Monty Python and the Holy Grail appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While the 2001 release of Grail looked good, this 2006 version presented visual improvements.
Sharpness largely appeared quite good. A few soft spots occurred, but these were fairly mild and usually rare. Overall, the image maintained a pretty crisp and detailed look. Moiré effects and jagged edges caused no concerns, and I detected no signs of edge enhancement. Print flaws decreased substantially from the prior DVD. I noticed a couple of specks but nothing more. The movie looked moderately grainy due to the original photography; it didn’t seem excessively heavy in that regard. The 2006 DVD cleaned up the presentation well.
England in the Middle Ages wasn’t exactly a tropical paradise, and the film depicted it in a grimy, drab manner that the DVD replicated accurately. All of the colors appeared pretty flat and muddy, but that was how they were supposed to look, and I felt the DVD showed them with good accuracy and clarity for what they were. Black levels seemed fairly deep and rich, while shadow detail was quite solid. Low-light sequences displayed positive clarity and rarely seemed excessively dim. The 2006 Grail wasn’t a remarkable improvement over the 2001 edition, but it eliminated the earlier disc’s source flaws and deserved a “B+”.
One note about the version of Grail found on this DVD. It extends the original theatrical cut by 24 seconds. This footage appears during “The Tale of Sir Galahad”. Apparently the directors cut it just prior to release but regretted it when it was too late, so the DVD finally restores the material. It’s nothing special, but I like the fact it appears here.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix of Monty Python and the Holy Grail seemed to duplicate the audio from the 2001 DVD, and that was fine with me, as I liked that disc’s soundtrack. Remixed from the original monaural stems, this new piece felt appropriately restrained and didn’t go nuts with isolated elements, but it expanded the material to a very satisfying degree.
The soundfield remained fairly strongly anchored in the front channels, but it opened up to use the sides well. The music benefited quite nicely, as the score provided pretty solid stereo imaging most of the time, and it showed good presence throughout the movie. As for effects, those largely stayed in the realm of general ambience, but that usage seemed more involving than it might sound. The effects created a reasonably involving environment given the source material. Little elements cropped up from the sides during a fair amount of the movie, and the rears reinforced both the effects and the music.
Split-surround pieces were very rare, but the back speakers added a nice layer of atmosphere that seemed positive. A few examples of a somewhat artificial display occurred – such as when we heard screaming girls in Sir Galahad’s bit – but usually the soundfield came across as quite useful and believable.
Audio quality showed its age at times, but it still functioned pretty well. Dialogue generally sounded somewhat thin and demonstrated a reverberated tone at times, but speech remained within age-appropriate limits and generally appeared reasonably accurate and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects varied, as they occasionally seemed flat and a little rough, but they also came across as fairly clear and solid for the most part. Those elements didn’t approach great clarity or realism, but they sounded fine for their age and source.
Music came across as the track’s most pleasant surprise. As a whole, the score and other musical elements seemed nicely rich and bright. The music faltered on a few occasions, but usually it appeared quite positive, with clean highs and fairly deep bass response. Again, my “B” grade took the age of the material into account; this won’t be used to show off your system. However, I found the 5.1 remix of Grail to seem consistently fine.
The strengths of the new soundtrack seemed even clearer when I compared it to the monaural version, which also appeared on the DVD. Sometimes 5.1 remixes and the originals offer virtually identical sound quality; they differ only in the breadth of the speaker usage. That most definitely wasn’t the case with Grail. All of the different elements sounded noticeably more distinct and better defined during the 5.1 track. By comparison, the mono version was muddy and flat. For those who want the original auditory experience, I’m happy that Grail provides that option, but I’d never listen to it; the 5.1 mix sounded significantly better.
What is this, the 97th DVD release of Holy Grail? Actually, I think it’s only the fourth, but it feels like the 97th. First we got a non-anamorphic bare-bones release, and then we received the 2001 Special Edition. In 2003, we found a Collector’s Edition that added some paper materials to the discs from the Special Edition.
Now that it’s 2006, we discover “The Extraordinarily Deluxe Edition” of Grail. While truly packed with extras, most of these port over from the 2001 SE. I’ll note new supplements with an asterisk, so if you see a star, that piece is exclusive to this set.
Most of the extras appear on the second disc, but DVD One packs some solid content as well, beginning with two separate audio commentaries. The first piece comes from Python members and co-directors Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones. Both were recorded separately for this edited but still screen-specific track. From what I’ve heard, this piece actually was originally done for an old Criterion laserdisc of the film. While Jones also appeared on the commentary for Life of Brian, Gilliam’s a true veteran of the format, and he offers the best aspects of this piece. Actually, that fact probably results less from his commentary experience and more from his wonderfully frank and honest nature; Gilliam seems totally unable to dole out the usual “everything was great” pabulum, and his tracks reflect that.
