DVD Review HTF Review: Monty Python's The Meaning of Life SE + TRANSFER PROBLEM FEEDBACK

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jason Perez, Aug 27, 2003.

  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

    Jul 6, 2003
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    Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life SE

    Studio: Universal
    Year: 1983
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 108 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
    Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
    Audio: English - Dolby Digital 5.1; English – DTS 5.1; French – 2.0 Monaural

    “It took God six days to create the Earth and Monty Python just 1 hour and 48 minutes to screw it up.”

    Whether one loves, hates, or merely tolerates Monty Python and their brand of comedy, their longevity and willingness to take on any and all subjects deserves respect. Led by the talented Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and John Cleese, among others, the “Pythons” created quite a stir in the mid-sixties with the highly regarded television series Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Subsequently, the group brought their irreverent approach to comedy to the big screen in 1974, releasing the excellent Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which was followed by the legendary The Life of Brian and less-memorable The Meaning of Life.

    The Meaning of Life is the Monty Python group’s last feature-length film, a collection of volatile, outrageous sketches which are loosely related to the central theme of discovering the meaning of life. In each of these bits, the Python’s relentless, in-your-face approach to rather serious subjects like birth, growth, education, war, and death is vigorously adhered to. Uncharacteristically of Monty Python, however, these sequences meet with mixed results, and this is arguably the group’s least effective film. Part of the reason for its unevenness may be the group’s attempt to capitalize on the success of The Life of Brian by rushing into another production instead of taking a much needed break (as mentioned in the supplemental materials). Another reason may be that some of the skits are either too long or simply not funny. Either way, it is difficult for a film consisting primarily of sketches to sustain audience interest for almost two hours, so I applaud the Pythons for their ambition.

    Still, despite the couple of skits that fall flat, there is some really inventive, funny material in The Meaning of Life. Some of the more notable sketches include: the elaborate musical number “Every Sperm is Sacred”, the Grim Reaper crashing a diner party, the explosion of an enormous, gluttonous man, and the envelope-pushing live organ donor bit. Although I love John Cleese’s work, I have never considered myself to be a real Monty Python fan, but even so, I must confess to enjoying this movie as a whole. In fact, I think the sketches lacking real impact are overwhelmed by the majority that do leave an impression, and even this, the worst of the Monty Python films, is funnier and more provocative than most contemporary comedies.

    Summing it up, the whole of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life is greater than the sum of its parts, and thus worth watching despite a couple of weak spots. There is a lot of substance to this film, including some very subtle humor and poignant social observations mixed in with the more elaborate gags. The versatile comedic performances turned in by the Pythons also deserve a nod, and the musical sequences are equally fabulous (particularly Eric Idle’s penis song). With regard to the film’s sketches, you have undoubtedly noticed that I have refrained from providing details on any of them. This omission was purposeful, as the real joy of a film like this is experiencing them yourself, and figuring out which ones are most relevant to you.

    The Meaning of Life is not the best of Monty Python, and it is certainly not among the best comedies of all time. However, unless you have a complete disdain for British comedy you might want to give this one a look, especially in its present “special edition” incarnation, a package featuring improved audio, restored visuals, and an abundance of special (and a few not-so-special) features.

    So, How Does It Look?
    Given the age of The Meaning of Life, and the apparent difficulty finding source elements to restore (as noted in the featurettes), this is probably about as good as this film will ever look on DVD. Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), the film has its share of grainy areas, and specks pop up here and there, but the transfer looks pretty clean overall. The earthy, subdued color palette of most sequences is rendered accurately, flesh tones are very nicely represented, and blacks are deep and true.

    Also while the image appears a little soft at times, especially in portions of “The Meaning of Life” sequence, and some minor haloing is occasionally evident, it does not detract from the film experience. Other than those two relatively minor issues, there really is not a whole lot to complain about, and Universal has certainly done this film (and its fans) justice, in terms of its video presentation!

    What Is That Noise?
    The The Meaning of Life’s audio has been remixed, and it is now offered in both 5.1 channel Dolby Digital and DTS. This is one of the finer re-mixes of an older film I have heard yet, except for a minor idiosyncrasy or two. Fist off, the soundstage is fairly expansive, and there is good frequency response throughout the sonic spectrum, except for a few brief instances where the dialogue sounds compressed. Surprisingly, there is also some decent low frequency extension in certain sections of the film, especially during the Crimson Permanent Assurance short preceding the “real” feature. The rousing score during this sequence, and throughout the film’s musical numbers, sounds full and natural, with the surrounds effectively providing the embellishment or ambience that coincides with the on-screen happenings. All of the above is also true of the DTS mix, which has an even more refined low end and slightly less compression than its DD counterpart.

    Honestly, this is a very good mix, and I only have one quibble with it. Specifically, the dialogue is mixed a little too low in a couple spots, and when the score or musical numbers come in, the resulting volume swell is a tad unpleasant. This problem is little more than a minor annoyance though, as it is not persistent, but I felt it warranted mentioning all the same. However, for the vast majority of the film, dialogue is warm and hiss-free, and sounds less constrained than in most of the re-mixes I have experienced. Taking everything into consideration, especially the age of the source, I can’t say I was anything less than pleased with the surround mix, and the inclusion of a DTS track is icing on the cake!

    Extras, Extras!!!


    ** Audio Commentary:
    This feature-length commentary, featuring Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, is immensely enjoyable. Gilliam and Jones are both very personable and well spoken, and take a less-is-more approach to commentary by speaking only when they have something interesting to say. As you might expect, there is a fair bit of humor mixed in as well, so listening to these two reminisce about the film never becomes dull.

    There are many highlights, including:
    ---Terry Gilliam discussing how his boredom with animation led to the evolution of theCrimson Permanent Assurance sequence from an animated short into a longer live-action short. He also offers great insight into the ideas behind the weapons used by the octogenarian pirates and the other gags in the short.

    ---Terry Jones revealing what the working title (“A Fish Film”) of The Meaning of Life was for a long time.

    ---Terry Jones discussing how leading the feature with the Crimson Permanent Assurance short affected the audience response to the first scene in “The Miracle of Birth” section.

    ---A dialogue on the difficulty the Python group experienced in putting together the World War I sequence.

    ---The fact that the Mr. Creosote sketch was abandoned, until John Cleese re-worked the scene to make the waiter character funnier. Interestingly, all of the extras wanted to get hit by the vomit mixture used in this sequence.

    ---Gilliam talks about contracting out the artwork for the “Autumn Leaves” suicide bit to some friends, since he was busy directing the Crimson Permanent Assurance short.

    There is too much more to mention, most of it worthwhile (and I am not even a fan), which makes it one of the more entertaining commentaries I have listened to. Even if you are not a fan, I recommend listening to this track!

    **Soundtrack for the Lonely - For People Watching at Home Alone:
    If you select this option, you will be “treated” to the sounds of a man named George as he watches the movie at home by himself. What does that mean, you ask? Well, how about loud coughing; the muttering of inane thoughts; George getting phone calls from friends, pouring drinks, and ordering food; or the sounds of neighbors banging on the walls due to the volume of the musical numbers! Does that sound appealing to you? Oh, I almost forgot about the long (but very welcome) periods of silence. Unless you are a glutton for punishment, I highly recommend skipping this lame, unnecessary extra.

    **Director’s Cut (with 3 Deleted Scenes):
    In this version, three deleted scenes are added back into the film, described as follows:
    ---Martin Luther – The Python’s take on the Protestant reformer (in 16th century Germany).
    ---The Without War sequence – In this segment, we learn some of the things that the British owe to war.
    ---The Hendys Check Into Their Hotel – The odd American couple checks into their room and have a brief conversation.

    **Prologue by Eric Idle:
    A very entertaining short poem of sorts, where Idle promotes the films copious nudity and rude comedy sketches. He also reveals the real goal of the movie! A must-see!!!


    **The Meaning of Making The Meaning of Life Featurette:
    In this lengthy featurette (approximately 50 minutes) the surviving Pythons talk about a variety of things related to both The Meaning of Life and Monty Python in general. This interesting, occasionally funny featurette will definitely be of great interest to fans, so I don’t want to get into too much detail, but there were several things that I found very interesting (as a non-aficionado).

