The film that started it all, in this brilliant absurd brand of comedy and satire.
Dir. Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam
1975 | UK | Adventure/Comedy/Fantasy | 91 mins | 1.66:1 | English
PG13 (passed clean) for some graphic violence done in a comedic manner
Cast: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Plot: King Arthur and his knights embark on a low-budget search for the Grail, encountering many very silly obstacles.
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Subject Matter: Light/Satire/Absurd
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed on DVD – first published 16 Jan 2012)
How can a film be so silly, yet remains to be one of cinema’s most revered comedies? Making their feature debut, writer-directors Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones have concocted something out of a cinematic beaker, brewing an utterly insane picture of ridiculous proportions.
One wonders whether they have been mad scientists in disguise. Gilliam would go on to make memorable films like Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985), and Twelve Monkeys (1995), while Jones carried on his absurdist streak with Life of Brian (1979), and The Meaning of Life (1983). But it was Monty Python and the Holy Grail that announced their arrival as respected cinematic joke-sters.
Holy Grail is at times just simply ingenious, while at other times, blatantly stupid yet still ingenious at the same time. Time, as you will see, is used as a rather creative outlet in this film, as the creators toy with its malleable nature.
Temporal transitions are handled via an assortment of ways, including the amateurish use of 2-D animation, the anachronistic application of time as the medieval era co-exists with the contemporary period, and in one outrageous moment, an intermission that lasts all of 10 seconds, allowing the viewer to pee comfortably in his or her pants without missing any good parts.
“Stop. Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see.”
Gilliam and Jones pack a lot of comedic oomph in just about 90 minutes. That’s not surprising as the film’s premise allows self-parody to flourish with unlimited fervor. King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and his knights take on a journey in the name of God to find the Holy Grail. Along the way, they meet various obstacles where the jokes pile up one after another.
You won’t know when to stop laughing, but you get my point. Monty Python’s brand of comedy may be an acquired taste to some, but I would be surprised if anyone doesn’t laugh out loud at least twice in the film.
The ending leaves a lot to be desired, and is perhaps the film’s weakest point. We want the story to be prolonged, the characters to continue their idiocy, but we don’t get our wish. Admittedly, the film has to end somewhere, though it has built up enough situational momentum in the climax to last at least another major comedic act.
Holy Grail, even though set in cruel, medieval times, is largely made with modern sensibilities, with its social and geo-political subtext a critique of the unrest that marked the 1970s. At the end, are we all really looking for the Holy Grail, as metaphorical as it sounds?