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DVD Review

DVD cover

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983)
(2020 Reissue)


Starring: John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin
Distributor: Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises
RRP: £9.99


Certificate: 15
Release Date: 28 September 2020

The Monty Python team returned to the big screen in 1983 to explore the meaning of life. Over seven parts, the Python troupe explore the miracle of birth, learning, fighting each other, middle age, live organ transplants, the autumn years and death... it also offers up a special preview of what's waiting for us in Heaven...

Opening with the 16 minute short film 'The Crimson Permanent Assurance', The Meaning of Life really starts in spectacular fashion. Cinematically this segment is beautifully shot and harks back to the swashbuckling pirate movies of old... but instead of pirates we have a band of disaffected elderly office clerks working in a small accounting firm who rise up to take control of their building, which they then up-anchor and set sail to America where they board and lay waste to other financial buildings. It sounds mad... it is mad, but it's wonderfully realised onscreen. Matt Frewer, who would later go on to play the fictional AI character of Max Headroom.

When The Meaning of Life starts proper, we are introduced to a collection of sketches that are loosely connected by chapters that are meant to be stages in a human's life... Although 'Live Organ Transplants' thankfully won't be thrust upon many of us. The entire movie rattles on at a solid rate, and the entire movie is over before you know it. In fact it didn't really feel that much longer than an episode of the TV series (although it obviously is).

There's some impressively well choreographed set pieces. As well as the aforementioned 'The Crimson Permanent Assurance' sketch, the other noteworthy addition is the 'Birth in the Third World'. Set in Yorkshire, this revolves around Michael Palin playing a character who has been made redundant and has returned home to tell his wife and dozens of children that they can no longer afford to feed them and so, all the children must be sold. They're in this problem because he and his wife are Roman Catholics. It then sets off a Busby Berkeley-esque elaborate routine around the song 'Every Sperm is Sacred'.

I remember watching this in the '80s and thinking it was a poor cousin to the other Python movies, but on reflection it actually stands up rather well. All of the set pieces are still funny and the production values of some of them are worthy of a lavish Hollywood blockbuster of the time.


Darren Rea

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