    To be more specific, John Cleese does not seem to think too highly of this film, and he points out, quite correctly, that some of the material simply misses its mark. He opines that The Life of Brian is the group’s best work, and gives some great insight on what might have made The Meaning of Life a better movie.

    There is also noteworthy treatment of how the “Crimson Permanent Assurance” segment evolved, and ultimately took on a life of its own. Finally, the Pythons discuss how they were always outsiders in the British Film Industry. There is also much more information on discarded ideas, and how difficult it was to come up with a central theme for the many sketches that comprise the film.

    The group is also honest about their initial dislike of the Mr. Creosote sketch, and analyzes several of the other bits, including the brilliant Protestant couple scene, the sex-ed class, and the death by topless women scene. Wouldn’t you know that they force us to watch this latter scene again! Monty Python sure knows how to torture a person! [​IMG] Finally, there is also a rather funny intermission with one of the Pythons discussing the anatomy of John Cleese.

    There were several aspects of this featurette that I was impressed with. First of all, the Pythons did not shy away from difficult topics, and were honest about their feelings about the creative process, in some cases criticizing the film. This is in stark contrast to most of the fluffy retrospectives we get on some DVD releases of older films, where everything is about how great it was to work with so-and-so, or how wonderful the film is. The honesty displayed by the Pythons is refreshing, and I like it. More importantly, the surviving members provide a wealth of substantial behind-the-scenes information, amusing anecdotes, and even offer their real feelings on what life means. Again, even though I am not really a fan, I enjoyed this documentary quite a bit. I expect that for fans, this will be 50 minutes well spent.

    **The Snipped Bits – Deleted Scenes:
    There are a total of seven deleted scenes in all, most of which appear to be minor embellishments of scenes present in the film. Some of the scenes are preceded by commentary from Terry Jones (which cannot be de-selected). They are listed as follows:
    ---“Martin Luther” – The Pythons expound on the origins of Protestant religion.
    ---“An Expert” – Interesting scene on the things British citizens owe to war.
    ---“Cheese Lady” – Part of the above scene (she is in the bottom right corner translating the anchor’s comments).
    ---“Randy in the Jungle” – On the search for his missing leg, the British Officer describes his turn-ons.
    ---“The Hendys” – The dimwitted American couple has a brief conversation in their hotel room after checking in.
    ---“Mr. Creosote Arrives at the Restaurant” – An extension of the scene in the film, with Mr. Creosote wheeling his bloated belly down the street on a cart. This scene doesn’t add much to the Mr. Creosote sequence, but it is worth watching for the antics of Terry Jones at the end of the shot.
    ---“Gaston Takes Us for a Good Walk” – After Mr. Creosote explodes, the waiter takes us on an extended journey towards his boyhood home. This scene was long, tedious, and unfunny, and thus wisely cut.

    **Educational Tips to Prepare for Life in the Real World:
    This is a brief, entertaining segment (recently recorded) that promotes both a sexual education academy and a business school. John Cleese hams it up as the head of both institutions, and there is some hysterical material here. This is easily one of the best extras in the entire package.

    **Song and Dance Featurette:
    A very eloquent, engaging featurette that deals with the creation of The Meaning of Life’s musical numbers. Choreographer Arlene Phillips, Dancer Jane Leeves, and the Pythons break down Terry Jones’ unique vision for each sequence, and how much detail went into bringing them to the screen. These individuals seem to have had a lot of passion for this film, and it still brings back fond memories for each of them.

