Release Date(s)1983 (October 8, 2013)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A-
Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life was released in 1983 and was the last film that all of the original members of the comedy troupe were a part of before the unfortunate passing of Graham Chapman several years later. In many ways, it’s celebratory, unintentionally or not, of Python’s roots via Flying Circus. At the same time, it’s one of their clunkiest and most controversial pieces of work. Despite this, it’s still held in high regard by many of its fans, myself included.
More of a sketch film with an overall theme, rather than having a narrative like previous films, The Meaning of Life features everything from a couple of inept and eccentric doctors during a birth, to a head master teaching his very bored students the finer points of sexual intercourse, to the mating practices of both Roman Catholics and Protestants. There are also surreal and over-the-top sketches concerning a pair of door-to-door organ removers, a dreamlike sequence involving finding the location of a lost fish, and a segment featuring a horrendously obese man named Mr. Creosote overstuffing his gullet with explosive results. While sometimes truly disgusting, The Meaning of Life can also be quite beautiful and lyrical, particularly with Eric Idle’s magnificent song selection.
The movie received good reviews on its initial run, but was perceived to be one of the Pythons’ weakest efforts, mostly due to the format and some of the weaker sketches standing out more than usual. It’s certainly not a completely enjoyable movie upon first watch, and it’s more socially-conscious than any of their other work (outside of Life of Brian). But if Monty Python’s brand of silly, surrealist comedy tickles your funny bone in the least, The Meaning of Life is definitely a movie worth seeing.
Universal’s Blu-ray release of The Meaning of Life features a transfer that has some positive points, but questionable ones as well. On one hand, it’s an organic-looking presentation in most scenes, with a pleasant grain texture, deep blacks, nice shadow detailing, and bold hues. On the other hand, there’s likely been some digital manipulation done in places to get the most out of the picture. For example, the “Every Sperm is Sacred” number has always been particularly soft-looking to me, and in this transfer, it’s sharp, almost too sharp. Texturing in some of the other scenes also looks a little too smooth. Skin tones throughout the entire presentation also waver from red to pink to pasty, but overall brightness and contrast levels are quite satisfying. To be fair, this movie, along with the Pythons’ other film work, has always been a little rough-looking around the edges. While set design, choreography, and the blocking of shots have always been strong, the photographic elements were always a little lacking, particularly during opticals or Terry Gilliam’s animated sequences. So you can’t fault the look of the film too much for being what it’s always been. It’s still extremely watchable, and most will forgive its minor inconsistencies due to the newfound clarity, but perhaps for its 35th or 40th anniversary, a ground-up restoration should be in order.
On the audio side of things, two tracks are available: English 5.1 DTS-HD and French 2.0 mono DTS. The 5.1 track is a mostly unnecessary track as most of the film’s sound takes place in the front speakers with not much interaction with the others, save for a few key sequences. Musical numbers have a lot of life to them, and minor speaker-to-speaker activity is present on occasion. Dialogue is usually easy to follow with sound effects and score selections sometimes overcrowding the track, while dynamic range is merely good with occasional low end moments. Personally, I would have preferred the film’s original soundtrack in a lossless form. As is, it’s still a decent track, but needed a little more sweetening and dynamic movement to make it worth the effort. Optional subtitles are also available in English SDH and Spanish.
As for the extras, nearly everything from the previous 2003 Special Edition DVD release has been ported over. This includes a “Soundtrack for the Lonely” audio option; an audio commentary with Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam; an introduction prologue by Eric Idle; The Snipped Bits, including 7 deleted and extended scenes with non-optional director commentary; The School of Life, which includes The Meaning of Making The Meaning of Life, Education Tips, Un Film de John Cleese, and Remastering a Masterpiece; Show Biz, including Song and Dance and Songs Unsung (“Every Sperm is Sacred (Eric Idle Version)”, “It’s The Meaning of Life (Terry Jones Version)”, and “Christmas in Heaven (Eric Idle Version)”); Selling The Meaning of Life, which includes the film’s trailer, TV spots, U.S. promotion, rejects, UK radio, and Telepathy short; and Fish, which includes a Virtual Reunion and What Fish Think. New to this release is The Meaning of Monty Python: 30th Anniversary Reunion special, a Sing-Along option, and a paper insert with Digital Copy and Ultraviolet options. Not carried over from the previous DVD is the ability to watch the so-called Director’s Cut, which edited back in a few of the deleted scenes, as well as the DVD-ROM text-based material, which included the film’s complete screenplay, lost scenes, song sheets, and Fat Recipes.
Dealing as it does with the subjects of death, religion, and sex, and given its gore, nudity, and overall tone, The Meaning of Life is a more mature work for the Pythons. Still, people’s appreciation of the film has gradually gone up over the years. I personally find that the older that I get, the more there is here to connect with. Universal’s Blu-ray presentation of the movie isn’t perfect, but as this is a film I regard very highly, it is not to be overlooked.
- Tim Salmons