By most accounts, the filming of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was not the laugh-a-minute affair you might expect it to be. The production schedule was rushed. The movie was helmed by two inexperienced directors with very different styles and featured, in its lead role, an actor battling alcoholism. The rain and cold during the 28 days of production only added to the misery of everyone involved. It sounds like something that was not a lot of fun to be involved in.
But it does make for a heck of a good story.
And those behind-the-scenes stories are at the heart of Monty Python: The Holy Book of Days, an excellent iPad offering from Melcher Media that packs in an astounding amount of information about the filming of the landmark 1975 comedy film. Maybe you know the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow or can tell me what the capital of Assyria is, but I’ll wager that this iPad app contains enough new information about Holy Grail to satisfy even the most know-it-all of Monty Python fans.
Holy Book of Days contains a day-by-day chronicle of what went into filming Holy Grail. Each chapter, representing a day from the shooting schedule, describes the scene being shot and includes remembrances from the Monty Python cast. A sound clip from the scene introduces each chapter, which is adorned with Terry Gilliam-style artwork. That’s interesting enough, but Holy Book of Days ups the ante with extras—a swipeable copy of the shooting script, which you can augment with audio from the floor tapes recorded during filming, for example. Chapters also contain excerpts from Michael Palin’s diary (worth purchasing on its own, if you’re interested in the history of Python), a copy of the daily continuity report from filming, stills and candid shots, and the occasional outtake. I particularly enjoyed included clips from the present day in which Palin and co-director Terry Jones revisit filming locations from more than three decades ago. You could very easily spend hours sorting through all the Grail content that’s been squeezed into this app.
You can read through chapters in chronological order, sorting through scenes as they were shot. Or, if you’d prefer, the app lets you read through scenes in the order they appear in the film. If you want to skip ahead at any time, tap the grail-shaped button—a scrollable set of thumbnails pop up to help you easily find the chapter you seek.
One of the coolest features in Holy Book of Days may be one few users actually get to see in action, unfortunately. The app is able to sync up with the Blu-ray DVD of Holy Grail. If you’ve got that particular copy of the movie and you own a networked Blu-ray DVD player, you can sync the app so that the background information on the scene you’re watching automatically appears on your iPad. You can also make the DVD skip ahead to the scene you’re reading about on the iPad, with the help of a handy control strip that appears in the upper right corner of your iPad’s screen when the tablet and DVD player are connected to the same Wi-Fi network. In my testing, getting the app and DVD to sync up was an occasionally hit-or-miss affair—it worked with one Blu-ray DVD player I tested, but not with another—but when it works, it really helps you enjoy both app and movie in a new light. You don’t need the Blu-ray copy of Holy Grail to savor the content in Holy Book of Days, but if you have one, you really should see about grabbing the other.
As much as I enjoy thumbing through Holy Book of Days, the app suffers from a minor-though-annoying navigational issue. To explore content contained within a chapter, you tap on an icon and jump to another page, but when it’s time to return, instead of jumping back to where you left off, the app dumps you at the top of the main chapter page, forcing you go scroll down to get back to where you were before. The app also contains a map of shooting locations drawn in that fanciful Gilliam style. It’s certainly creative, but it’s not very useful: I would have preferred the option of a real map with pinpoints showing where the scenes were actually filmed.
But I don’t want to come off as a the son of a silly person: Holy Book of Days is a magnificent app that takes full advantage of the iPad. And at $5, it will cost you far less than the going rate for a shrubbery. If you have any interest in Monty Python, classic movie comedies, or the craft of filmmaking, this is a great addition to your iPad.
[Macworld.com editor Philip Michaels’ mother was a hamster and his father smelt of elderberries.]