The Good: FUNNY! Good DVD bonuses, Excellent acting, Funny plot, Clever
The Bad: Doesn't hold up as flawlessly as geek culture would have us believe!
The Basics: Despite issues that might arise by constant citations or repetitive viewings, Monty Python And The Holy Grail holds up incredibly well on DVD!
It was with a strange sense of horror that I discovered while looking to link a review from Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (reviewed here!) to my review of Monty Python And The Holy Grail that I had either never reviewed the humor classic. So, after months of debating it, I decided it was time to sit down and re-review the classic comedy film Monty Python And The Holy Grail, a film that has no less than four distinct DVD presentations. This review is for the Special Edition, which is pretty much the standard for Monty Python enthusiasts and the easiest version to find.
When King Arthur of the British is charged with a task from god to find the Holy Grail, Arthur assembles a team of bumbling knights to scour the countryside looking for it. Instead, their adventure finds them disbanding, going off in separate directions to encounter horny nuns, a fearsome Black Knight who guards a bridge, a Massive Knight who says "Ni!" and is obsessed with shrubberies, before reuniting to deal with an enchanter, a vampire bunny and a cartoonist who dies while animating creatures well outside the film's budget.
Monty Python And The Holy Grail is a madcap comedy that is part of the essential lexicon of geek culture much the way Monty Python's Flying Circus is. However, because of the fantasy setting and the shorter duration of the film, fans seem much more able to cite this film as opposed to the library of sketches in the sketch comedy series that led to this movie. The only direct relationship between Monty Python's Flying Circus and Monty Python And The Holy Grail is the use of the comedy troupe known as Monty Python, the collection of comic talents consisting of John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Graham Chapmin, and Terry Gilliam. There is no individual called Monty Python. The comedy troupe and the style of irreverent comedy characterized by ridiculous actions, bold humorous dialogue and zany physical comedy is what binds the franchise together.
And with Monty Python And The Holy Grail, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam are given the chance to expand creatively into the directing and producing of the film more than they had the chance on "Flying Circus." The result is a film that feels low-budget and quirky but has writing that is absolutely hilarious and acting that holds up in that context brilliantly.
The film is self-referential and steps outside the narrative of this version of King Arthur to make political commentary on England's government, both historical and contemporary. One of the most hilarious bits has to be when Arthur tries to gain the respect of a peasant by telling the story of how he became king and is rebutted by the weird combination of ignorance of the peasant and the political sophistication he illustrates by observing that political power cannot be derived by a man being given a sword by "a watery tart!"
And the film works because it does not take itself seriously, up to and including the film's ultimate resolution. The movie opens with a complete psych-out appearing to be a completely different work before becoming the movie viewers were expecting. Intercut with the narrative of King Arthur are bits that explore the fact that this is a movie (like referencing "Sir Does-Not-Appear-In-This-Film" in the book of knights Arthur assembled) and a whole running subplot that has a common British citizen in modern times slain by a knight, resulting in a neighbor calling the police.
The movie alternates, as well, between the live action adventures of Arthur and his knights and animated representations of the story that allow the film to cheat what could have been expensive effects. As a result, god appears as an animated likeness as does the largest monster in the movie and the narrative is aided - through animation - with an illustration of the passage of time.
Monty Python And The Holy Grail is just plain funny. It is written with memorably hilarious lines that are non-sequitors, outrageous and quirky or self-referential in ways that movies seldom dare to do ("It's only a model!") . The reason it can be quoted so easily by a Level Three or above geek is that it is clever and the language is simple and funny and it is easily engaging. If we tend to remember best the things that make us happiest, the humor in this film pretty much instantly becomes clear why this movie would be so memorable; it makes one happy to watch it. The humor is very constant, diverse - so it's not all slapstick, for example - and of a caliber that becomes a definition of "comic genius."
My initial problem with Monty Python And The Holy Grail was quite simple. I grew up surrounded by people who had seen the film innumerable times and quoted it ad nauseam (as us geeks are known to do!) and as a result, the first time I saw the movie there was very little to surprise me. Respect for those who have not been into the film can be shown by not citing it constantly around them (though it does make for a great excuse to have a party featuring a viewing of the film to break them in!). And, truth be told, by the tenth viewing, some of the humor becomes less funny and we tend to laugh more in anticipation or memory of the humor than at the humor itself (comedy often hinges on surprise, repetition eliminates surprise).
This is where the DVD pulls the film up a notch into territory where five stars is appropriate. On DVD, Monty Python And The Holy Grail receives a treatment that is quite impressive and increases the humor. There is a decent commentary track which features Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam talking about the production aspects of the movie, there is an alternative subtitle track which uses a truncated text of Shakespeare's King Henry IV, Part II, and it's amusing to watch how it synchs up with the film!
Additional bonus features that help increase appreciation of the movie as well as make it more rewatchable include: a trivia game (like the DVDs for Flying Circus had!), featurettes on the making of and effect of the film and (on the latest version of the special edition) a look into how the film was made into Spamalot. As well, the film looks great on DVD and sounds good with the remastered sound.
For those unfamiliar with the movie, there is no better way to get into it than with this collection. It is the two-disc special edition that will make the viewer realize how a weird comedy beloved by geeks worldwide could be made into a smash Broadway play! This is a comedy classic and one that holds up as just as funny now as when it was released. A must for the collection of anyone who loves comedy.
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© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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