This tendency continues here. Of course, the subject doesn’t merit the venom heard during his splendid discussion of the woes he experienced during Brazil, but Gilliam still provides a nicely candid discussion of the film. Jones does so as well, but we hear more from Gilliam, so his remarks stuck with me more. Overall, the commentary gives a lot of good information about the creation of Grail and it also goes into lots of interesting remarks about the history and dynamics of Python. The piece covers a lot of ground and does so in an entertaining and compelling manner that makes it a very solid track.
The second commentary features Python members Michael Palin, John Cleese and Eric Idle. Though the three were recorded separately, their comments have been edited together in a clever manner that creates the illusion they’re together. Each man fills a different area on the stereo spectrum; Palin’s on the left, Cleese resides in the center, and Idle sits to the left. Most edited group commentaries collate them in such a way that we hear only one participant at a time, but this one alters that standard. Occasionally they actually speak over each other to a very mild degree, but mostly we discern laughter from the others while one talks. Clearly the giggling results from the action onscreen, but the editing makes it seem like the non-speakers are reacting to the statements.
As deceptive as it may seem, I have no problem with the construction; it makes the track seem a little livelier than usual. Unfortunately, the commentary itself doesn’t up to the standards set by that from the Terrys. Cleese and Palin dominate the piece; Idle chimes in at times, but not to as substantial a degree. On the positive side, each man offers a number of good anecdotes about the production. Cleese is especially interesting, mainly because he complains about a lot of aspects of the shoot.
However, the track falls flat some of the time because the participants often simply laugh at the movie. It’s nice that they still enjoy the work after more than three decades, but it doesn’t make for a very stimulating commentary. Overall, I feel the piece includes enough compelling material to merit a listen from fans of the film, but it seems somewhat disappointing as a whole.
A few other options can be experienced while one watches the film. We get the Follow the Killer Rabbit feature that allows you to check out some behind the scenes stuff. Two kinds of rabbits appear: the standard white bunny, and an accountant rabbit. When chosen, the former shows sketches by Gilliam created for the film and also some stills from the production, while the latter shows costs of various props and other items. It’s modestly interesting but the option didn’t do much for me.
A couple interesting subtitle options appear. For one, you can check out the screenplay as you watch the film. This is a cool idea, though I’d be curious to know if it’s entirely the original text or if it’s been modified to match the movie; during his commentary, Eric Idle states that one of his lines was improvised, but it shows up in the screenplay. In any case, it’s a nice touch.
In a more irreverent vein we find Subtitles for People Who Do Not Like the Film. These take bits from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Pt. II and connect them to the Grail action. That aspect made the gimmick more interesting. I thought the text would just run the play in its normal sequence, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Instead, Shakespeare’s lines fit in with the Python action to essentially create an alternate version of the movie. It’s still a stunt, but it’s a clever and interesting one.
Lastly, DVD One tosses in some minor but cute bits. If you click on Extras, you’ll find a modestly amusing command to go to the second disc. Hard Of Hearing simply has someone state all of the DVD options, but he does this really loudly. Also, there’s a very fun little bit that appears before the movie itself starts. I’ll leave it at that – see it for yourself and enjoy!
When we move on to DVD Two, we find a mix of additional extras. The most substantial of these is The Quest for the Holy Grail Locations. This 46-minute and 55-second program features Pythons Jones and Palin as they traverse the Scottish countryside to revisit the sites used for the movie. Production manager Julian Doyle also comes along for the ride, but he stays in the background most of the time. We also meet a couple of other folks, like Glencoe Rescue Team Leader Hamish Macinnes – who worked on the film’s rickety bridge – and workers at some of the castles.
While I would prefer a true documentary about the making of the movie, “Quest” was a pretty entertaining piece. It starts a bit slowly, but eventually it becomes fairly involving as we watch Jones and Palin examine the original locations and comment upon them. Ultimately it was moderately informative and witty, and it merits a look.
Three Singalongs appear on DVD Two. These include “Knights of the Round Table”, “Sir Robin”, and “Monks Chant”. The first two simply repeat the material found in the film; you could do the same kind of Karaoke if you just watched the movie with the subtitles activated. The chant, however, is more entertaining, as it starts with an instructional introduction from Terry Jones. It eventually leads in to a movie snippet, but the opening is quite funny.
Under the Sacred Relics subdomain we locate a bunch of materials. Coconuts provides a newly created film from the “Ministry of Foods”. In this two-minute and 55-second clip Michael Palin teaches us how to use coconuts to imitate hoof beats. It’s mildly amusing but nothing special.
The Japanese Version of the film takes two scenes – “The French Castle” and “The Knights of Ni” – and provides their Japanese-dubbed renditions. In addition, the Japanese translations have been converted back to English in the subtitles, with some moderately amusing results. Actually, I thought they’d badly distort the original wording, but they weren’t that far astray, despite the description of the film as the “holy sake search”. Anyway, this eight and a half minute piece offers some fun viewing.
One of the DVD’s best elements comes with BBC Film Night. A TV program that aired on December 19, 1974, this 17 minute and five second program takes us to the set of Grail where we find some fun footage from the shoot as well as lots of entertaining soundbites from the participants. Much of this was played for laughs, of course, but we still got a good look at the making of the movie, at least on a small scale. The material’s in rough shape but this is still a very interesting and compelling piece.
Old Rubbish adds some stillframe materials. We find six screens of press releases and similar bits. These are interesting, but unfortunately they’ve been reproduced in a way that makes them quite small. I found it very hard to discern what some of them said, which kind of defeated the purpose of their inclusion and becomes very frustrating. Artefacts adds five posters for the film, and it suffers from the same tiny-image syndrome, as does Photos with its 82 stills from the set. However, the latter comes across best of the bunch, if just because it contains no text; the pictures are still too small, but they remain easily seen nonetheless.
Unlike the first DVD release of Grail, this one includes trailers for the movie itself. We find the fairly long (three minutes) and very funny original UK ad as well as one for the 2001 US re-release clip; the latter duplicates the former but adds a few seconds at the end. As such, if you want to watch one, you may as well go with the US trailer; it makes the original redundant. We also find an ad for Python’s Personal Best.
The Cast provides no biographical information about the participants, but it may be informative nonetheless. We find mentions of all six Pythons as well as cohorts Carol Cleveland, John Young, Neil Innes, Connie Booth, Bee Duffel, and Rita Davies. If you click on any of their names, you’ll see a photo of them from the film along with a credit for their character. In addition, those who played other parts have those roles listed, and you can access photos of the different characters from there. It’s a decent way to see who played which parts. (For the record, Michael Palin took on the most roles with 10!)
That finishes “Sacred Relics” but doesn’t exhaust the DVD’s extras. When we move to Unshot Footage we find three more pieces. Lego Knights takes the “Knights of the Round Table” production number and animates it using Lego figures. The 100-second piece is inconsequential but amusing and well-executed.
After an introductory screen that spoofs The Blair Witch Project, Location Recce provides two minutes and 10 seconds of footage that shows directors Gilliam and Jones as they scouted for shooting sites. Or maybe not. Actually, it tosses in snippets of various travel spots as Gilliam and Jones provide commentary about it. The piece is pretty funny and merits a look, especially because it seems to offer the only occasion on which any of the Pythons actually interact; unlike the commentaries, Jones and Gilliam clearly were recorded together for this.
Unused Ideas adds 13 screens of rough sketches by Gilliam. Apparently these were unutilized plans for some of his animation. We don’t learn much about them or what they would have been, but they offer a neat look at some of his work nonetheless.
Under the banner of “Extraordinarily Deluxe New Stuff”, we get… all the disc’s new stuff, though none of it seems “extraordinarily deluxe”. We begin with a quiz called *The Holy Grail Challenge. This comes in five flavors: “Embarrassingly Easy for First Time Viewer”, “Quiz for the Moderately Fanatical”, “The Appallingly Perilous Experts Only Quiz”, “The Extra Frighteningly Dangerous DVD Extras Quiz” and “Quiz for People Who Don’t Like the Film”. I tried all of them and found them to be fun. The “Easy” one is actually more difficult than I expected, and the next two got tougher. The quizzes for the extras and the alternate subtitle version of the film are cool additions as well.
For a glimpse of the hit Broadway show, we go to *A Taste of Spamalot. This six-minute and 13-second piece offers a montage of elements that resembles one of Gilliam’s Python collages accompanied by the musical’s tunes. Though clever and unusual, it’s not a very good way to introduce us to the show, as I’d have preferred some actual footage from the production.
*Secrets of the Holy Grail runs a mere one minute and 23 seconds. Based on the title, you might expect more behind the scenes materials. Instead, it’s just an ad – for the “Extraordinarily Deluxe Edition” DVD! Why do they give us a promo to entice us to buy something we already own?
Over on Disc Three, we get a CD of a 1975 release. *The Album Of The Soundtrack Of The Trailer Of The Film Of Monty Python And The Holy Grail runs 47 minutes, 11 seconds as it replicates the original vinyl LP. The CD mixes audio snippets from the film with comedic remarks from the Pythons. Some good comedy results and this is a very fun addition to the package.
Does this 2006 LE drop anything from the 2001 SE? Nope – at least not anything on the discs. We lose a booklet with a description of the DVD’s extras and a few other disc-related notes. All the other materials repeat from the 2001 set.
After more than 30 years, Monty Python and the Holy Grail remains an inconsistent but generally funny and fresh film. It’s not my favorite Python offering, but it’s entertaining and clever nonetheless. Objectively, the DVD’s picture and audio are quite good, and we get a simply terrific collection of supplements. I heartily endorse Grail, as it offers both a fun movie and a strong DVD.
I’d say that this new 3-disc set is the best one for fans to get, but the big question is whether or not folks who own the prior 2-DVD Special Edition should upgrade. I’d say yes if they want the moderate picture improvements. The new extras aren’t worth it, especially since you can buy the CD on its own; there’s no need to snag this set to get it. However, the new transfer does look better than the old one, so that may make the upgrade worth the money.
To rate this film visit the original review of MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL