Monty Python – Almost the Truth – The Lawyer’s Cut, Blu-ray (2009)
Documentary episodes with: John Cleese, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and guest commentators
Director: Alan Parker
Studio: IFC/Vivendi Entertainment (2 discs)
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 color with many cropped 4:3, 1080i HD
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM stereo
Subtitles: English, Danish, German, Spanish, French, Norwegian, Swedish, Portuguese
Extras: The 7 Sketches, Extended interviews with the Pythons, Outtakes from the cutting room floor, Terry Gilliam’s picture gallery
Length: 7 hours, 43 minutes total
The five stars above would be for Monty Python fans, of course. Those who have never cottoned to the antics of the five outrageous Britishers and their one American probably would be even less interested in this in-depth history of the troupe direct from their mouths, as well as comments from other comedians and authorities. There have been a number of Monty Python DVDs; one of the recent ones had the various members all selecting their favorite sketches and talking about them. This one goes for the almost true story of the founding of the troupe, including the early history of each one of them prior to the creation of Monty Python. However, I was please to find that at the very end of Disc No. 2 there are the seven probably most viewers’ favorite sketches. They included my personal three favs: The Dead Parrot, the Cheese Shop and The Ministry of Silly Walks.
Various comedians – including Dan Aykroyd, Seth Green and Eddy Izzard – comment on the Pythons, and various contemporaries such as actors, rock stars, musicians, former managers and others are tapped for their views on the crazy sextet. One of the several interesting and amazing facts that come up is that Elvis was a huge Python fan! This was originally a six-part series aired on the IFC Channel. The group’s beginnings at are in the first episode. The primary stimulus for most of their members were BBC Radio’s The Goon Show (with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan) and The Bonzo Dog Do-Dah Band, although they all hold in awe the masterful sketches created by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore – “Pete & Dud” to them.
The third episode concentrates on the personal lives of the Python members, including the major contributions of the late Graham Chapman as well as his unfortunate alcoholism. They threw a few jibes at one another in the individual talking head portions. It’s clear that John Cleese was felt to be head and shoulders above the others, and not just due to his 6-foot-4 height. He had done more professionally when the group formed, and towards the end left the Pythons to continue without him. The fourth episode concerns their film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It was the first film directing job for Terry Gilliam, who went to Very Big Films, although actually he shared directing the Grail with Terry Jones, and they had some dicey altercations over who was in charge. A point is made that both it and their later Life of Brian were very effective because nobody had done comedy in that sort of historic ancient environment, and they made every effort to have the images authentic-looking, with real mud and filth – especially in The Grail – not a cleaned-up Hollywood musical setting. There is also a section on some of the public and media negative reaction to the film. It actually followed the tale of Arthur and his knights closely.
Episode Five – Lust for Glory! is about The Life of Brian. Graham Chapman receives much praise for his fine acting in both The Grail and this second film. This one got even more negative press and demonstrations, being banned in many areas. Actually, it was not blasphemous; the point of the plot is that Brian is not the Messiah and doesn’t want to be, but his followers won’t let him alone. John Cleese reveals that he originally wanted to play Brian, but the others talked him out of it and he played a Roman soldier instead. Eric Idle was beginning to get into song-writing with this film, which he is doing a great deal of now that the five remaining Pythons definitely will not be getting together again as a troupe. He came up with the outrageous song “Look on the Bright Side” that concludes The Life of Brian.
Some of the contributions from lesser comics were not particularly pertinent, but comments from some of the behind-the-scenes people were fascinating, and the additional interview footage with the various Pythons in the extras fleshes out even more the details about how the whole project operated. I wouldn’t say the Blu-ray version is that much of an improvement over the standard DVDs, although it costs only about $3 more because it fits on just two discs, whereas the DVD version requires three. I did notice a small enhancement of the resolution in the seven sketches, and also the 4:3 ratio images of the TV show clips are cropped a bit on the Blu-ray on top and bottom to give a less squarish image on 16:9 screens. It’s interesting that the aspect ratio for the DVDs is listed as 1.77:1 whereas on the Blu-rays it is 1.78:1! After all, most of the original material for the TV series was only 16mm, so you can’t expect high resolution out of it. The Blu-ray offers 5.1 surround but like most that originate from two-channel and mono sources, there is very little surround effect.
– John Sunier