Monty Python's The Meaning of Life: 2 Disc Special Edition (1983)

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Released 17-Nov-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Menu Animation & Audio
Introduction-Prologue: Eric Idle (1:10)
Short Film-The Crimson Permanent Assurance (15:51)
Alternative Version-Director's Cut - Option To View Three Deleted Scenes (95:51)
Audio Commentary-Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam (Directors)
Alternate Audio-Soundtrack For The Lonely
Featurette-Making Of-The Meaning Of The Making Of The Meaning Of Life (49:00)
Featurette-Education Tips No. 41 - Choosing A Really Expensive School
Featurette-Un Film de John Cleese (1:31)
Featurette-Remastering A Masterpiece (8:20)
DVD-ROM Extras
Deleted Scenes-Snipped Bits (7) (18:26)
Featurette-Song And Dance (11:29)
Music Highlights-Songs Unsung (3) (9:02)
Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:40)
TV Spots-2 (1:02)
Trailer-US Promotion, Rejects, UK Radio, Telepathy
Featurette-Virtual Reunion, What Fish Think
Web Links
DVD Credits
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1983
Running Time 86:46 (Case: 102)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (32:03)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Terry Jones
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Graham Chapman
John Cleese
Terry Gilliam
Eric Idle
Terry Jones
Michael Palin
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music John Du Prez


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Alternate Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
Danish
Finnish
Hebrew
Norwegian
Russian
Swedish
Icelandic
English Audio Commentary
Danish Audio Commentary
Finnish Audio Commentary
Norwegian Audio Commentary
Swedish Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Three odd years ago I reviewed a DVD that in most respects was at best very average, woefully inadequate for the stature of the film. Indeed, the original release of Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life was so decidedly average that it was barely better than a decent VHS presentation and certainly not at all of a sufficient standard for DVD. Indeed, even though a serious Monty Python fan, the DVD has never graced my DVD player since the day I reviewed it. After the release of the excellent Monty Python And The Holy Grail, the need for an inspired release of Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life became even more pressing. So here it is.

    Yes folks, the good news is that the superb and inspired piece of classic comedy known as Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life from the inspired and wacky collective known as Monty Python returns in a much revised and improved issue. 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 and religion in general, amongst others as only Monty Python can do. Naturally the film is preceded by the biggest send up of modern business practices, a glorious short feature called The Crimson Permanent Assurance.

    And yes, it is a short feature and is presented as such, as was always intended. Its broad story is simply the revolt of traditional British business against the new-fangled methodologies as exemplified by America. It is all done in the style of piracy on the high seas.

    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. And the way the film was put together actually adds to the comedy as each "episode" showcases some rather original talents to their best advantage. But 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):

    And 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 suitably over the top efforts that can only reduce you to laughter. This is satirical comedy, the likes of which were 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.

    An utterly classic film that never ceases to amuse, and on that score alone this is an essential addition to any collection. Whilst the film has finally gotten a more than adequate presentation in every way, it is still by no means perfect....

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Transfer Quality

Video

    If you recall, the original release was basically damned from the start through lack of 16x9 enhancement, being what seemed to be a recycling of a laserdisc master. Well, at least some things have improved.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (measured), and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    Whilst in general this is a much improved transfer in comparison to the earlier release, it is not more than a good one. The basic issue remains that the source material is not of the best quality and has a general softness that cannot be overcome by any amount of excellence in the mastering process. Whilst the flat appearance that characterised the earlier release has been replaced by a much more detailed and much better looking appearance here, it is not possible to say that this is a well detailed effort. There still remains a lack of detail at times, but it is an inconsistent issue as some sequences are very much better than others. This is common with the earlier release, indicating perhaps how much of the problems are inherent in the source material. Shadow detail is not exactly impressive, but this is again partly a reflection of the age of the film and the lack of quality in the source material. Clarity is significantly improved but at best remains good rather than impressive, though thankfully there is nothing significant in the way of grain. Low level noise appears to be an issue at times, notably during part of the opening credits at 1:40.

    The colours are much improved and a little more vibrant than previously but remain hardly a great example of the art, with a slightly inconsistent look along with a slightly muted feel in general. Whilst the film was shot in a manner that would preclude a large degree of naturalness, I still believe that the colours should be somewhat more natural looking than they are. There is a decided lack of depth and consistency in the blacks here. You can cheerfully forget bright, primary colours too! 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, such as at 3:40.

    The big improvement in the transfer is in the artefacting. The previous release was hampered by aliasing that was most annoying. That problem is virtually absent here with only a few noticeable instances to be seen such as in the windows at 43:32. Gone too is the moiré artefacting and in all respects the film-to-video artefacts have been virtually eliminated. There remains no significant problems with MPEG artefacts, although there remain a few instances of loss of resolution (3:20 for instance) that may or may not be source material related. Unfortunately film artefacts remain an obvious issue here, with plenty of dirt specks, scratches and the like to impede the viewing at times.