    **Songs Unsung (Alternate Versions of the Original Songs):
    This featurette offers new renditions of three of The Meaning of Life’s musical numbers. Each recording is stripped down, featuring either Eric Idle or Terry Jones in a recording studio as they re-work the particular number. The three songs included are:
    ---“Every Sperm Is Sacred” – Eric Idle Version
    ---“It’s the Meaning of Life” – Terry Jones Version
    ---“Christmas In Heaven” – Eric Idle Version

    **Selling The Meaning of Life:
    A nice body of promotional material from both the United States and Britain is presented, including:
    ---The trailer (which makes clear the improvement in picture quality from the restoration).
    ---Television Spots
    ---US Promotion
    ---Rejected Ideas
    ---United Kingdom Radio Spot
    ---Telepathic Techniques

    **Re-mastering a Masterpiece: How to Revive an Old Master
    This piece starts off slowly, with a conversation about the process of film restoration, and how difficult it was to locate the film elements for The Meaning of Life. In typical Python fashion, however, a rather mundane subject is turned into a bit, after the film elements are located in a pile of trash and taken to the “experts” for restoration. This featurette probably could have been distilled a bit, but I still enjoyed its subtle humor.

    **Virtual Reunion – The Pythons Together Again:
    In my opinion, this extra was almost as ridiculous as the “What Fish Think” extra (see below), and mostly just shows the Pythons standing around aimlessly. If there was a point to this, I missed it.

    **“Un Film De John Cleese” Trailer:
    John Cleese offers his trailer for the film, which “downplays” all of the other Pythons and shamelessly promotes his own participation in The Meaning of Life.

    **DVD-ROM Content:
    Access to the Screenplay, Lost Scenes, Song Sheets, and Fat Recipes is provided for those with capable computers.

    **What Fish Think:
    There are two words I can use to describe this very long and unnecessary extra: pointless and boring. This bizarre, unbearable segment features fish swimming about, and little else. In fact, if not for the occasional comment by one of the Pythons, I would have thought it was a screensaver. If you can endure more than five minutes of this torture, you are a better man (or woman) than I am.

    The Score Card
    Movie: 3/5
    Video: 3.5/5
    Audio: 4/5
    Extras: 4/5
    Overall: 3.5/5

    The Last Word
    Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, though somewhat uneven, is brash, adventurous, and contains enough memorable moments for me to recommend it. This two-disc set also features what is probably the best picture quality this film has seen on home video to date, a solid 5.1 re-mix, and a comprehensive bundle of extras (with only a few real misses). Even if you already own the previous movie-only release, a double-dip on this title is probably warranted. Not my normal cup of tea, but enjoyable nonetheless. Recommended!

    Stay tuned…

    Release Date:
    September 2nd, 2003
  2. Michael Allred

    Michael Allred Screenwriter

    Aug 13, 2000
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    Real Name:
    Ooooooooooooooooooooh fishy fishy FISH!
  3. ChrisMatson

    ChrisMatson Cinematographer

    Dec 14, 2000
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    Nice review! Anyone want my rare, OOP version of this?

  4. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?

    Dec 1, 1999
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    Disney World and Universal Florida
    Real Name:
    Tony D.
    i think the "what fish think" and the lonely people soundtrack are just typical amazing python humor.
  5. richardWI

    richardWI Second Unit

    Jan 23, 2003
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    Unnecessary bits are part of Python's brand of humor. After all, they did make a cd-rom called "Complete Waste of Time."

    Although it isn't up to snuff with their previous movies, I enjoy it more if I just consider it their "White Album": a collection of solo bits that have no real cohesive element.

    Anyway, great review! [​IMG]
  6. MatthewLouwrens

    MatthewLouwrens Producer

    Mar 18, 2003
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    I like Meaning Of Life - sure, it is the worst of the Python films, and there are some parts which are quite bad, but there are moments that are easily classed as some of the best work Python has ever done. Every Sperm Is Sacred is an obvious candidate, and Live Organ Transplants is a personal favourite (especially as it transitions into the Galaxy Song).

    It will be interesting to see Martin Luther - the MOL album has references to Martin Luther which I never quite understood. Noce to know they refer to a deleted sketch.

    Absolutely - remember these were the guys who had subtitles for people who don't like the movie.

    Hoping to see this released in r4 soon - of course, since the 2-disc Holy Grail was only released here today, I won't hold my breath.
  7. Paul D G

    Paul D G Screenwriter

    Dec 25, 2001
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    A few observances:

    I would guess the Gaston scene was originally longer.

    The Fish Tank extra sounds like a parody of those video fireplace / video fishtank novelty tapes that came out some years back.

