Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life strikes Blu-ray with a nice edition that offers a decent but not great high definition transfer of the Pythons’ final movie together. Almost all of the extras from the 2003 Special Edition DVD have been ported over here, along with a brand new 30th Anniversary reunion of the surviving members of the group. The movie itself is a hit-and-miss affair, and frankly, so is the new transfer. But hit-and-miss Python is a few steps higher up the food chain than most comedies offered today. Monty Python fans will have already picked this up for obvious reasons. More casual fans are encouraged to rent, particularly if this will be their first voyage into the land of Python.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/VC-1
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Run Time: 1 Hr. 48 Mins.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, Digital Copy, UltraViolet
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 10/08/2013
Long before the world had heard of Ricky Gervais or Sacha Baron Cohen, there was the television marvel of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. A precursor to Saturday Night Live, the British sketch comedy show was singularly outrageous, intelligent and at times deliberately infuriating. Sometimes these qualities existed all at the same time. With the combination of a group of members including John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and the now-deceased Graham Chapman, the Pythons created a kind of comic alchemy that hasn’t really been seen since they disbanded after the movie currently under discussion. As a sketch troupe on television, these guys created a series of delightfully bizarre characters and situations, including the “Ministry of Silly Walks”, the “Dead Parrot” sketch, the Gumbys, the Bruces, the Lumberjack Song, and the truly horrifying “Whizzo Chocolate Company” sketch, among many others. (The Whizzo Chocolate Company offers such interesting confections to its customers as “Crunchy Frog” – which contains a crunchy, raw, unboned, real dead frog garnished with…oh, heck with it…) Having amassed a decent following over the years, the Pythons inevitably migrated to the movie theaters, with their larger-scale productions including Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and of course, their final production together, The Meaning of Life.The Meaning of Life would be the largest scale production the Pythons ever attempted, using the largest budget they were ever afforded. And while it’s not the best-looking movie ever shot in many of its scenes, it certainly has some of the largest scale production numbers they ever pulled off – particularly the wild “Every Sperm is Sacred” song that pops up fairly early in the goings-on. Eric Idle has noted that this movie could actually pass as a musical in and of itself, given that it’s loaded with no less than 7 songs, most of which play out as complete music and dance sequences. It also has one of the single most outrageous bad-taste sketches ever inflicted, period: the “Mr. Creosote” routine, in which a spectacularly (and I do mean SPECTACULARLY) overweight man provides the fireworks in a presumably fussy restaurant. This sketch, which involves a truly horrifying amount of throwing up by the main character before the literally big finish, is one that I strongly recommend new viewers not watch before or after eating. (I note that it’s a sketch that Quentin Tarantino has apparently admitted even he found hard to watch – and that’s saying something.) There’s also Terry Gilliam’s opening short feature, “The Crimson Permanent Assurance”, combining the ideas of pirate movies with a story about elderly insurance accountants gone wild, which has all the look and slickness of Gilliam’s later masterpiece Brazil but without a particularly strong throughline to justify its length. And yet, it’s the best looking material in the movie, showing off Gilliam’s talents in visual composition and creativity. And it leads to a particularly silly joke about halfway through the movie proper, as the two movies quite literally go to war in front of the viewer. The direction of the rest of the movie, by Terry Jones, is a bit more utilitarian, although there are those big production numbers to punctuate things every few sketches.This movie essentially functions more as a long episode of the television series than it does as a feature film on its own. Rather than using the kind of centralized plot they had with Holy Grail or Life of Brian, here the Pythons retreat to their sketch comedy roots, concocting a series of unrelated routines roughly assembled within the title theme – the Meaning of Life. So there are sketches about birth and death and most things in between. There’s a beautifully odd opening bit with all the Pythons playing fish in an aquarium (the visual effects of which really have not aged very well at all). There’s another beautifully odd sketch about Mr. Death visiting some very polite party guests who have sadly eaten from the wrong plate. But there are also plenty of sketches here that really don’t fire on all cylinders. Some of the sketches along the way are simply interminable. Others are hilarious. (And your mileage may vary – some people find everything the Pythons did to be a riot, and some people find them a taste too difficult to acquire.) As a final offering from the Pythons before they all permanently moved on to solo careers at varying levels, The Meaning of Life stands as a great example of the funniest stuff they could do, and also a marker of their inevitable decline. Seen today, 30 years after its original release, the funny stuff still holds up. But the other material hasn’t become funnier with age. Fans of Monty Python will undoubtedly want to get their hands on this edition, particularly for the new reunion. More casual fans are recommended to rent this if they’d like to get an idea of what the Pythons could do on both a good day and a bad day. And all viewers are again warned to beware of Mr. Creosote.Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life was released on Blu-ray on October 8th. The Blu-ray edition contains a newer high definition transfer than the HD-DVD, an extensive array of extras (mostly ported over from the 2003 SE DVD), and instructions for obtaining a digital or Ultraviolet copy of the movie.
The Production Rating: 3/5
Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life is presented in a 1.85:1 1080p VC-1 encode that shines in some places and doesn’t do as well in others. Some scenes have a pleasing amount of grain and more of a filmic look to them. I tended to notice that the optical shots tended to look better and some sequences look quite good. (I would lean toward “The Galaxy Song” as a good moment for the PQ.) On the other hand, there are plenty of shots that look a bit digital to my eye – and it looks like some digital sharpening has been applied, particularly in the “Every Sperm is Sacred” number and some of the shots of “The Crimson Permanent Assurance”. I can’t account for the issues, other than to say that this was never the most beautiful movie in the first place. But I’m perplexed how the PQ could be good in one part of the movie and not as good in another.
Video Rating: 3/5 3D Rating: NA
Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life gets an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, which mostly lives in the front channels but uses the surrounds primarily for the score. The mix is a good one, but nothing that jumped off the screen or out of the speakers. The Blu-ray also holds a French 2.0 DTS mix.
Audio Rating: 3.5/5
Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life includes a truly generous assortment of special features, almost all of which are culled from the 2003 Special Edition DVD. I note that the only things not included from the 2003 DVD are the “Director’s Cut” which added some deleted scenes back in, and the DVD-ROM materials. The Blu-ray packaging includes instructions for obtaining a digital or Ultraviolet copy.Commentary (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – A scene-specific commentary is provided by directors Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones. It sounds as though they were recorded separately, but there is at least one moment where they seem to be in the same room. Each director talks about the sequences he covered, with Gilliam extensively discussing how his short subject, “The Crimson Permanent Assurance”, gradually expanded until it no longer fit within the movie proper. Jones discusses his recollections of working with the cast, particularly having fun with the “Death” sketch. There are quiet sections, but then one of the two men will pop up to say something interesting. Gilliam notes that among his cast of corporate evildoers is a young Matt Frewer.Soundtrack for the Lonely: A Soundtrack for People Watching At Home Alone (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – This is frankly bizarre. It’s a gag bonus feaure, in which the viewer is subjected to the mostly gross and incoherent mumblings of what sounds like a truly repellent person, as voiced by Michael Palin. This is almost as unlistenable as the Thermian track found on the Galaxy Quest DVD…Sing-Along Version (NEW FOR BLU-RAY) – This is a fourth way to watch the movie, aside from the standard way (without any commentary), the director’s commentary and the above “Lonely” soundtrack. For this option, the viewer can fast forward from song to song directly, with the lyrics for the songs provided in subtitles.The Meaning of Monty Python: 30th Anniversary Reunion (1:00:15, 1080p) (NEW FOR BLU-RAY) – This may be the most interesting special feature on the disc. As recorded earlier this year in England, the surviving Pythons got together for an hour of reminiscing and discussion about the movie, comedy and anything that strikes their fancy. (I note that Eric Idle appears on video via Skype from Los Angeles, where he had to be awake and working at 2 or 3 am in order to participate.) There’s some great stuff in here, although the Pythons’ memories of what happened can be wildly divergent. Some alternate sketch ideas that didn’t make the cut are discussed, including what sounds like a pretty funny bit where the British Prime Minister forgets his ID card when trying to get into the official bomb shelter during World War III. The current-day tension between the Pythons does pop up here and there – most particularly when John Cleese floats the idea of them getting together to do another movie. A truly awkward silence results…2003 Prologue with Eric Idle (1:17, 480p) (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – A standard definition introduction to the movie is included from the 2003 DVD, with Eric Idle reading off the somewhat naughty poem the Pythons presented to Universal in 1982 to get funding for this project.The Snipped Bits (18:22 Total, 480p, 7 Scenes) (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – Seven deleted scenes are presented in standard definition, including three that would be edited back into the movie for the “Director’s Cut” that was part of the 2003 DVD. Terry Jones offers commentary over parts of the scenes, and this commentary cannot be turned off. Some of this material appears to be simple outtake reel stuff, including a strange opening to the “Mr. Creosote” sketch. The scenes can be viewed individually or via a “Play All” function.Under the menu heading The School of Life, the following material is presented:The Meaning of Making The Meaning of Life (49:02, 480p) (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – A standard definition making-of featurette is included from the 2003 DVD, running nearly an hour and including interviews with all the surviving Pythons about the project.Educational Tips to Prepare You for Life in the Real World (6:00, 480p) (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – This is essentially a new collection of Python clips, assembled in 2003 for the DVD. It starts with a travelogue overview of a prestigious British school as narrated by Michael Palin with tongue firmly in cheek. New sketch material is presented with John Cleese as well.Un Film De John Cleese (1:31, 480p) (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – John Cleese presents this happily recut trailer for the movie, which just coincidentally happens to only feature shots of John Cleese...Remastering a Masterpiece: How to Revive an Old Master (8:21, 480p) (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – This is a mockumentary featurette with the Pythons employing James Katz to help restore the movie. Footage is then shown of Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam doing horrifying things in the name of restoration – including finding reels of film in the dumpster. I’m thinking that Robert A. Harris would absolutely NOT approve…Under the menu heading Selling The Meaning of Life, the following material is presented.Trailer (2:41, 480p) (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – A standard definition copy of the trailer for the movie is included on the disc, for historical reference.TV Spots (1:03, 480p) (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – Two thirty-second TV ads for the movie are included here as well.US Promotion (2:03, 480p) (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – This standard definition featurette finds an American actor playing the role of Mr. Creosote from the film, wandering around Los Angeles and Beverly Hills in the gigantic fat suit, and asking at the front door of multiple classy restaurants about the price for ordering pretty much everything on the menu. Simultaneously..Rejects (0:59, 480p) (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – This is a collection of the various poster and promotional concepts that didn’t make the cut..UK Radio (2:19, 480p) (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – This is presumably a collection of some radio spots from the UK, played over a cartoon radio image.Telepathy (2:27, 480p) (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – This vintage promotional clip finds the whole cast banding together to attempt to telepathically convince the viewer to watch the movie. I’m not sure that this idea was successful, but I do have a good idea what they were thinking...Under the menu heading Fish, the following material is presented:Virtual Reunion (3:09, 480p) (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – This standard definition clip from 2003 finds the surviving Pythons each being separately composited into a single frame. So yes, they’re all kind of in the same room. Only not.What Fish Think (16:05, 480p) (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – This is another strange Python addition. We’re shown an aquarium withvarious fish swimming about inside. But the Pythons have augmented this screensaver with voiceovers for the various fish. And it goes on and on and on, for 16 minutes…Song and Dance (11:32, 480p) (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – This featurette focuses on the large scale song and dance numbers, “Every Sperm is Sacred” and “Christmas in Heaven”.Under the menu heading Songs Unsung, the following material is presented:Every Sperm is Sacred (3:09, 480p) (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – Recorded in 2003, Eric Idle performs the biggest production number of the movie himself.It’s The Meaning of Life (2:54, 480p) (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – Recorded in 2003, Terry Jones performs an alternate version of the song.Christmas in Heaven (3:13, 480p) (FROM THE 2003 DVD) – Here, Eric Idle perfoms another one of the big numbers from the movie on his own.Digital/Ultraviolet Copy – The packaging has an insert that contains instructions for downloading a digital or ultraviolet copy of the movie. The other side of the insert is an advertisement for various other Universal comedies available on Blu-ray.The movie is subtitled in English and Spanish. The usual pop-up menu is present, including a complete chapter menu.
Special Features Rating: 5/5
Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life is not their best work, but it’s not a bad movie either. There are moments of comic greatness here, and plenty of fat to go along with them. When the movie works, it’s a fine example of the Monty Python comedy aesthetic. When the movie doesn’t, when a sketch simply doesn’t come together or drags on way too long, the movie serves as a reminder why the Pythons completed their breakup after this project. The new Blu-ray presents a decent new HD transfer of the movie, along with almost all of the special features from the 2003 DVD. Python fans no doubt already have it. More casual fans are encouraged to rent it, and see what they think of this comedy style. And, again, everyone is warned about Mr. Creosote…
Overall Rating: 3/5
Reviewed By: Kevin EK
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