    This is an RSDL formatted disc, with the layer change coming at 32:03. Whilst it is just noticeable, it is pretty well placed and rather well handled, so that it really is not disruptive to the flow of the film.

    There are a reasonable range of Northern European language subtitles on the DVD. The English for the Hearing Impaired efforts were pretty good although there were a few spelling errors here and there ( notably "cheque" instead of "check").

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are four audio tracks on the DVD, but rather than the Dolby Digital 2.0 and 1.0 soundtracks of the original release, we get brand new six channel efforts here. The choices are an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, an English dts 5.1 soundtrack, an English Audio Commentary 2.0 soundtrack and an English Alternate Audio 5.1 soundtrack. I listened to all four of the soundtracks, giving you an inkling as to why it has taken a fair old time to review the DVD.

    The remastering of the sound has highlighted some fundamental problems with the original recording, most notably some rather cruddy ADR work. This results in some rather obvious synching issues at times, which are obviously not related to the mastering. Overall, the dialogue comes up fairly well in the transfer but is slightly disappointing nonetheless

    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! How can any score compete with them?

    The six channel Dolby Digital soundtrack is really not that terrific, although it is fairly sympathetic to the original soundtrack (that sadly is not presented on the DVD). The main problem with it is the inconsistent nature of the sound, with there being noticeable fluctuations between different sections. It is almost like the film was chopped into a dozen sections, the soundtrack handed out to a dozen people to work on separately and then stitched together in the final mixing process without any attempt to equalise what the twelve individuals had done. I found it a bit annoying but perhaps you will not be so affected as I. Other than that, the surround encoding is not especially brilliant and the bass channel gets a little too much emphasis at times. I overall found the soundtrack to be a bit anaemic and in some ways prefer the rawness of the original soundtrack.

    The dts 5.1 soundtrack is a much better effort, but still far from perfect. It seems to be less blighted with fluctuations in the volume between sections, and has a lot more body to the sound. The surround encoding is still nothing exceptional at all and the low frequency effects channel could perhaps have been better utilised. It is a much smoother sounding effort and whilst hardly the sort of stuff that would be used as an advertisement for the format it remains the preferred soundtrack on the DVD.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    As you will not doubt recall, or will discover if you check out the review of the original release, I roundly panned Universal for the lack of absolutely anything in the extras department. Well they obviously listened to me didn't they, since we now have a significantly improved package.

Menu

    Whilst not of the same quality as those that grace Monty Python And The Holy Grail, they are in a similar Pythonesque style with both audio and animation enhancement throughout.

Disc One:

dts Trailer

    Crap.

Introduction - Prologue: Eric Idle (1:10)

    A short, recently filmed introduction done in something close to the style of a poem. Eric Idle reveals the true reason of the film and makes plenty of mention of the gratuitous nudity to ensure you watch the film! Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 that is 16x9 enhanced, with audio options in accordance with the main feature. Absolutely nothing wrong with the technical side of things, and it is mildly amusing stuff from the entertainment side of things.

Short Film - The Crimson Permanent Assurance (15:51)

    Okay, I will get this straight out: I object to this being called an extra. It was always intended that The Crimson Permanent Assurance form part of what is really a double feature. Its presentation has always been exactly that as far as I am aware. Accordingly, it has been dealt with (briefly) in the main review. Its presentation is exactly the same as the main feature obviously.

Alternative Version - The Director's Cut (95:51)

    Through the miracle of not-so-seamless branching, three deleted scenes can be viewed in their correct place in the film:

    The presentation is obviously the same as the feature, but the technical quality is pretty poor. This is probably to be expected but there is a plethora of scratches, film damage, dirt specks and whatever else to blight the presentation enormously. The scenes themselves are not that terrific either, and it is easy to see why they were deleted. Given the lack of quality in the source material, there really is nothing worthwhile to cause this to be an essential version to check out.

Audio Commentary - Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam (Directors)

    You know you are serious trouble when you fall asleep whilst listening to an audio commentary. I am not kidding - half way through this I fell asleep and missed the rest of it! Of course I had to go back and listen to the section I missed, but it really was a chore. This is really a rather boring effort and completely not what I was expecting at all. Terry Gilliam makes the sole contribution for The Crimson Permanent Assurance and that is perhaps the best portion of the commentary. Terry Jones adds his contributions to the main feature, but the commentary really is characterised by the lack of contribution by both men. When they do make a contribution, it is hardly essential stuff with Terry Jones especially guilty of adding worthless "I like this bit" type of stuff. Very disappointing overall.

Alternate Audio - Soundtrack For The Lonely

    If you want a demonstration of absolutely pointless extras that are included in a package for no other reason than to fill space, this is it. This complete waste of time and space is a soundtrack featuring the "mate from hell". This soundtrack features all sorts of background noises starting with your "mate" entering the room, putting the video in the player and then doing all the sort of stuff that you hate whilst watching films: coughing, talking to himself, taking telephone calls, moving around the room and generally annoying the heck out of you. Quite what the point of this soundtrack simply escapes me - and frankly you need not waste your time checking it out. It is not even remotely amusing nor entertaining and Universal really has done everyone a disservice by including it. Get rid of this sort of rubbish and give us full bitrate soundtracks instead.

