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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 32:03)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: DTS 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    Hebrew, Russian, Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, English - Visually Impaired
  Extras
  • 7 Deleted scenes
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary
  • 7 Featurette
  • Animated menus
  • 2 TV spot
  • DVD-ROM features
  • Web access
  • DTS trailer
  • Short film

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life: SE

Universal/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 86 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Sketch-based movies are a real danger zone when television sketch comedy is a difficult enough beast to master. Some sketches succeed brilliantly, some struggle to rate even a smirk, others are just too bizarre for their own good. Some are self-indulgent drivel, while others are just plain crap. A sketch comedy movie, then, would challenge even the best, but if any team could pull it off then it would be Monty Python, and with their loosely bundled sketches entitled, The Meaning of Life, pull it off they did - mostly.

After increasing big-screen success with Jabberwocky, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Life of Brian, the Pythons - Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle - gathered to write what was to become The Meaning of Life. The film almost didn't eventuate due to writing blocks, in-fighting and bickering, and an abandoned idea or three. With nothing but a collection of sketches, the project seemed headed for oblivion, until one of the six came up with the idea of lumping them together under the banner of "The Meaning of Life", and so a film was born.

It is obvious that the film is nothing more than a series of almost unrelated sketches, but somehow it works. From birth to death many stages between, the Pythons take the obvious and twist the guts out of it in their unique, surreal style. Childhood, puberty, adolescence, adulthood, middle-age and, of course, the autumn years, are all addressed and come in for some very humorous, but always offbeat, observations.

"I am Death!"

The film is neatly packaged into eight chapters, including 'The Middle of the Film', 'The End of the Film', 'Thank you Brigit' and Terry Gilliam's introductory short, The Crimson Permanent Assurance. There are some memorable sequences and unforgettable characters such as the beyond morbidly obese Mr. Creosote and the Grim Reaper.

The Meaning of Life is a musical and features a number of witty, amusing and catchy tunes. Just try to stop yourself from joining in during Meaning of Life, Every Sperm is Sacred, Galaxy Song and Christmas in Heaven. Some are very traditional sounding and looking show tunes with more than just a hint of Vegas about them.

There are also some examples of the very unique Gilliam style of animation, cheesy special effects, excellent costumes, sets and great makeup. It's no Hollywood blockbuster, but it is a damned fine effort all the same, and was chosen to be Britain's entry for Cannes. This version also offers the option of inserting almost nine minutes that were originally cut from the film, in DTS, and with optional commentary. See the 'Extras' section for further details.

Those who are Python fans will have already decided that this release is for them, while those who have never been fans are unlikely to be converted by The Meaning of Life. If you are a serious fan who already owns The Meaning of Life on DVD and are wondering if it is worth the price to upgrade, then dally no longer. There is every reason to throw out the first release and grab this 'Special Edition'. This two-disc collection looks and sounds far better than ever and is bursting with extras, though some are dubious at best. With this and The Holy Grail 'Special Edition' now available in Region 4, surely The Life of Brian can't be far away?

  Video
Contract

And so to the crunch - does The Meaning of Life finally measure up to DVD standard? The answer is, mostly, yes! The aspect ratio remains the same at approximately 1.85:1 and widescreen owners can rejoice for this time it is 16:9 enhanced. As well as that, just about everything else has been markedly improved. There is still some slight grain at times, but is barely worth mentioning and, overall, the image is much sharper and displays far better definition. Much of the lack of brilliance can be attributed to the age and source of the master, but even so, this is a much better-looking film. Colours look as good as they ever have, and are solid and even with minimal bleeding and interference from noise. Black levels are generally good and shadow detail is mostly acceptable.

There are still some small marks such as dirt and flecks, however the overall look confirms that quite some effort has at last been expended on the film, and not before time. If you wish to sit and look for marks then yes, you will find them, but why bother? Grain is minimal, and there are no real compression problems. There is no detectable shimmer and very little aliasing. If it's quality and consistency you want, then here it is.

The layer change at 32:03 is as discrete as you could hope for and not disruptive.

  Audio
Contract

Fans will be pleased to hear that there is now a choice of audio tracks, including many people's personal favourite, DTS 5.1. So let's start there, shall we? It came as a surprise to learn there was a DTS track included (and needs to be selected from the Foreigners sub menu and can't be chosen 'on-the-fly’), but upon hearing it, reality kicked back in. Remembering that this film is largely a dialogue-driven comedy with little in the way of 'big' action scenes, then it is no surprise that this DTS is not as aggressive as some others with a lot of the soundtrack coming from the front and centre speakers. Thought has gone into the mix, however, and the film certainly sounds far better than ever.

There is most noticeable rear channel use in the two war scenes, and some of the more atmospheric sections such as Death. During the many songs you will also be more aware of the rear channels, and it is also during the songs that the subwoofer gets the most use. There is some modest separation across the front channels, but everything is balanced and even. There are times when there is a slight drop in fidelity, but only real audiophiles are likely to pick it.

All dialogue is clear and well synchronised. The volume levels are consistent, and there are no clicks, pops or dropouts.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 sounds quite similar, though perhaps less balanced with some fluctuations in fidelity for those with bat-like hearing

  Extras
Contract

Where to start? With Disc One I think.

The menus are all themed and animated, with audio snippets and quotes coming at you in a cacophony of sound.

