HD DVD Title: Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life
Screen format: 1080P 1.85:1 VC-1 Encoded
First theatrical release: March 31, 1983
Previously released on DVD/BluRay: Multiple Widescreen and Fullscreen DVD releases
Director: Terry Jones
Starring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Sound Formats: English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, French Dolby Digital Plus 2.0 Mono
Length: 1 hour 48 Minutes
Subtitles: English, French
In this, their final feature film together, renowned comedy troupe Monty Python skewer every aspect of human life, from birth to death and everything in between, tackling complex and confusing issues such as war, sex, education and religion. In an attempt to figure out just what it’s all about, nothing is sacred as the Python’s break down life’s stages into neat little vignettes to poke fun at. While viewers are unlikely to be inspired by the Python’s ultimate answer to “The meaning”, at least they’ll have sufficient ammunition to deal with the ups and downs of our very absurd existence.
Also not that because it gets little billing, first time viewers may be surprised to find that there is actually a short film preceding the main one. In “The Crimson Permanent Assurance Company” a band of misfit bean counters takes their company in mutiny, and wages bloody war on competing firms via piratical accountancy. In many ways this short fits in to the themes of TMOL without actually being one of the chapters and makes a great addition to the film, in addition to being a bridge to one of the later chapters.
While The Meaning never quite reaches the farcical heights that The Holy Grail does, Python are still at the top of their game and go out in style, bringing their own flavor of English humor to bear on anything and everything that’s just plain odd about life. Everything Python fans expect from the classic animations to divine intervention come out to play, and in the end we can only sit back and reflect that as stramge as these stories are, life itself can be even weirder.
Sound Quality: 2.5/5
Being a 1983 vintage dialogue driven comedy film, I wasn’t expecting much from the sound track, and I wasn’t surprised or disappointed. While billed as a 5.1 DD plus track, the vast majority of the sound data is in the front sound stage and often could just as easily have been mono or stereo. Dialogue is mostly tight and crisp, and the musical numbers are as rousing as ever, but don’t get your hopes up to be blown away. For the most part this is exactly what was available on the original recording and not a whole lot more. There are a few scenes that do have some interesting surround effects, particularly "The Middle of the Film" which uses some off screen comments to a warped perspective.
Visual Quality: 4/5
The good news is that this is a technically adept transfer of a very uneven print. For the most part it looks better than I have ever seen this film, and I have seen several different versions on DVD, tho never in the theater. Many scenes are quite sharp and detailed, while others are merely average. Thankfully though this seem to vary from vignette to vignette and not from shot to shot, so it’s not at all distracting, and quite frankly even the DVDs looked ten times better than the grainy versions of the TV shows and movies that most people saw on broadcast television.
Color wise it's all a bit bleached out matching every other Python production, and that's a good thing. Overall this version provides a bit of shiny gloss over what we're used to seeing Python looking like, but never strays far from the very basic, very British vibe they have going on. It's not a miracle, knock your socks off look but it's a definitely improvement from prior versions.
Sure there are nits that can be picked in those scenes that have a bit more grain and occasional print damage, but unless a full scale restoration were to be waged, that is quite unlikely. One area that was a bit distracting is the "Death" sequence has more edge enchancement and grain than should be visible, but this is about as good as we can hope to see this film at home for the foreseeable future.
Extra Features: 4/5
Also good news is the nice batch of extras included here (most ported over from prior DVD versions and in Standard Def). We start off with the customary feature length commentary from Terrys Gilliam and Jones. Also included are deleted scenes, alternate song versions, a cast reunion, and a “making of” on two of the musical numbers. There’s a half dozen other bits thrown in too for the hardcore fan and I intend to finish them all. Finally, there’s also a new introduction to the film itself from Mr. Cleese that lets viewers know that this is all a big money grab in the usual self effacing Python style.
The biggest feature is an hour long behind the scenes called "The meaning of the meaning of life", which drags just a bit at the end but really gives an intriguing look at the Pythons outside of their on screen characters. Also notable are the many "Fish" features, the significance of which are somewhat explained in this making of segments.
Overall: 3.5/5 (not an average)
This disk has a lot to like about it, including surprisingly strong video quality, a decent batch of extras, not to mention a classic Python film. Universal saw fit to leave out the U-control and DVD flip-side, so I’ve nothing to complain about on those fronts. For those considering an upgrade from prior DVDs, a nicely detailed transfer awaits without losing any or many prior supplements. Seems like a tempting can’t lose proposition to me!