Disc Two:

    The second, extras-only disc, is split into four sections:

The School Of Life:

Featurette - The Meaning Of Making The Meaning Of Life (49:00)

    A newly recorded programme with interview material from the five remaining Pythons, with Graham Chapman included through archival interview material (notably during the Cannes Film Festival in 1983). A very interesting, often bordering on a warts-and-all level, programme that covers the gestation and filming of the film. The presentation is generally very good, presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 that is 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. There are some interesting issues in the source material, notably the way John Cleese's hand disappears in the image! The supposition is that the source material was not originally in widescreen and has been digitally altered to fit the frame, but I could be wrong. This is perhaps the most essential extra on the DVD.

Featurette - Education Tips No.41: Choosing A Really Expensive School (6:00)

    Another newly recorded effort that is a slight improvement in entertainment value, if not technical quality. A typical piece of Pythonesque madness extolling the virtues of quality schools in the English countryside, with all roles played by John Cleese. In the same style of sketches from the original Monty Python's Flying Circus, unfortunately it lacks the spark that characterised those television sketches. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 that is 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It is afflicted with some minor aliasing and shimmer.

Featurette - Un Film De John Cleese (1:31)

    A very funny rehashing of the promotional trailer for the film, emphasising the contribution of John Cleese. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 that is 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Excellent stuff.

Featurette - Remastering A Masterpiece (8:20)

    A bloody funny piss-take as only Monty Python could do, even to the extent of having John C. Katz making a contribution. Whilst the younger Monty Python crew would probably have made this even better, this demonstrates even the mature Monty Python crew can hit the target. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 that is 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Technically it is let down a bit by some cross colouration problems around the 3:20 mark.

DVD-ROM Extras

    Well, there is a heading in the menu for this, which when you click it takes you to a page saying that there is interactive material included. Cannot see anything on the disc itself though (using Windows Explorer) that would even remotely look like DVD-ROM material or even a setup programme to install one of the usual viewing programmes.

Show Biz:

Featurette - Song And Dance (11:29)

    A rather interesting effort that looks at the musical numbers with input from Arlene Phillips (the choreographer for the film) and Jane Leeves (more recently co-star of Frasier, but who did appear in the Christmas In Heaven number). Fascinating that even after all these years, they still remember a lot of the detail of the film and are obviously quite proud of their involvement. Nothing at all wrong with this technically. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 that is 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Musical Highlights - Songs Unsung (9:02)

    A recent re-recording of alternate versions of three of the classic songs from the film:

    They are filmed in the recording studio and add absolutely nothing worthwhile to the extras package in my view, other than to fill up a bit more space. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 that is 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Selling The Meaning Of Life:

    A conglomerate of promotional material comprising:

Fish:

    Actually I have changed my mind. If you want a demonstration of absolutely pointless extras that are included in a package for no other reason than to fill space, then this is it. The most excruciatingly bad collection of garbage that it is been my misfortune to ever have to review (at least as far as I can recall).

Snipped Bits:

Deleted Scenes - Snipped Bits (18:26)

    Seven deleted scenes resurrected for posterity sake, although three of them have already been seen inserted in their proper place in the film in the Alternative Version of the film:

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, they are 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The technical quality is pretty poor at times, with film artefacts well to the fore.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    As far as I can work out, there is nothing substantially different between the Region 1, Region 2 and Region 4 releases. From what I can find out, they all seem to be of very similar quality, although there was an issue with some jagged interlacing problems on the Region 1 release on some players that may have now been resolved. The Region 1 release does however have a 448 Kb/s bit rate Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack All in all, there is nothing to really favour one release over the other, but the decision may marginally be in favour of the Region 1 if the interlacing problems have been rectified.

Summary

    Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life is a classic film and whilst I am tending away from saying it is the best thing they ever did on film, it is still a quite amusing film at times. Universal have certainly improved substantially the presentation when compared to the earlier release, but it is still nowhere near perfect. Much more watchable overall, but the extras package is certainly let down by some very obvious filler (and some utter garbage). Well worth upgrading if you have the original release, just don't expect anything close to Monty Python And The Holy Grail. Now all we have to do is await a special edition release of Life Of Brian...

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Monday, November 03, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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Comments (Add)
Beware the region 1, it's apparently pretty bad - Craggles (Behold the mighty bio!!)
Grab your OED... -
Now... what about Life of Brian - Simon O'Connor (I wouldn't suggest reading my bio)
Life of Brian - Paul Lee (Bio this way)
Crimson permanent assurance as an extra -
DVD-ROM Extras - Nathan (Check out my bio)
Soundtrack For The Lonely - CatonaPC© (read my bio)
A (very) few good extras - Neil