With the opening of Mike Nichols' and Eric Idle's "Spamalot" on Broadway last month, it's a good time to revisit the 1975 comedy classic that inspired the musical. Thirty years have elapsed since its original release, but it is still a movie that veers wildly back and forth between hilariously inventive and downright silly. If you can hold on tight, it's a worthwhile ride. Almost arbitrarily about a band of adventurers looking for the famed Holy Grail, the movie is just an excuse to create a nonsensical world steeped in medieval history and comically ironic violence. Directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, it is typical Monty Python fare, which means a lot of clever wordplay and elaborate sight gags with big payoffs. The story begins with King Arthur and his page Patsy galloping on their invisible horses with their clapping coconut half-shells, as they search for worthy knights to take back to Camelot. From there, we meet a cast of characters that only makes sense in Python-land: an increasingly armless and legless Black Knight with a chip on his shoulder, a big Trojan Horse-like wooden rabbit, some disrespectful Frenchmen, castle-bound nymphomaniac maidens, the knights who dare to say "Ni!", a pedantic historian in the present day and even God, who seems rather impatient with the befuddled knights as He explains their quest for the Holy Grail. Amid these disparate elements, the film holds together as a clever satire on blind pious ignorance and the unquestioning acceptance of organized religion. The pacing gets sluggish toward the end, but the conclusion is riotous and just in time.
Well packaged, the two-disc set has several extras. The main menu on the first disc is funny in itself with an option for the hard of hearing. There are two alternative commentary tracks. The first is newer and features Idle, John Cleese and Michael Palin; the second was recorded much earlier with Gilliam and Jones. Both are informative but only fitfully funny since they defer to the movie. The second disc has "Mindless Sing-Alongs!", where three scenes are taken from the film and subtitled so that once can sing along to the amusing "Knights of the Round Table" (which inspired the Broadway show title, "We dine well here in Camelot, we eat ham and jam and spam a lot."), "Sir Robin" or chant along in "Monk's Chant". There is a hysterical little "educational" short entitled "How to Use Your Coconut" and two scenes dubbed in Japanese. But the highlight is a 45-minute documentary called "The Quest for the Holy Grail Locations," in which Jones and Palin explore the various film locations with humor and a sense of deserved nostalgia. Other features include a mock interview with the cast done during the filming, a Lego version of "The "Knights of the Round Table" song and various sundry features suitable primarily for a Pythonite. For non-Pythonites, the film is still worth a look at a comedy that only looks better with all the witless dreck produced now.
As a teacher of medieval Grail literature, I have shown "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" to many generations of students -- and indeed there are a number of scenes that really do help young people understand either the medieval literary tradition or medieval history. These include not only the unforgettable "Bring out your dead scene," which educates the fortunate modern viewer on the ubiquity of the medieval Bubonic Plague, but also the Grail Castle with its unimaginable and unaskable question, not to mention the over-the-top battle ethos that would lead to a knight's having not only his arms and legs cut off but also his head! It's hard to believe that such scenes have their medieval progenitors (though I do have to say I know of no medieval precedent for the "shrubbery" scene), but honestly they do.
More than that, however, in my book the very best scene of this film has absolutely nothing to do with the Grail or with anything medieval -- and that is the scene of the fierce rabbit. I still cannot watch this film without cracking up (as we moderns say) over the scene in which the "harmless little rabbit" attacks the Arthurian troupe. The hubris that the rabbit scene uncovers is a sadly (but hilariously) universal feature of human nature.
But even the rabbit scene hooks back into the medieval theme, as it links to an exploration of a cave with literary texts that conclude because "....arrgh...." Well, indeed, many medieval texts remain unfinished, perhaps because the authors died, more likely due to the vagaries of preservation. So Monty Python has something to say not only about history and literature but about literary history; in its very aesthetic form, this film reminds us that the standard linear narrative is not the only way of organizing a story. Many medieval stories are likewise structured either allegorically or with significant disruptions, such as this film has, that reveal that a story is something that is constructed and has its gaps and interventions.
In the "Age of the Da Vinci Code" -- another far less successful Grail story -- I'd be happy to see folks go back to Monty Python for their understanding of medieval literature and Chrisitainity. Maybe they'd learn that all enigmas are not meant to be solved; some are meant to be the topic of cleansing and cathartic laughter.
on November 4, 2012
Well, having been a fan of this film for a long time and through different DVD and now Blu-ray copies i must say that the movie does look better yes, BUT this is a "CUT" version and that is my main complaint. The Blu-ray edition finds the mistaken beginning of "DENTIST ON THE JOB" REMOVED! To be a true edition of the film and a "complete" edition this should not happen! Why for many years over several VHS and Multiple DVD's present it in it's original form only to cut the original beginning completely from the movie? I mean it was ok in the ultimate editions and such on the remasters to (in my opinion since it sounds very slightly different) re-dub narration, but to remove part of the movie? Who OK'd this?!?!?!
on February 4, 2015
Very funny movie! My kids and I enjoyed watching this together. It's important to know that at the beginning, there are subtitles. They are part of the movie. It starts out in another language, and then changes to english. Keep reading them, it gets funny. I love the galloping throughout the whole movie!
on October 5, 2005
When I was a teenager, I looked at the few infomercials stating the Monty Python series on VHS and DVD, I thought the series was just filler. But later, as I grew older, some of my relatives introduced me to one of its films--The Holy Grail. Through that hour-and-a-half I was laughing so hard at everything the movie represented. And as time wore, I was watching the TV series itself, and that show was actually a little better than what I expected.
Now appreciating the entire franchise itself, I managed to pick up the Holy Grail movie itself on a 2-disc Special Edition DVD for $14 at a locat Target store and I was freaking happy.
What exactly is the movie about? Well, this is the retelling of the story of King Arthur, his uniting with the Knights of the Round Table at Camelot, and of course, the search for the Holy Grail--all told in a British humor fashion. Pointless, you may say, but still funny as hell nonetheless. And what a funny crew of Knights of Camelot, too; we have: Arthur, King of the Britons, Sir Bedevere the Wise (I think), Sir Lancelot the Brave, Sir Gallahad the Pure, and Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-as-Sir-Lancelot. When a new strategy was planned along the way though, the Knights split up and went seperate ways to find the Grail, and that's when the comedy ensues. You'll see Sir Robin meet a giant three-headed knight whose three heads bicker at each other; Sir Gallahad run into a castle filled with sex-driven maidens; Sir Lancelot try to rescue a princess locked in a castle only to find out it's really a wussy prince trying to escape from being forced by his father to marry someone in favor of the bride's landscape; and King Arthur and Sir Bedevere meet the Knights who say "Ni!" that order the two to find a shrubbery with their necks at stake. In addition you'll find the entire crew meet up a castle full of disrespectful French and a certain rabbit...
Now on to the DVD itself. The video quality here has been remastered, but not restored; the picture is still grainy and muddy, but the colors are bright and solid nonetheless. The audio quality could've been better, though. Although we do get a Dolby Mono soundtrack, it's pretty muffled, just like in the VHS copy. The Dolby 5.1 track, though, is much clearer than the mono, but doesn't thump the entire house-a good track anyway.
As with the extras, there's plenty to keep you happy. The first disc contains two fun commentary tracks by the Pythonites themselves and a Pop-up video track for storyboard comparisons.
Also included are subtitles "for people who don't like the film". There's also an extra 24 seconds added in the film...
Disc Two carries the bulk of the extras. For starters, we have two fun featurettes: "The Quest For the Holy Grail Locations" where Terry Jones and Michael Palin show which landscapes were the entire movie shot; and "How to use your Coconuts", an interesting feature on how to carve your coconut to a point where you can start banging them to make a trotting horse sound.
Also there's an interesting newscast featurette called "On Location with the Pythons", where the BBC News crew talks to the Python crew about the making of the film. In addition you'll also get art and photo galleries, it's theatrical trailer, Three Sing-alongs from the film, and a few more pointless features for the Python fan.
In conclusion, I still like the film as much as the DVD treatment here. And I appreciate the show itself,too. So buy this film and enjoy this film...
YOU DAFFY ENGLISH...KUH-NIGGETS.
on July 13, 2007
We are enjoying this set. The movie quality was great, the extras disc was good, too. It has a sing along to the "Knights of Camelot" song that captioned the words and there were a few we hadn't figured out in all the years we have been watching the movie. The third disc, though, is about "Spamalot" which was only OK - kind of a stretch in my opinion. The quiz on the extras disc was pretty tough if you haven't seen the movie in a while, but we had fun competing for the most correct answers. I would have preferred the 3rd disc to also be about the movie, but it was still a good value for Grail fans.
on May 8, 2012
Ok, so to be fair, I have always enjoyed this movie. To call it a classic is an understatement. That said, I was ecstatic that it finally was coming to BluRay (I have the Collector's Edition on DVD), and pre-ordered it (as well as bough the iPad app to go with it). The extras are fun, even though a lot of them were on the DVD, and not all were HD (to be expected). It does work really well with the iPad app, which made it that much more fun!