The extras on Disc One mostly allow you to alter how you watch the film. There is a recently recorded prologue from Eric Idle that at 1:10 is a quick poem on the “Meaning of Life”. While only somewhat amusing, technically it looks good.

The Crimson Permanent Assurance is included as an extra, but should be viewed prior to the feature - so having it here is an option that most of us could live without.

The majority of fans will be most interested in the bits of the film that were cut, and after watching them you’ll know why they were cut. Three of the deleted scenes can be viewed as part of the feature, thereby giving you the Director’s Cut. This extra nine minutes add little to the film in all honesty, but proves interesting nonetheless. All three are loosely related to the piece next to them, but still add precious little in the way of laughs. This footage is not of the same quality as the feature.

I hate to admit it, but the audio commentary from Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones is not going to be the great revelation that many are hoping for. Gilliam alone comments on his opening short and, for the feature, both Jones and Gilliam make numerous contributions, but there seems little spark or interaction between them, and some rather lengthy pauses punctuated with comments that offer very little. Of course fans are going to listen to this anyway, but few die-hards will learn much, and very few will ever check it out again.

One of the more unusual (and questionable) inclusions is a Soundtrack for the Lonely which seems to be a ‘purely for DVD’ addition, but I’m sure it was more fun to create than to listen to. It plays like an audio commentary, but features Michael Palin mainly, as a sort of ‘lonely guy’ in his flat watching the film whilst being assailed by phone calls, troublesome neighbours and all manner of interruptions. Coupled with his own chuckles, sniffs, burps and the like, it is a bit like trying to watch the film with an annoying mate in the room. Getting through all 85-odd minutes will challenge even the hardiest fan.

Disc Two offers up more of the same pointless nonsense, but with some worthy additions also. The disc is divided into four sections, The School of Life, Show Biz, Fish, and Snipped Bits.

The School of Life
By far the best inclusion is the 49-minute The Meaning of the Making of The Meaning of Life. With input from all six Pythons (Chapman via archival footage), it really does offer up a great deal of relevant and interesting snippets about the creative process from writing to filming and promotion. It includes some archival footage of Cannes as well as on set, and is of most value as the cast themselves have been quite honest about the film and its occasional shortcomings. Like most of the extras here it is in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16:9 enhanced.

Education Tips No.41: Choosing a Really Expensive School at six minutes is another new sketch mostly featuring Cleese. It looks like it would fit snuggly into an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It is mildly amusing and it is good to see the Pythons still at work. I wonder how they would rate their ‘new’ stuff? Slightly more amusing is Un Filme De John Cleese, which captures Cleese with a re-edited film trailer piss-take that highlights the significant Cleese input in the film. If you believe this, you’d think that the film was all his work.

The technical amongst us may find more interest in Remastering a Masterpiece until they realise early in the 8:20 minute featurette that this is a ‘less-then-serious’ piece. It offers up a smile or two.

For those with a DVD-ROM, there are some extras included in DVD-ROM Extras but I suspect they are of even less worth.

Show Biz. This collection of more serious snippets will be of varying interest. Song and Dance spends 11 minutes examining the film’s quite lavish musical numbers. There are interviews with cast and crew, who all have fond memories of filming.

There are also three songs from the film that have been re-recorded (why?) but not improved in Songs Unsung. This in-studio footage is new, as are the recordings themselves. You can hear Eric Idle having a stab at Every Sperm is Sacred and Christmas in Heaven, or see and hear Terry Jones murdering It’s the Meaning of Life.

In Selling The Meaning of Life, there is all the cross-media promotion that accompanies a film such as this. There are televisions spots, a theatrical trailer, some US promotion, poster rejects, UK radio spots and Telepathy. Running a combined time of approximately 12 minutes, they are of varying worth, though Telepathy is a worthy stab at something comical and unusual.

Now, Fish really needs to be weighed up as an inclusion. There are some web links and DVD credits that no one will care about, but also two pieces that are quite hard to fathom. The first is Virtual Reunion, which sees the five living Pythons gathering ‘virtually’ for no reason whatsoever thanks to some very shoddy special effects. At three minutes, it’s over before it begins and nothing happens. The other is What Fish Think, which looks like DVD Aquarium but includes audio of what the fish are thinking. It’s almost 15:58 minutes too long and what’s more – it’s looped!

Snipped Bits are, thankfully, more interesting. Three can be reinserted back in the feature, Martin Luther, Without War, and The Hendy’s Check In. The other four are no less or more interesting. They are, Cooking Lady, Perkins Gets Randy, Mr. Creosote Arrives at the Restaurant, and Gaston Takes Us for a Long Walk. Most are self-explanatory. They run a combined time of 18:26 and pleasingly there is a “Play All” option.

  Overall  
Contract

At last this film is now available in a decent DVD package. There is no reason to go overseas and get your copy for the other regions do not appear to have been blessed with any further extra features. The audio and video will never sound better, the film itself hasn't really dated, and will provide laughs even after repeated viewings.


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      And I quote...
    "It's time to get reacquainted with… the machine that goes ‘Ping!’"
    - Terry Kemp
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Akai
    • TV:
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          Pioneer VSX-D409
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    • Surrounds:
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    • Subwoofer:
          Sherwood SP 210W
    • Audio Cables:
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    • Video Cables:
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