Readers with a memory will recall my review of the earlier, no-frills disc of Holy Grail, and how I pined for the more playful Criterion laserdisc version. I am happy to report that this special edition (on the heels of the 25th anniversary theatrical re-release) not only brings that playfulness into the DVD realm, but increases it tenfold.
The non-plot is still the same, though.
The keepcase comes in an attractive slipcase. The interactive menu is composed of Gilliamesque animations that, on the first screen, persist for two minutes before repeating. Then you will get two minutes of "Dentist On The Job", a 1961 comedy, before the projectionist realizes his mistake and starts the proper movie. And what a beautiful transfer it is! The Dolby 5.1 remix of the soundtrack is excellent, though the original mono soundtrack is provided for that essential 1975 theatrical experience.
Let"s just take this disc by disc, shall we?
Among the regular assortment of subtitles are those "For People Who Do Not Like The Film" which are excerpted from Shakespeares "Henry IV, Part 2", and are actually a very good match. Unless, of course, the Pythons are kidding about the Shakespeare part. Which I wouldnt put past them.
There are two commentary tracks - the first, by co-directors Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, is nicely informative about the travails of low-budget filmmaking (especially when several of your locations vanish at the last moment, as was the case here) and Python politics. The second track features the other surviving Pythons, John Cleese, Michael Palin and Eric Idle and is also informative - especially when they address the same issues from a writer and actor's viewpoint, rather than a directors. Neither group has seen the film in some time, and seem to be having quite a good time.
There is also an interesting parody of The Matrix's "Follow The White Rabbit" feature: when the image of the Vorpal Bunny appears in the corner of your screen, pressing "enter" on your remote brings up either an image "from the mind of Terry Gilliam" (concept art) or a chance to "learn the financial secrets of The Accountants Version" ("Epping Forest - Claimed to be from film school - free").
I would have been quite happy with what I was given on Disc One - but lets go on to Disc Two anyway, hmm?
"Singalong" presents the movie"s three songs in karaoke format so you, too, may belt out "The Ballad of Sir Robin" and "Knights of the Round Table" (or even "The Monks Chant"). "Quest for the Holy Grail Locations" is a shot-on-video documentary that follows Jones and Palin as they re-visit the various filming locales and reveal exactly how many segments took place in the surprisingly tiny Doune Castle in Scotland (it's a lot).
"Sacred Relics": a video short by the wholly fictitious Ministry of Foods Coconut Information Division which informs us how to create your very own coconut halves to make hoofbeats. "The Japanese Version", a carry-over from the Criterion disc, once more presents the French Castle segment as translated into Japanese, and then back into English - interesting how the humor changes. Then they throw in the Japanese version of "The Knights Who Say 'Ni'" ("What we want 'is bonsai!'") for good measure.
"BBC Film Night" is a 1974 TV doc on location for the filming. "Old Rubbish" is preliminary advertising materials and a bad review read by Terry Jones. "Artefacts" is ad materials from many nations. "Photos" is, appropriately enough, behind the scenes photos from the shoot - these are matted in the center of the screen and may be troublesome on smaller monitors. There are trailers from the original UK release and the 2001 American re-release. "Cast" nets you an interactive listing of who played what roles in the movie.
"Unshot Footage" presents "Lego Knights" - the "Knights of the Round Table" song done with, um, Legos. "Location Recce" purports to be footage of Gilliam and Jones location search, but is actually random found footage with the two directors goofing on each other ("Ah, this is when we were going to film in the Grand Canyon!"). "Unused Ideas" is a section of Gilliams concept art. And "Excommunication", if you are using a DVD-ROM drive, will take you to http://www.pythononline.com.
This could actually be the funniest movie ever made, especially if (like me) you have a love of the absurd. And this may be - as the box promises - "The Ultimate Definitive Final Special Edition" of that movie. Im one satisfied consumer.
Dr. Freex, 3/31/2002