Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life

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Details At A Glance

Category Comedy None
Year Released 1983
Running Time 102:36 minutes
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (47:22)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2,4 Director Terry Jones
Universal Pictures
Columbia TriStar
Starring Graham Chapman
John Cleese
Terry Gilliam 
Eric Idle
Terry Jones
Michael Palin
Case Amaray style, three clip
RPI $39.95 Music John Du Prez

Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 1.0, 96 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 1.0, 96 Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 1.0, 96 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.81:1 (measured)
16x9 Enhancement
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, during credits

Plot Synopsis

    Haven't we all at one time or another pondered the meaning of life? Well, thankfully the people at Universal have decided to actually inflict upon the unsuspecting populace of Region 4 the most intensely (or is that insanely?) unique take on this endlessly-pondered question that has ever been done. Yes folks, the good news is that the superb and inspired piece of classic comedy known as The Meaning Of Life from the inspired and wacky collective known as Monty Python is here in Region 4 on our favourite little disc, and it is doubtful that we will ever be the same again! Filled with classic sketches and oozing the unique brand of warped humour that could only be from that one source, this should have been a joy to see. After all, where else would you get such instantly memorable lines as "Pray that there's intelligent life somewhere out in space, 'cause there's bugger all down here on earth!"? But beyond the memorable lines are the memorable pokes at a rather diverse range of "icons". Here they serve up big time on the Catholic Church, the British, modern medicine, the Americans, the British Army, religion in general, amongst others as only Monty Python can do. And naturally, the film starts with the biggest send-up of modern business practices, a glorious short feature called The Crimson Permanent Assurance.

    The broad story of Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life is non-existent! Well, actually not so much non-existent as being rather disjointed, for this is not much more than a collection of sketches that in some rather loose fashion links together to present the meaning of life, from birth through to death. The way the film is put together actually adds to the comedy as each "episode" showcases some rather original talents to their best advantage. However, when one is talking about one of the all-time comedy classics, I guess that the plot really is irrelevant - just enjoy the classic sketches and the rather interesting songs that accompany a few of them. The seven parts of the film are (just for the record):

    As far as performances are concerned, who really cares? Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life is definitely an instance where the sum of the parts is something greater than the whole. The whole gang gets up to their usual antics, with the suitably over the top efforts that can only reduce you to laughter. This is satirical comedy, the likes of which was not seen before Monty Python came about, and disappeared upon the demise of the group. Perhaps that is overstating the mark just a little, but there is no doubt that the legacy of Monty Python will last far longer than all but a very, very few immortal comedy stars.

    Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life is an utterly classic film that never ceases to amuse, and on that score alone this is an essential addition to any collection. However...

Transfer Quality


    One would have thought that an absolute classic of this stature would have been subjected to some degree of reverence in the transfer process. What has been inflicted upon this film is enough to make a grown man cry. In fact, it passes the point at which a grown man cries - wwwwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.81:1 measured, and it is NOT 16x9 enhanced. I am staggered that Universal continues to release DVDs without this utterly essential feature, resulting in the issuance of what to me is completely sub-standard product. It is criminal that a film of this stature is served up in this way and adds another lousy mark on the legacy of Universal releases in Region 4. I suppose however that we should at least be grateful that we got a widescreen presentation.

    The transfer appears to be a recycled laserdisc transfer: if it is, that may be the reason why we have something that is less than adequate in my view. Regrettably, the transfer displays every one of its seventeen years, in addition to transfer problems. This is not an especially sharp nor well detailed effort at all. Indeed, at times the transfer has an extremely flat appearance where there is little definition between foreground and background. Whilst it never gets unwatchable, I cannot help but feel that the fact that I am anything less than scathing here is for the simple reason that I hold the film in such high regard. On the odd occasion the transfer does break into a very sharp and detailed transfer that really highlights the problems in the bulk of the transfer. Shadow detail is not exactly impressive. This is not only a reflection of the age of the film but also the quality of the transfer. It never descends into anything truly disgusting, but on the odd occasion you do really miss some decent shadow detail. This is also anything but a clear transfer, and the transfer is riddled with grain - which at times gets very distracting. There seemed to be the odd instance of low level noise, but this is not exactly certain as the overall lack of real quality in the transfer does tend to mask such problems.

    The colours are not exactly great either, with a decided, albeit consistent, undersaturation of colours throughout. Whilst the film was shot in a manner that would preclude a large degree of naturalness, I would have thought that the colours would have been a degree more natural than they are. There is a decided lack of depth and consistency in the blacks here. You can cheerfully forget bright, primary colours here! Oversaturation of colours is only a problem in the opening credits to both the short feature and the main feature, and on a couple of occasions in the titles to some of the chapters. Colour bleed is also a bit of an issue in these same sections.