On to the next part...
The quality on the film transfer has left me underwhelmed. Some parts look OMGmazing, but several parts seem really grainy/pixelated. The audio quality is decent (I don't have surround sound hooked up to hear the overall experience, so take that with a grain of salt).
I still recommend it to hardcore Python fans, as well as the accompanying iPad app for that much more fun. Maybe your experience will be better or worse.
There are so many things about this (and indeed any) Monty Python movie that one hardly knows where to begin. Nothing is left out of the mix--history, religion, politics, personal relationships, prejudices, intellectual prowess or the lack thereof. My title, of course, comes from an early scene in with Arthur approaches a castle, inexplicably occupied by French k-nigits, who claim to already have a grail.
The Monty Python troupe, led by the creative talents of Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, incorporated John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle and Graham Chapman as King Arthur, the dominant role in the film. No animals were harmed in the filming, not even an African Swallow, non-migratory as they are. A few coconuts bit the dust, however, as did more than a few comic images. Logic bits the dust, too, on more than one occasion. I did a paper once for symbolic logic which I was told ten years later was still being passed about because I had dared to use something so unconventional as this Monty Python movie in the references (I couldn't see why that wouldn't be much more common, and indeed, hope it is today--I use 'Life of Brian' in homilies, so why not this film in logic?).
The particular logical incident (or rather, illogical incident) involves the trial of a woman accused of being a witch. Through 'logic' it is demonstrated that she would be a witch if she weighed the same as a duck (which, surprisingly enough, it turns out that she does -- 'It's a fair cop' she concedes as the general rejoicing commences at the prospect of a bonfire). Those who have benefit of the 'Executive Version of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail' are also treated to an exposition of the logical problems which itself concludes that 'sex is better than logic'. And who could argue with that reasoning?
However, my favourite scene would have to be the liturgical procession and reading of instructions for the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, with the leader's instruction 'skip a bit, brother' -- an instruction which I've searched in vain in the liturgical handbooks, but would vastly improve many readings on some mornings in church. This is a perfect parody of the sonorous but deadening readings that seem to drag on interminably.
A close second would be the scene in which Arthur tries to explain his kingship to members of an autonomous collective (read, peasants without a lord) who view him as just another oppressor, and inform him that watery tarts throwing swords at you is not an adequate basis for the exercise of supreme executive power.
Those who have visions of Great Britain as royal and cultural icons are often amazed-the likes of Monty Python and Benny Hill (among others) show the inhabitants of the UK as just as human (if not moreso) than the rest of the world. And we are all the richer for it. Alas, the Holy Grail is never actually attained by the seekers, who run into trouble with more French k-nigits and the local constabulary. But, the journey's the thing, so they teach me in seminary, and thus, this journey is well worth following to the end.
The DVD comes with many extras, including the Camelot song being sung by Lego-land figures, and extensive commentary by actors and others involved in the production.
Prepare to be amazed! Prepare to be offended! Prepare the popcorn in advance.
on December 12, 1999
Who can make a better comedic spoof of the King Arthur legend than the British themselves? John Cleese, Eric Idle, and the rest of the Python gang submit brilliant comic performances in this funny, entertaining, albeit bloody at times, motion picture that fans on both sides of the North Atlantic have come to appreciate.
on September 9, 1999
I think this movie deserves 5-stars, mind you. The 4-stars refers more to my opinion of the movie now. Don't get me wrong...I love this movie with an ardent passion. I remember the first time I rented it with my brother (who knew nothing about Python at that time and thus, suspicious)...and we watched it together three times before returning it to the video store. We felt like we were the first in our general kid-community to discover this treasure of comedic cinema. But it is not the pinnacle of everything funny ever. I may have thought so when I saw it the first time, but it doesn't make me laugh (as much) anymore. Everything that occurs is expected and every laugh is anticipated rather than a crazy Pythonesque surprise (like it was the first time). I wish I could return to that first viewing when everything was a shock and I was falling over from laughter. Movies lose some of their power over you when you have every line memorized (even the Directors Cut). Also: I fear that too many people think that this is what Monty Python was, in total...and they don't get exposed to the even-bigger-brilliance of Monty Python's Flying Circus (and Life of Brian for that matter). Notice I don't mention Meaning of Life. Do not restrict yourself to Holy Grail, rent everything Python (even Meaning of Life, just for the experience) that you can get your hands on. If you get as addicted to MPFC as you are to MP&HG, you may not go back.