Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG
Directed by: Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones
Written by: Monty Python
Starring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, & Michael Palin
Monty Python is a group reveling in absurd humor. Their first film was an anthology consisting of the best sketches the early seasons of their show had to offer, but HOLY GRAIL was the troupe’s first real feature. It serves more like an excuse to connect a series of original skits. The special thing about this material is that all of the laughs revolve around the legend of King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail. It should come as no surprise that Monty Python’s dedicated fanbase have since made HOLY GRAIL into one of the biggest cult classics of cinematic history. I watched this film many times in my childhood and found it hilarious back then. Years have passed and this was my first viewing in a long time. Truth be told, I now find it to be slightly overrated, although there are still plenty of wacky antics to be had.
King Arthur gathers a band of trusty knights and is appointed by God to find the Holy Grail. The knights stick together in the first and last third of the film, but there’s also a good chunk of the middle portion that revolves around the separate knights on their own individual searches for the blessed artifact. In these segments (ranging from as short as three minutes to about 7 minutes long) they each encounter unique dangers. The oddball animation frequently seen in the FLYING CIRCUS series makes an appearance here and the humor is totally surreal. This movie in no way, shape or form tries to take itself seriously. This provides lots of silly scenes that either hit or miss, depending on what jokes work for each viewer.
To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed that this film wasn’t nearly as hysterical as I remember it being. Nostalgia definitely has a factor in the enjoyment level. If you didn’t grow up with HOLY GRAIL, then you’re not likely to love it as much as everybody else. Certain jokes feel really forced in areas. Sir Galahad’s encounter at the Castle Anthrax is among one of the more annoying scenes in the movie. At one point in that sketch, the characters even break the fourth wall and ask if the scene should have been cut. The answer is yes, because it’s not on the same level as most of the ridiculous moments on display. Another sequence that feels like the Monty Python group is trying too hard involves evil knights that say the dreaded word “Ni!” Those are just two of a handful of jokes that aren’t that solid to begin with, but drag on too long.
With these more annoying bits aside, the movie is genuinely funny in plenty of areas. The Monty Python team take on multiple roles (Michael Palin plays more than 10 characters) and it’s quite entertaining to spot their familiar faces over and over in different scenes. Some actors even talk to themselves (dressed in different clothing) during some moments. The film makes no qualms about the shoe-string budget it was filmed on, going so far as to poke fun at the low-quality of sets and use actors banging coconuts together to simulate sounds of horses clopping. The highlights include a vicious Black Knight, a cave guarded by a hideous creature (anybody who’s seen this film knows which specific scene I’m referring to), a historian narrator, and Sir Lancelot’s adventure.
This is a film that I really can’t critique in the same sense that I review a traditional narrative. HOLY GRAIL doesn’t have so much a story, but rather a bunch of set-pieces that are loosely connected in the King Arthur legend. The quality ranges from excellent to iffy, but no scenes is outright horrible or bad. The movie is self-aware and its sudden conclusion (a joke within itself) may disappoint some viewers. I didn’t find HOLY GRAIL to be as awesome as I remember it being and the acclaimed reputation is a little much. This still stands as ridiculous fun, but younger viewers are likely to enjoy it more than adults.