The movie’s supposed to make medieval crusades look like confused, muck-encrusted affairs. But a thick layer of added grime beclouds RCA/ Columbia’s long-available tape and disc versions of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, effectively sinking the quest. The picture’s so dim and grainy it’s hard to tell which Python troupe member is impersonating which 10th-century peasant, soldier, or cleric, and the weak sound renders the strongest accents indecipherable. The movie’s wide-screen images are also cropped at the sides, wiping out many a dumbstruck witness to the knights’ exploits.
Yet lo, these veils are lifted in Voyager’s new, disc-only, letterboxed edition. The picture’s clarity and inclusiveness mean that every gag reads faster and funnier, especially in scenes where a hapless King Arthur (Graham Chapman) pretend-gallops across the landscape in absurdly conspicuous mustard-yellow garments. (”Must be a king,” mutters a serf, ”he ‘asn’t got s— all over ‘im”; with Arthur’s raiments so spiffy, the line plays better than ever). A digital soundtrack keeps the Arthurian inflections crisp, and with laser’s quick reverse-scan capability you can even decipher especially thick bits such as the ”Camelot” song (to wit: ”We’re knights of the Round Table/We joust whene’er we’re able/We do routines and chorus scenes/With footwork impeccable!”).
Legibility isn’t the only reason the new Grail outshines the old. A previously cut, 24-second scene reinserted into the movie has a Castle Anthrax maiden ask into the camera, ”Do you think this scene should have been cut?” (In a flurry of reaction shots, the rest of the cast then critiques the whole Sir-Galahad-meets-the-virgins sequence.) There’s also a pair of alternate audio tracks, one a Japanese-dubbed soundtrack and the other a running narration by directors Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam. You could read similar comments by them in Python books, but there’s no substitute for hearing Jones’ Brit-twit speech patterns and Gilliam’s manic giggle. Capped by an inspired Grail trailer, a back-to-English subtitling of one scene’s hopelessly garbled Japanese translation, and a montage of location pictures, Voyager’s disc transforms a good, silly movie into a genuine video treasure. A