DirectorEric Idle (live show), Aubrey Powell (film segments)
Release Date(s)2014 (November 11, 2014)
Studio(s)Python (Monty) Pictures, Ltd. (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C
The discovery of Monty Python’s Flying Circus was certainly a key moment in my young life. It ran on PBS stations here in the States in the mid-to-late 70s and early 80s, so it completely escaped the efforts of many a parent to censor the TV viewing of their children. After all, how could the network of Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and Zoom possibly show anything offensive to young sensibilities? And yet, when you clicked around the dial at the right time (often clued in by friends at school) there it was: Off-the-wall absurdity, slapstick, high-brow jokes you sometimes had to crack an encyclopedia to fully appreciate, crazy animations unlike anything seen elsewhere on TV at the time, and even the odd bit of nudity. Older audiences would, of course, have recognized some of this from Vaudeville, and comedians like Benny Hill and Spike Milligan, but for teens, Python was really the first taste of such humor. The only thing even close to it on American TV at the time was Saturday Night Live and SCTV, yet Python represented a whole different level of comedy sophistication.
The classic Python films soon followed, including Holy Grail, Life of Brian, The Meaning of Life, And Now for Something Complete Different, and Live at the Hollywood Bowl. There were even Python comedy albums you could find at your local record store. Then there were the odd little side projects produced and/or starring the Pythons, either individually or in various combinations: Time Bandits, Jabberwocky, A Fish Called Wanda, Erik the Viking, The Rutles. Through these films, and many others, the Pythons became – for me at least – the standard against which all other comedy was measured.
But after The Meaning of Life in 1983, the Pythons disbanded, as each of the members went off to pursue individual projects. Other than the odd comedy event or special appearance, that was essentially it for the group, especially after the death of founding member Graham Chapman in 1989. Yet fan hunger for more from the Pythons – anything new whatsoever – continued, unsatisfied by repeated viewings of the TV series and films on DVD and Blu-ray, and the many retrospective books and documentary specials. Given the recent trend of legendary music acts to reunite for one last go, it seemed almost inevitable that the Pythons would reform one day. Finally, in November 2013, the Pythons announced that they would indeed reunite for a series of final live shows in London… probably because the fans simply wouldn’t stop hounding them to do so.
Of course, the risk in any endeavor of this type is the high likelihood of being unable to meet the expectations of those fans; that this is just one wafer-thin mint too many. So the real surprise of Monty Python Live (Mostly) is that it’s damn entertaining. This obviously isn’t the Pythons in their prime, but it’s a very smart stage presentation of classic sketches from the TV show performed live (sometimes with new or surprising twists), intermixed with beloved film clips, Terry Gilliam’s signature animations, classic Python songs blown up into full Broadway numbers with orchestral accompaniment, a few naughty bits, and even some all-new material, all of it presented to a massive arena audience of diehard fans who are eagerly participating. The surviving Pythons are all involved here, including John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle (who created and directed the live performance), Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. Graham Chapman appears posthumously (via contractual obligation, no doubt) in numerous film clips. The Pythons have even included their unofficial female member, Carol Cleveland, in many segments.
This Blu-ray represents the last performance of the reunion, recorded on July 20, 2014. It features special guests Mike Myers, Eddie Izzard, and Professors Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking. The show itself runs 137 minutes, and includes the following live sketches and numbers: The Llama, Four Yorkshiremen, The Penis Song, The Naval Medley, Camping About, Chaplain, Michelangelo and the Pope, Every Sperm is Sacred, The Blackitts, The Lion Tamer, The Lumberjack Song, The Bruces, Crunchy Frog, Blood, Devastation, Death, War and Horror, I Like Chinese, Spam Lake, Sit on My Face, Mary Queen of Scots, Gumby Flower Arranging, Camp Judges, Albatross, Nudge Nudge, Blackmail Song, Blackmail, Anne Elk’s Theory on Brontosauruses, The Spanish Inquisition, Galaxy Song, The Silly Walk Song, The Argument Clinic, I’ve Got Two Legs, The Spam Café, The Parrot Sketch, Christmas in Heaven, and Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. If that isn’t enough to hook you, the classic TV show clips include: The Fish Slapping Dance, The Colonel, Batley Townswomen’s Guild Presents The Battle of Pearl Harbour, Silly Olympics, Philosophers’ Football: Parts 1 & 2, and Exploding Blue Danube. There’s a bit more too, but that represents the meat of the program and it’s all great material.
But what truly makes this reunion work is that the Pythons themselves are genuinely all in. You can see that not only is each of them fully committed to this endeavor, they’re visibly enjoying themselves. At several points in the performance, these old friends manage to crack each other up, make each other smile, and otherwise break character. They’re obviously having a good time and, as a fan, it’s nearly impossible not to join them.
Monty Python Live (Mostly) was shot in HD video and is presented as such here in the expected 1080p resolution at the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The image offers good resolution, vibrant color, and solid contrast. There is occasionally a sort of flutter in the image of close up shots (of the cast on stage), which I suspect is the result of atmospheric effects within The O2 arena itself. It’s not distracting, but I did notice it a few times. Nevertheless, the overall video quality here is high and it certainly meets your expectations going in.
Audio for the program is available in two flavors: LPCM 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Both mixes are of good quality, with the only real difference being that the 5.1 presentation puts you much more in the sound environment of The O2 arena by surrounding you with audience applause and reaction. The music and performance itself is very front and center, as you’d expect, and clarity is excellent. Subtitles are available in a wide range of European languages, including English, French, German, and the like.
Eagle Rock has created a small handful of bonus features for this release, essentially consisting of 6 behind-the-scenes featurettes (The Reunion, The Announcement, The Production, Backstage at The O2, London, Highlights from the 10 Shows at The O2, London – which provides a peek at some of the other special guests who appeared during the different shows, and Green Screen Shoot). There’s no narrative being presented here, it’s just a collection of fly-on-the-wall moments with the Pythons and their production team. That said, some of these moments are quite funny. This material is presented in HD and runs nearly 23 minutes in all. One could wish for a bit more features, but that’s it on the disc. However, Eagle Rock has also included a very nice booklet of liner notes in the packaging, featuring bios on each of the Pythons, a letter from the Pythons, photos, quotes, a list of past live performances by the Pythons, and finally credits. Speaking of which, though it’s not an extra it is a nice touch: If you sit through the end of the credits on the actual disc, you’ll see that the show is dedicated to the memory of Robin Williams.
I really wanted Monty Python Live (Mostly) to be great, but I worked hard to keep my expectations low, lest I be sorely disappointed. Thankfully, it (Mostly) delivered the goods. Though the Pythons have said many times in the past that they went out on top, that they didn’t want to overstay their welcome, and that they didn’t need or want to take a final lap, I think the truth is that they needed closure as much as many of their fans did. Whatever the case may be, for the better part of two hours, the Pythons made me laugh, smile and laugh some more, once or twice hard enough to bring tears. That’s pretty darned good for five old farts, an old lady, and one dead guy.
Perhaps the best thing about Monty Python Live (Mostly) is this: At long last, this truly feels like the end of the Pythons. And they did it up right.
My thanks to you, gents! It’s been a blast.
- Bill Hunt