You may already have to be a confirmed Monty Python fan to appreciate this film, in which case you will probably want to buy it no matter what I say. It is the only movie I've ever seen where people in the theater walked out in groups. My wife and I saw it three different times in two different theaters, and the same thing happened in every case! I've owned the film on Beta and VHS for years, and I find it truly hilarious, but I guarantee there is something in it to offend almost everyone.
Python humor is essentially sketch comedy, harking back to their television days. Their previous films, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1975) and "Monty Python's Life of Brian" (1979) were essentially segmented stories told through skits. "The Meaning of Life" (1983) draws even more heavily than its predecessors on the format of the old "Flying Circus" TV show, with the theme of finding some meaning in life, from birth to death and beyond, as the overriding bond.
Once again Terry Gilliam's wacky animations and Eric Idle's amazingly adept songs help to link the various routines together. For me, most of it works. Indeed, there are bits in the film that are as classic as the TV show's dead parrot or lumberjack song.
I guarantee you will not forget "The Crimson Permanent Assurance" that precedes the main feature. Or "The Miracle of Birth," with its machine that goes "ping." Or "The Third World," in which a man with an enormously large family has to sell his children for medical experiments. Or the "Growth and Learning" segment, with its classroom of young pupils bored with having to learn about sex. Or the "Live Organ Transplants" or the "Penis Song" or the "Galaxy Song" or the coming of the Grim Reaper. "It's a Mr. Death, dear; something about the reaping." And then there's the dreaded Mr. Creosote; the words "Bring me a bucket" will never be the same.
Along the way, the Pythons manage to insult Catholics, Protestants, Jews, rich people, poor people, the upper classes, the lower classes, the middle classes, doctors, lawyers, school teachers, school children, big business, the military, and Americans in general. If you fit, you'll be hit. Count on it. This is not to say, however, that everything works. I still think that "Find the Fish" is tedious and the whining of a disgruntled waiter is vulgar and pointless. Which is probably the aim of both pieces.
But on the whole, there is more to like in the film than to dislike, and DVD makes it easier than ever to get around or to skip the sections you don't care for. The widescreen format is welcome, especially in big ensemble numbers like "Every Sperm Is Sacred" or "Christmas in Heaven," and the picture clarity is reasonably well maintained throughout the movie.
The stereo sound is good, too, although like many older films not made expressly for surround, there tends to be a little too much information directed to the rear channels. A quick tweaking corrects the problem.
I would have liked a few more special features--production notes or cast information, for instance--but it's mainly just the film you get, presented on a single layer on a single side. It's enough.