Release Date(s)1983 (September 13, 2022)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- 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. Yet, at the same time, it’s one of their clunkiest and most controversial pieces of work. Despite that, 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 (not counting And Now for Something Completely Different), it involves 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 it’s sometimes truly disgusting, The Meaning of Life can also be quite beautiful and lyrical, particularly with Eric Idle’s magnificent song selection.
The film did merely okay on its initial theatrical run and received good reviews, but it was perceived to be one of the Pythons’ weakest efforts, mostly due to the sketch format and some of the weaker sketches standing out more than usual. As a preliminary watch, it’s certainly not as enjoyable or wide-reaching as something like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and it’s more socially-conscious than any of their previous work (perhaps even more so than Life of Brian), but Monty Python’s brand of silly, surrealist comedy still shines through beautifully. As such, The Meaning of Life is not only worth watching, but gets better and better with age.
Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life and was shot by cinematographer Peter Hannan and The Crimson Permanent Assurance short that opens the film was shot by cinematographer Roger Pratt, both on 35 mm film using Arriflex 35 BL3 cameras, finished photochemically, and presented together in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Universal Pictures brings The Meaning of Life to Ultra HD from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, which was finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate and graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 is the only available option). While the picture quality of Universal’s previous Blu-ray release left something to be desired, they’ve excelled here with a new presentation of the film that fans will appreciate. The Meaning of Life has never looked particularly good on home video, only gradually improving with each new release, particularly because of its limitations in terms of the number of opticals, soft focus shots, leftover damage, and grain fluctuations. As such, the film will never look perfect in high definition and beyond, but the Ultra HD representation of it here is authentically film-like and organic to its source. For the most part, there’s a sheen of refined grain that only wavers during those aforementioned built-in “imperfections.” The Crimson Permanent Assurance short in particular is now vibrant and full of much-needed depth. The HDR10 grade offers richer colors and much deeper blacks that are now packed with shadow detail, yielding superior contrast and saturation. Flesh tones are more evenly tempered while rich swaths of blue, green, and red litter the film. Terry Gilliam’s animations during the opening titles are now crisper with better definition. It’s also a clean and stable presentation with a modestly high bit rate. It’s gorgeous, and it definitely blows its previous 1080p counterpart out of the water. The only obvious improvement would be a Dolby Vision pass to soak up even more detail in the palette.
Audio is included in English DTS:X (7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio compatible). The film was originally released in Dolby Stereo, and as Terry Gilliam points out in the commentary, the previous 5.1 track prepared for the original DVD release was altered slightly to improve low end dynamics. Not having that original stereo track for comparison’s or completists’ sake is a shame, but this new DTS:X track is mostly a winner. It doesn’t offer much in terms of overhead spread, but there’s wonderful staging and panning all around, lending fine support to sound effects and the various musical numbers with deep, rumbling bass—especially the opening short. Dialogue is clear and discernible, although occasional overdubs are slightly more obvious. It’s a decent track, if a bit imperfect. Other audio options include French, Spanish, German, and Italian 2.0 Mono DTS, and Japanese 5.1 DTS. Subtitles include English SDH, French, Spanish, Japanese, German, Italian, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Mandarin, and Korean.
Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life on 4K Ultra HD sits in a black amaray case alongside a 1080p Blu-ray of the film (the same disc as before) and a paper insert with a Digital Copy code. Everything is housed in a slipcover featuring the original theatrical artwork. The bonus materials are the same on both discs:
- Audio Commentary with Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam
- Soundtrack for the Lonely
- 30 Years After The Meaning of Life: The Meaning of Monty Python (HD – 60:15)
- Snipped Bits:
- Martin Luther w/Terry Jones Commentary (Upscaled SD – 3:59)
- An Expert (Upscaled SD – :52)
- The Cheese Lady (Upscaled SD – 1:08)
- Randy in the Jungle (Upscaled SD – 1:19)
- The Hendys w/Terry Jones Commentary (Upscaled SD – 5:03)
- Mr. Creosote Arrives at the Restaurant (Upscaled SD – 1:35)
- Gaston Takes Us for a Good Walk (Upscaled SD – 4:55)
- The School of Life:
- The Meaning of the Making The Meaning of Life (Upscaled SD – 49:02)
- Education Tips (Upscaled SD – 6:01)
- Un Film de John Cleese (Upscaled SD – 1:32)
- Remastering a Masterpiece (Upscaled SD – 8:22)
- 2003 Prologue by Eric Idle (Upscaled SD – 1:17)
- Show Biz: Song and Dance (Upscaled SD – 11:32)
- Show Biz: Songs Unsung:
- Every Sperm Is Sacred (Eric Idle Version) (HD – 3:10)
- It’s The Meaning of Life (Terry Jones Version) (HD – 2:55)
- Christmas in Heaven (Eric Idle Version) (HD – 3:14)
- Show Biz: Selling The Meaning of Life:
- Trailer (Upscaled SD – 2:41)
- TV Spots (Upscaled SD – 2 in all – 1:03)
- US Promotion (Upscaled SD – 2:03)
- Rejects (Upscaled SD – 9 in all – :58)
- UK Radio (Upscaled SD – 3 in all – 2:18)
- Telepathy (Upscaled SD – 2:27)
- Virtual Reunion (Upscaled SD – 3:09)
- What Fish Think (Upscaled SD – 16:06)
None of these extras are new, but nearly everything is included from the previous 2003 Special Edition DVD and 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray releases. This includes the previous audio commentary with Terry Gilliam and the late Terry Jones, all of the deleted scenes (though Terry Jones’ commentary on two of those scenes is not optional), the excellent 30 Years After The Meaning of Life hour-long discussion between the surviving Pythons, the previous making-of documentaries and featurettes, the re-recorded versions of songs from the film, the Sing-Along and Soundtrack for the Lonely tracks, the various promotional materials including 9 rejected poster designs, and the Fish extras, including an extended and funny bit about what fish are really thinking. Still not carried over from the 2003 DVD release is the ability to watch the so-called “Director’s Cut,” which edits back in some of the deleted scenes via seamless branching, as well as the DVD-ROM text-based material, which included the film’s complete screenplay, lost scenes, song sheets, and fat recipes. The biggest missed opportunity is not recording a new additional audio commentary with John Cleese, Michael Palin, and Eric Idle, which is often included on other home video releases of other Monty Python films. Regardless, their thoughts on and feelings about the film are well-documented in the existing extras.
Over the years since its original release, the appreciation for Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life has gradually increased, many recognizing it as a sloppy but much more mature and interesting work than their previous films. I personally find that the older that I get, the more there is about the film to discover and connect with. Thankfully, Universal has improved upon their previous Blu-ray release of the film with a vastly superior 4K picture that will be the definitive home video presentation of the film going forward, minus the inclusion of the film’s original Dolby Stereo soundtrack and any new extras.
- Tim Salmons