Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky warns you that this new boxed set is not something completely different.
Our reviews of The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen (Blu-Ray) (published April 8th, 2008), The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen: 20th Anniversary Edition (published April 14th, 2008), Monty Python And The Holy Grail (published September 13th, 1999), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Blu-ray) (published March 7th, 2012), Monty Python And The Holy Grail: Extraordinarily Deluxe Two-Disc Edition (published October 23rd, 2006), and Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Special Edition (published October 23rd, 2001) are also available.
"Your reality, sir, is lies and balderdash, and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever!"—Hieronymus Karl Frederick, Baron von Munchausen (John Neville)
Unless you have spent the last four decades inside the belly of a whale, you have heard of Monty Python's Flying Circus, the British comedy troupe that became both a cult legend and a tremendous influence on sketch comedy in the English-speaking world. It is a near certainty that you have even seen one of their movies, caught an episode of the original show on television, or watched a movie or television show featuring one of the six members, who have been pretty much everywhere since the show's premiere in 1969. And if you are a fan of sketch comedy, you may even own one of their many DVDs, either from the entire troupe or one of their numerous solo projects.
Sensing that the market for Python material is not yet tapped out, Sony packages three films—two from Monty Python and one from member Terry Gilliam—under a clunky title, And Now for Something Completely Hilarious Collection. Newcomers and fans alike will balk at the confusing way these are packaged, even if the films themselves are all classics.
One of these things doesn't belong with the others. Can you guess what it is? Monty Python's And Now for Something Completely Different. Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Yes, in a collection that is ostensibly about Monty Python, Gilliam's 1988 solo feature does not make much sense here. Actually, packaging this entire collection together does not make sense, unless perhaps these films were all languishing in Sony's back catalog and it was time for spring cleaning. I suspect the studio figured that fans already own one or two of these films and are willing to shell out money just to complete the collection.
Still, it is Python. So let us examine each of the films in this collection to see how well they stand on their own, so you can determine if Sony's crass marketing scheme worked.
• Monty Python's And Now for Something Completely Different (1971): The Pythons' first feature is not even properly a feature film. Instead, the six comedians—John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam (who contributes only animated segments to this film)—must have assumed nobody was watching their television series, so they recycle material from the first two seasons with a bigger budget. According to Python historian Kim Johnson, the film's financer, owner of London's Playboy Club, meddled in the production, nixing sketches he did not like. The result was a lot of sketches about "men behind desks." While the Pythons were adept at send-ups of British propriety and officiousness, the lack of variety in the material does give the film a monotonous quality compared to both the television series or the more ambitious scenarios and locations of the other feature films. Too many of the sketches still feel stagebound, in spite of being shot on film rather than video. Non sequiturs that evolved from the show's low budget (a policeman milking a horse bearing strapped-on plastic udders, an obviously cardboard "16 ton" weight) seem even cheaper and more glaring on film. Because they only had two seasons of the show at this point, everything is recycled from those 26 episodes.
Newcomers to the Pythons might enjoy this "best of" approach. "Nudge Nudge," the killer joke, Upper Class Twit of the Year, "The Lumberjack Song" (hooked onto a laconic version of the dead parrot sketch instead of the killer barber, as it was on the show)—many of your favorites are here.
There is some slight grain to the film, but the print has aged well, apart from a little shimmer in a few scenes. But this is as bare-bones as it gets: the original 1.66:1 ratio, non-anamorphic, mono soundtrack, no extras. By itself, you would probably pass over this disc in favor of the more popular features (like the next disc in this collection), then come back to it to complete your Python collection.
• Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975): This first real Python feature, a chance for the team to reunite following the end of the television series (John Cleese sat out the final season of the show), is the one that every Python fan memorizes. I can still rattle off entire sketches, accents and all, that I learned back in the '70s.
In spite of the fact that this may be the team's most popular film, I will say little about it here. Judge Nicholas Sylvain reviewed it back in 2001, when the Special Edition DVD was released. Why not talk about the quality of this single-disc edition here in 2005? Because it is Disc One of the Special Edition. Yes, Sony took a warehouse full of leftover copies of the Special Edition of Holy Grail, threw out the second disc, whipped up a slim case for this collection that does not even mention any of the special features, and stuck the first disc into it. If you hit "Extras" on the disc menu, it tells you to insert the nonexistent Disc Two. You get everything from the first disc from the 2001 Special Edition, though, including the two commentary tracks, the Shakespearean subtitles, the "killer rabbit" feature, and even the fake-out "Dentist on the Job" opening. In short, if you already bought Holy Grail in the great 2001 edition, you can use this disc for a coaster.
Dropping the second disc and not advertising any special features on the packaging for this boxed set is exactly the sort of behavior that reinforces my image of Sony marketing execs riding the short bus to work. The packaging for the And Now for Something Completely Hilarious Collection only lists an English audio track. No mention of the 5.1 surround, or the French audio, or the commentaries.
Anyway, go read our review of the Special Edition if you want to know more. I am going to step away for a moment and say some unprintable words. Then I will be back to talk about the third film in the set.
• The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988): It is not a Monty Python film. Yes, it is directed by Terry Gilliam. Yes, it features fellow Python Eric Idle in a key supporting role, as Munchausen's speedy sidekick Berthold. Munchausen is the third of Gilliam's loose trilogy of films about dreamers, which moved from childhood (Time Bandits) to adulthood (Brazil) to old age. The story itself is inspired by a legendary 18th-century fabulist whose name has become synonymous with delusional behavior.
In a city under siege, the reigning magistrate (Jonathan Pryce) insists on mediocrity and conformity as a means of stemming the chaos. Fantasy only has its place on stage, in the form of theatrical comedies about the legendary Baron Munchausen. But an old codger claiming to be the real baron (John Neville, with a mischievous twinkle) storms the stage, demanding to be heard. He claims to have caused this siege by the Turks—and claims to be the only person capable of ending it.
Munchausen builds a balloon out of ladies' underwear, and along with little Sally (Sarah Polley), our requisite Gilliam innocent, he sets off in search of his superhuman servants in order to rescue the city from the Turks. His journey takes him to the Moon for an irritating uncredited cameo by Robin Williams (the special effects do not date well), the inside of Mount Etna (blustering Oliver Reed as an arms-dealing Vulcan, with Uma Thurman as his juicy wife Venus), and the belly of a whale.
From the first moments, where men huddle under the hull of a shattered horse statue and the shadow of death looms over the ruined city, Gilliam demonstrates his penchant for flamboyant and surreal imagery. Munchausen may be his most visually inventive achievement. Every scene goes over the top—and then takes one step further. The film plays like a live-action cartoon, with deliberately flat backdrops, oversized props, and campy, exaggerated action. It is not for kids, though, given the number of decapitations, the presence of Death himself, and a little nudity. I'd forgotten how much I love the exuberant creativity of this film, even though it runs out of steam by the end (Gilliam often seems to have problems with the last act of his films).
Of all Gilliam's dreamers, it is probably Munchausen who is closest to his image of himself: a frustrated storyteller who desperately needs to be heard, even if his audience has turned against him. Chaos (in this film, the war) thwarts his plans. Still, he insists on pressing forward, until his lies eventually come true through sheer force of will. Unfortunately, Munchausen is (unlike Kevin in Time Bandits or Sam Lowry in Brazil) not a character with whom the audience can easily empathize, even if Gilliam does. Sally has to serve as our surrogate, and she is really just along for the ride. Thus, the film is full of glorious images but lacks an emotional center.
The DVD itself is a repackaging of the 1999 release, with a trailer and filmographies as the only extras. Although the packaging promises a French soundtrack, there is not one. Sony lies again. There are six different subtitle languages, though. The film is about due for a special edition, as it is easily the most underrated of Gilliam's solo features. Fans of Gilliam's work know that the studio interference that hampered his original vision for Munchausen was almost as stifling as the legendary mess surrounding Brazil. (It always seems that, for Gilliam, the more ambitious the movie, the bigger his fall.) Deleted scenes and a Lost in La Mancha–style documentary would be welcome after all these years.
If you are a Monty Python fan and you already own one of these DVDs, there is probably no reason to buy this collection. You can pick up the exact same films individually. If you are unfamiliar with the troupe, buy the Holy Grail Special Edition by itself. Baron Munchausen is a delightful film, but newcomers to Terry Gilliam may find it too weird to start with (and it drags in the last act).
In other words, Sony has given both established Python fans and new recruits little incentive to pick up this collection. These are all good films individually, but this collection is less than the sum of its parts.
This court orders Sony to be tortured in a comfy chair by the Spanish Inquisition until it repents.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice, Monty Python's And Now For Something Completely Different
Perp Profile, Monty Python's And Now For Something Completely Different
Distinguishing Marks, Monty Python's And Now For Something Completely Different
Scales of Justice, Monty Python And The Holy Grail
Perp Profile, Monty Python And The Holy Grail
Distinguishing Marks, Monty Python And The Holy Grail
• Commentary Tracks
Scales of Justice, The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen
Perp Profile, The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen
Distinguishing Marks, The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen
• IMDb: And Now for Something Completely Different
Review content copyright © 2005 Mike Pinsky; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.