    I was pleased to see the Songs Unsung section, but disappointed Idle's The Pu__y Song wasn't included, the companion to The Penis Song. He performed it on his Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python tour and it was a riot.

  8. James L White

    James L White Supporting Actor

    Jun 29, 2002
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    great, I know I'm in the minority but this is my favorite Monty Python films, finally it gets the treatment it deserves [​IMG][​IMG] [​IMG]
  9. DaveRU

    DaveRU Stunt Coordinator

    Feb 20, 2003
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    I received my copy yesterday[​IMG]

    The Meaning of Life is one of my favourite films as well.

    The featurettes on disc 2 are absolutely funny, it's great seeing the Pythons back in action.

    The Restoration featurette is very funny, as is John Cleese's own trailer for the film.
  10. Scott Weinberg

    Scott Weinberg Lead Actor

    Oct 3, 2000
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    Excellent review, Jason. Can't wait to get this DVD!! [​IMG]
  11. JonZ

    JonZ Lead Actor

    Dec 28, 1998
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    This is my second favorite MP film,after Holy Grail.

    I have the old disc, but will pick this one up.
  12. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

    May 7, 2001
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    Great review Jason!

    Aaaaaaaa wafer thin mint....???

  13. Jeff Kuykendall

    Jeff Kuykendall Stunt Coordinator

    Aug 27, 2003
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    I hope the Gaston-walking-to-his-childhood-home scene is still part of the movie--it was one of my favorite scenes! (Particularly for how it ended.) I always thought it was a nice little break from the action, a way to cool off after the vomiting scene.

    I think that's what I treasure about Meaning of Life...it has a more languid pace. This is the last real Python project, so I always appreciated the length and random nature of the film.

    But can anyone who has the DVD provide clarification about the Gaston scene? It's still in the film, isn't it??
  14. Grady Reid

    Grady Reid Stunt Coordinator

    Aug 26, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Olathe, KS
    Real Name:
    Are the three scenes put back into the film via seamless branching? Or is "The Director's Cut" a seperate film on its own layer.
  15. Adam_Reiter

    Adam_Reiter Second Unit

    Oct 7, 2001
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    Damn Jason! Nice [​IMG]

    Its funny, the last 2 reviews I have read from you, I am thinking "a nice to the point review"... then I get to your extras section, and those are 2-3rds longer than the rest. Great job covering the supplemental stuff. Very thorough! [​IMG]
  16. DaveRU

    DaveRU Stunt Coordinator

    Feb 20, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Jeff, the Gaston scene is still there as before.
    Extended scenes from this are included on disc 2 with him walking round in circles, going down dead ends and eventually ending up on a bus.

    Grady, the three scenes look like they are branched. But they're in pretty bad shape and they aren't edited into the film very professionally either.
    But you can still watch the old cut anyway. [​IMG]
  17. Jeff Kuykendall

    Jeff Kuykendall Stunt Coordinator

    Aug 27, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Great...I was just worried for a minute there! [​IMG]
    I'm glad the deleted material for MOL survived. Most of the (massive) deleted scenes from Life of Brian were apparently thrown in the trash bin by the studio. Although there is a rumor that another Life of Brian special edition is in the works for next year.
    Thanks for the info.
  18. Keith Paynter

    Keith Paynter Screenwriter

    Mar 16, 1999
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    'Allo! Good evening, and welcome to The Middle Of The Thread!

    Goodbye, Image version...[​IMG]
  19. Wade M.

    Wade M. Extra

    Oct 26, 2002
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    As I posted before in another thread (which saw quite a bit of action, which is a first for me; I start threads in other forums and they are still dead the next day, to say nothing of a week later [​IMG] ), I will definitely buy this at my earliest opportunity. I can't wait to see this again. I rented the Image disc a few months ago and enjoyed every minute, but I will love to get this new Universal version. All those juicy extras! [​IMG] I love this smilie! And so appropriate too.
  20. MartinTeller

    MartinTeller Screenwriter

    Feb 26, 2002
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    Definitely a movie with problems, but worth it for "Crimson Permanent Insurance" if nothing else.

    Great review, Jason!

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