more or less) the action on scene. Scary stuff! The three "Mindless Sing-Alongs" are actually two straightforward sing-alongs (for the "Knights of the Roundtable" and "Sir Robin" musical numbers) and one amusing gag based on masochistic monks and your DVD case. I shan't spoil the joke.
A number of short film clips, featurettes and a documentary are located on Disc Two. "How to Use Your Coconuts" is a deadly serious parody of government informational videos, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail in Japanese" demonstrates the unintentional hilarity of re-translating a Japanese dub into English, and a faux serious "Unused Locations" bit (starring the directors) is worth a laugh or two. My personal favorite is the film short "Monty Python and the Holy Grail in Lego!" A crown jewel of extra content, I was close to tears by its end. Even if you are an odd creature who won't rent or buy this disc, at least get the short online! The "On Location with the Pythons" is a priceless 18-minute featurette of silliness and satire originally aired on the BBC December 19, 1974. Finally, the brand-new 47 minute documentary "The Quest for the Holy Grail Locations" follows Michael Palin and Terry Jones as they reminisce and tour Doune Castle and other locations in Scotland used and re-used for the film.
For true Pythonic trivia fanatics, the screenplay is available for on-screen perusal (Subtitle #4). For the easily confused, a cast directory helps you to identify all the various roles for the Pythons and their supporting cohorts. Completing the second disc are a gallery of production photographs, Terry Gilliam conceptual art and sketches, movie posters, silly promotional materials, and the ubiquitous original theatrical trailer (UK version) and the very similar 2001 re-release trailer (US version).
I encountered a nagging difficulty in looking through the many screens of photos and sketches, as well as the "Killer Rabbit" feature. Though there is no actual sound in those elements, the disc is sending some sort of audio signal to the receiver, and it consistently was confusing the heck out of my receiver. It kept switching from Dolby Digital 5.1 to analog Dolby Surround, and back again, resulting in sharp cracks of sound from my speakers. A very irritating problem! Muting took care of it easily enough once I recognized the situation.
If you have never seen a Monty Python movie, or are looking for some hilarious offbeat comedy, then you simply MUST rent this disc. The disc is reasonably priced ($30 list), so with the nice set of extra content and improved technical presentation, this is a must-purchase for anyone who likes Pythonesque humor.
Though spelt "Monty Python," the Court's verdict on the film is pronounced "not guilty." Having been previously burnt at the stake for its heretical treatment of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Columbia TriStar is granted a posthumous pardon for this vastly improved special edition re-release.
Review content copyright © 2001 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2001 Nominee
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Subtitles from Henry IV, Part II
* On-Screen Screenplay
* Directors Commentary
* Cast Commentary
* Animated Menus (5.1 Sound)
* "Follow the Killer Rabbit"
* "Mindless Sing-Alongs"
* "The Quest for the Holy Grail Locations" documentary
* "How to Use Your Cocoanuts"
* Japanese-language film clips
* "Monty Python in Lego"
* BBC Film Night featurette
* Sketches and Photos
* Directors Location Search
* Cast Directory
* Theatrical Trailers
* Official Site
* Spite Your Face Productions