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Official HTF HD Review: The Meaning of Life


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#1 of 11 Sam Posten

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Posted July 09 2007 - 04:06 PM

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HD DVD Title: Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life
Rated: R
Screen format: 1080P 1.85:1 VC-1 Encoded
Studio: Universal
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



Plot: 3.5/5
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!

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#2 of 11 Cees Alons

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Posted July 09 2007 - 07:22 PM

Thanks, Sam. A must-have, apparently! Posted Image


Cees

#3 of 11 ppltd

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Posted July 09 2007 - 11:18 PM

Sam, thanks for the review. After reading all of the posts slamming this release and getting a chance to view this title this weekend, I can only surmise that the people slamming 'The Meaning of Life' had not actually watched it. I found this release to be a very fine upgrade from my SD edition, and while certainly not eye-popping (I am not sure why some think that eye candy visuals is what make a good HD release), still does alot with the source material.

I agree with you on the AQ also, not much to get overy excited about, but very good for this film. I am not certain how the sound could be made much better.
Thomas Eisenmann(Last updated 09/30/11)

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#4 of 11 Paul Arnette

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Posted July 10 2007 - 12:29 AM

Quote:
The good news is that this is a technically adept transfer of a very uneven print.

Having finally watched this disc last weekend, I would agree with this statement overall. However, I would never give this release more than 3 or 3 1/2 stars for Visual Quality because of the poor condition of the source.

Quote:
I can only surmise that the people slamming 'The Meaning of Life' had not actually watched it.

Seeing as how other reviewers (DVD Talk, High-Def Digest, etc.) were amongst those doing the "slamming", I sincerely doubt that. Are you suggesting they are reviewing these discs without watching them?

Most likely this is just a case of unrealistic expectations on their parts as far as how this film should look as shot. However, the main deficiency here is the source, and I still feel that Universal should be taken to task for an approach to their recent catalog titles that smacks of shovel ware.

The upside of all these scathing reviews however, were that my low expectations were exceeded. Posted Image

Quote:
I agree with you on the AQ also, not much to get overy excited about

I didn't really have any qualms about the AQ. However, I had an odd situation occur while watching this disc. My Toshiba HD-XA2 was recently upgrade to firmware 2.0, and during the second to last chapter "Christmas in Heaven" there was a high pitch squeal coming from my speakers. I stopped the movie, but the squeal continued. I switched inputs on my receiver, and it stopped until I went back to the input with the HD-XA2. Eventually, I turned off the unit, which ended the noise. Fortunately, once I rebooted the machine I was able to finish the film without the incident occurring again.

I haven't watched any HD DVDs since to see if the problem reoccurs, but it definitely appeared like the player was sending undecoded bitstream all of a sudden. I wondered, but doubt seriously, if it was a problem with the disc, so I thought I'd ask here if anyone's run into that?
Universal Blu-ray Discs I will not be buying while they're offered only as Blu-ray + DVD 'flipper' discs:

The Jackal
, Out of Africa, and Traffic.

#5 of 11 Jim_K

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Posted July 10 2007 - 12:44 AM

I actually cancelled my pre-order based on all the hanky reviews. This was a borderline title for me, had this been Holy Grail or Life of Brian I'd have picked it up anyway.
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#6 of 11 ppltd

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Posted July 10 2007 - 12:49 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Arnette
Seeing as how other reviewers (DVD Talk, High-Def Digest, etc.) were amongst those doing the "slamming", I sincerely doubt that. Are you suggesting they are reviewing these discs without watching them?
Paul, I had not read any of the reviews. My comment was directed to some posts I have read on this release.
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#7 of 11 Rachael B

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Posted July 10 2007 - 11:44 AM

I was mildly disappointed in this title. I wasn't expecting miracles but I feel the print needs some restoration work. Sure it looks better than the DVD's but it's no quantum leap. 4 is an awfully high score for the video IMO. I'd score it more like 3.
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#8 of 11 Tim Glover

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Posted July 10 2007 - 02:11 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by ppltd
Sam, thanks for the review. After reading all of the posts slamming this release and getting a chance to view this title this weekend, I can only surmise that the people slamming 'The Meaning of Life' had not actually watched it.

Thomas, this seems to happen quite a bit. People slamming Universal & HD DVD without checking these statements firsthand. It's the, "a friend of my sisters' friend's Dad read something about this being a bad transfer online from someone who also heard it wasn't a good disc." . Posted Image

Gotta love (& hate) the internet. Posted Image

#9 of 11 ppltd

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Posted July 10 2007 - 02:42 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim Glover
Thomas, this seems to happen quite a bit. People slamming Universal & HD DVD without checking these statements firsthand. It's the, "a friend of my sisters' friend's Dad read something about this being a bad transfer online from someone who also heard it wasn't a good disc." . Posted Image

Gotta love (& hate) the internet. Posted Image
Isn't that the truth. I have not been able to spot most of the problems so many are so quick to point out. While I do not have prefect sight, I am beginning to believe most of the problems bitched about are just rehashes of something they read, not what they actually viewed first hand.

While not perfect equipment, I think my Panny PTAE-1000U projector and a 106" screen certainly produce a pretty good image, and at that size, I should be seeing many of these problems, but I don't. Maybe it is because am I too envolved watching the movie rather than finding ways to pick it apart.Posted Image
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#10 of 11 Sam Posten

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Posted July 10 2007 - 04:53 PM

A lot of this stuff is VERY subjective and VERY gear variable. I totally get where Rachael is coming from, but I made a judgement call and I stand by it. Again I dont seek out others reviews on films I intend to score but I did see a lot of negativity about this transfer and it really didnt bear out to that extreme for me. I do agree that people need to relax a little bit and enjoy the films, but on the other hand if stuff is distracting its very hard to talk yourself out of it and let it go.

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#11 of 11 ppltd

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Posted July 10 2007 - 05:01 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sam Posten
A lot of this stuff is VERY subjective and VERY gear variable. I totally get where Rachael is coming from, but I made a judgement call and I stand by it. Again I dont seek out others reviews on films I intend to score but I did see a lot of negativity about this transfer and it really didnt bear out to that extreme for me. I do agree that people need to relax a little bit and enjoy the films, but on the other hand if stuff is distracting its very hard to talk yourself out of it and let it go.
Couldn't agree more with you, Sam. Just keep up the good work with your reviews. You guys (all of the HT reviewers) help me out when I am undecided about a release. Your reviews can push m one way or the other.
Thomas Eisenmann(Last updated 09/30/11)

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