    Alas the transfer displays a plethora of artefacting problems. There appears to be a degree of blockiness in the transfer at times, and there are a few odd examples of loss of resolution on pan shots (such as at 17:12) or even jerky pan shots (such as 97:24), but other than that there did not seem to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. However, the transfer is riddled with aliasing problems, much like the lamentable Backdraft, although nowhere near as bad in degree. Mostly it is a question of sheer consistency, so that what starts out as a minor irritation in the lack of solidity of things like collars ends up just being plain annoying. Just about every possible occasion where film-to-video artefacting could be a problem, is. Window sills display lack of solidity, old buildings display shimmer, modern buildings display something approaching moiré artefacting and so on. Added to the transfer problems are some rather obvious film artefacts that to be honest do get just a little distracting at times. And just to really add problems into the transfer, the section between 11:58 and 12:03 is blessed with some obvious jumps in the transfer, where it would appear frames are missing from the transfer although there is also some indication of some repeated frames. The video jump at 12:02 is accompanied by a noticeable jump in the audio too.

    This is an RSDL formatted disc, with the layer change coming at 47:22. This is not an exactly brilliant placing of the layer change, coming during the middle of a scene, but it is not too disruptive to the film. The fact that this is an RSDL formatted disc is just a little surprising, given the quality of the transfer: if this is as good as it gets with so much space available for compression, I would hate to see what a single layer, single sided DVD transfer of this film would look like.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Unfortunately, the audio transfer is not any great improvement upon the video transfer.

    There are four audio tracks on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, a German Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack, a French Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack and an Italian Dolby Digital 1.0. I listened to the English soundtrack since I could not face the antics of Monty Python in any other language.

    Dialogue is somewhat problematic in the transfer, with some sections sounding quite noticeably recessed. Overall though, the dialogue cannot be considered much beyond reasonably clear and relatively easy to understand.

    There did not appear to be any real problem with audio sync problems with the transfer.

    The musical score comes from John Du Prez, but this really is grossly overshadowed by the "delightful" songs composed by the Monty Python gang.. I mean, how can one forget songs such as Every Sperm Is Sacred? And how can any score compete with them?

    This is a bit of a dated soundtrack that sounds very much like mono tweaked into sounding like stereo. However, on the odd occasion it sounds like there is surround encoding used here, at least until you realise that there may be action out of the rear channels but there was none out of the front channels. I rather suspect that there may be a bit of a problem in the mastering here. Other than that, there is nothing especially noteworthy nor distinguished here at all. There are some inconsistencies in the transfer, such that at times there is a noticeable fluctuation in the level of the sound. Congestion is a bit of a problem but thankfully there did not seem to be any noticeable problems with distortion. The overall effect is a soundtrack that sounds a heck of a lot older than seventeen years. You can of course forget the bass channel here.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    How the heck can a classic film such as this be blessed with an extras package straight out of the Buena Vista manual? Especially with the RSDL formatting giving space for at least something. Surely Universal could at least dig up a trailer or two, and surely there must be floating around some archival interview material or the like? A disgrace is what this is.


R4 vs R1

    The Region 1 DVD apparently is as bare bones as the Region 4, and similarly dips out on 16x9 enhancement. NTSC format without 16x9 enhancement is not a great combination, but overall one would have to call this even. Frankly I would say that since both are as bad as each other , they should be avoided until a proper package is put together, as this film deserves. I am sure that The Criterion Collection could come up with something that would be entirely appropriate.


    Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life is a classic film and arguably the best thing they ever did on film. The entire production just reeks Monty Python from start to finish in every way. However, Universal have earned themselves no kudos whatsoever with this decidedly lacklustre presentation. Whilst I am grateful that at least we have something of Monty Python on Region 4 DVD, and fervently pray that more will be forthcoming soon, this really is for serious devotees of Monty Python only. And if you intend to buy, or already own, a widescreen television then I would strongly recommend that you give this DVD a miss - I would suggest that it is going to look lousy on such display devices. And if I may be permitted to make a comment on the packaging? Columbia TriStar and Universal have switched to a faux-Amaray style case that frankly is appallingly flimsy - I would suggest that they will last about ten seconds in the hands of any two year old - and extremely cheap. Is it too much to ask for the use of genuine Amarays that are infinitely more sturdy?

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
5th October 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL