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Terry Gilliam
Michael Palin, Harry H. Corbett, John Le Mesurier
Charles Alverson, Terry Gilliam

A young peasant with no interest in adventure or fortune gets mistaken as the kingdom's only hope when a horrible monster threatens the countryside.
Rated PG.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 105 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 11/21/2017

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Terry Gilliam and Actor Michael Palin
• “Good Nonsense” Documentary
• “The Making of a Monster” Featurette
• 1998 Interview with Cinematographer Terry Bedford
• Original Opening
• Sketch-to-Screen Comparison
• “Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky” Reading
• Trailer
• Booklet


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Jabberwocky: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1977)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 14, 2017)

After the success of 1974’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail, director Terry Gilliam struck out on his own and embarked on his first solo project with 1977’s Jabberwocky. Though he’d later develop a very distinct style and achieve success with flicks such as 1981’s Time Bandits and 1985’s Brazil, Jabberwocky lets him get his feet wet as a solo director.

As such, Jabberwocky often feels somewhat tentative as it provides a tilted version of the Lewis Carroll tale. The fearsome titular creature spreads fear throughout a land, and their king (Max Wall) needs to find a way to deal with it.

However, not everyone thinks this is a good idea, for apparently terror is good for business. Nonetheless, the ruler attempts to find a champion to eradicate the menace, and he offers the lovely princess (Deborah Fallender) and half of the kingdom as reward for the demise of the creature.

Into this mess steps unambitious peasant Dennis (Michael Palin). He lives in a podunk part of the kingdom with his barrel-making father (Paul Curran) and he wants nothing more than to make some money off the business and marry Griselda Fishfinger (Annette Badland).

Bizarrely, Dennis seems to adore Griselda despite that fact a) she has no interest in him, and b) she’s a fat, foul swine. Nonetheless, the relentlessly small-minded Dennis wants her, even after his father denounces him on his deathbed.

This loses Dennis the family business, so he needs some means of support if he can wed to disgusting Griselda. To this end, he heads to the big city, where he eventually meets up with the princess - who totally ignores reality to embrace her fairy tale ideals and embraces Dennis as her Prince Charming - and then embarks on a quest to slay the monster.

At its heart, Jabberwocky offers a skewering of the traditional fairy tale well before the modern appeal of Shrek. We have a “hero” who wants nothing more than to lead the most dull and uneventful like imaginable, so when presented with some apparently glorious possibilities, he reacts in horror and wants nothing to do with them.

We also have a princess who - like Shrek’s Fiona - anxiously awaits the arrival of her masculine savior but who - unlike Fiona - seems totally oblivious to any sort of reality. Gilliam casts the entire proceedings in a thick layer of filth that makes the realm seen in Jabberwocky almost unimaginably disgusting.

In fact, the only note I wrote to myself as I watched the film was “foul!” The level of grime becomes perversely admirable in a way, for it goes even farther than Grail to present a medieval reality far from the sanitized pearly whites of most Hollywood renditions.

However, Gilliam takes it too far, as the filth simply becomes too heavy at times. Dirt turns into a character all its own, and the movie can be awfully disgusting, a factor that takes away from whatever other charms it may hold.

As for those possible charms, some of them exist, but Jabberwocky seems like a minor effort in the Gilliam pantheon. To be certain, it definitely doesn’t live up to the levels reached by many of his later works.

I think much of this relates to the transitional nature of the flick. Gilliam wanted the movie to stand apart from the Python films, but we still found half of that group in Jabberwocky. In addition to star Palin, we get cameos from Terry Jones and from Gilliam himself.

Granted, Gilliam later featured Pythons in his other pictures. For instance, John Cleese showed up in Time Bandits and Eric Idle made it into The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

Palin also appeared in Bandits as well as Brazil. No one regards most of those movies as extensions of the Python universe, even though Gilliam wouldn’t finally cut the cord until 1991’s The Fisher King, the first flick he directed that featured no Pythons.

However, none of those efforts starred a Python, and none stepped away from the Python tradition as gingerly. Like Grail, Jabberwocky often feels like a series of semi-related bits rather than one coherent narrative.

Admittedly, Jabberwocky provides a more linear and cohesive tale than its predecessor - indeed, it’s a much more straight tale than Time Bandits would be. Nonetheless, the latter seems better told and holds together better, whereas Jabberwocky comes across as somewhat jumpy and jumbled, so it just doesn’t flow very smoothly.

I think Palin’s star billing of Palin also made it harder for Jabberwocky to leave the Python fold. As noted, Pythons appear in many of Gilliam’s subsequent films, but never again would one become the lead in a flick not billed to the group.

Time Bandits has a lot in common with Python offerings, but Gilliam somehow makes the effort seem like something unique and unconnected with the group. He can’t do that during Jabberwocky, and the film suffers as a result.

Actually, Jabberwocky suffers most Gilliam simply hadn’t fully developed yet. To be certain, we see elements of the director’s style, but these seem halting and tentative.

By 1977, Gilliam hadn’t developed enough confidence to give us his own vision and ignore the Python-related expectations. As such, Jabberwocky provides fits and starts of compelling material, but as a whole, it falls somewhat flat.

On the other hand, this is a “PG” movie that included full-frontal female nudity, so I heartily endorse it.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio C/ Bonus B

Jabberwocky appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though the movie occasionally showed its age, it looked better than expected.

This meant sharpness usually appeared accurate and well-defined. Some light softness crept into the proceedings at times, but the movie mainly delivered nice delineation.

I saw no signs of moiré effects or jaggies, and the image lacked edge haloes. Print flaws seemed absent, and while grain could be heavy, this clearly stemmed from the original photography.

Due to the production design, colors tended to look somewhat drab and lifeless. However, that seemed intentional, and when allowed to prosper, the hues looked pretty lively.

Blacks appeared dark and dense, while shadows generally fared well. Some low-light shots could be a bit murky, but they usually seemed satisfactory. Though nothing here dazzled, the image held up nicely.

The disc omitted the film’s original monaural audio, so instead, we got only a DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix. I regard that as a disappointment on a number of levels, one of which connects to the less than natural feel of this track.

On the positive side, music showed nice stereo presence. On the negative side, the remixers created a soundscape that lacked nuance and threw the action out of balance.

When monaural material gets adapted to 5.1, it tends to work best when kept modest in scope. Jabberwocky ignored that concept and gave us a soundfield that failed to keep the material in proportion.

This mainly became an issue due to the usage of the surrounds, as they seemed excessively active. Some of these elements worked well, mainly connected to the monster itself – a few scenes with those “action material” brought out a nice sense of the menace.

However, the remixers didn’t know when to leave well enough alone, so quiet scenes used the back speakers in an overly prominent manner. Through much of the film, extraneous, unnecessary information came from the surrounds, and those moments made the mix an unbalanced and distracting affair.

Audio quality fared better, though even there, imbalance reigned. That was because parts of the track “felt old” while others “felt new”, and the two sides failed to mesh.

I strongly suspect the remix actually used re-recorded stems for a lot of the effects, as they came with a robust feel not typical for material from 1977. I don’t mind the more “modern” fidelity on its own, but I do dislike the unnatural way in which these components connected to other parts of the track.

Speech remained intelligible and concise, though some edginess interfered at times. Music became the best part of the mix, as the score offered fairly nice range and clarity.

Those effects just didn’t work for me, though. They tended to seem too loud and “canned”, so they didn’t deliver convincing material. The track’s superficial charms seemed enough for me to give this a “C”, but I didn’t much like it.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the DVD from 2001? Audio was similar, though the lossless DTS-HD MA track offered more heft and range. Still, both came with the same out of kilter soundscape and unnatural feel, as the DVD lacked the original monaural as well.

At least visuals showed considerable improvements, as the Blu-ray seemed much tighter, smoother and cleaner. I’m still disappointed the disc failed to restore the 1977 audio, but the picture quality made this one superior to the DVD.

The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras, and we start with the same audio commentary found on the 2001 DVD. From writer/director Terry Gilliam and actor Michael Palin, the two men sit together for a running, screen-specific look at story/characters, sets and locations, cast and performances, production elements and related material.

Not surprisingly, Gilliam dominates, and the track usually progresses in an entertaining manner. As always, Gilliam provides a frank appraisal of the work and he gives us a good overview.

A bit too much of the piece devotes to comments about who’s who among the onscreen talent, but in between, Gilliam and Palin add lots of solid facts about the movie along with many fun anecdotes. It can be hard to tell if they love or hate Jabberwocky, but the commentary delivers an interesting piece nonetheless.

Another repeat from the DVD, Sketch to Screen Comparisons provides a neat variation on the usual storyboard presentations. Here we find many drawings from Gilliam’s pad, and corresponding shots from the final film follow. The piece lasts six minutes and 55 seconds and offers a good look at Gilliam’s preparatory work.

A 2017 documentary, Jabberwocky: Good Nonsense runs 40 minutes, 49 seconds and includes comments from Gilliam, Palin, producer Sandy Lieberson, and actor Annette Badland. “Nonsense” looks at the source text and Gilliam’s take on it as well as the film’s development, story/characters, cast and performances, sets and locations, cinematography and visual design, and the movie’s reception.

Inevitably, “Nonsense” repeats some of the information from the commentary. Nonetheless, it includes a good array of new notes, so it deserves a look.

Another 2017 piece, Valerie Charlton: The Making of a Monster lasts 14 minutes, 45 seconds and discusses the creation of the movie’s title character. Charlton proves frank and lively as she goes over her work.

A 1998 audio interview with cinematographer Terry Bedford fills 22 minutes, 29 seconds. He discusses his work on Holy Grail and Jabberwocky in this informative conversation.

Under Original Opening, we get a three-minute, 16-second clip. Presented 1.33:1, the main difference comes from the absence of the paintings/prologue found in the final film. It’s a minor curiosity.

With Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, we find a short reading of the source text. It goes for one minute, 27 seconds, as Palin and Badland recite the source poem to us. I don’t think it adds much, but it gives us a decent segment.

In addition to the film’s clever trailer, we get a booklet. It mixes credits, photos and an essay from critic Scott Tobias to finish the set on a good note.

Though sporadically interesting, Jabberwocky seems like a disappointment as a whole. I like some parts of it but it never coalesces into a compelling or entertaining whole. The Blu-ray provides pretty good picture and useful supplements but the remixed audio disappoints. Despite the iffy soundtrack, this becomes the best rendition of the film.

To rate this film, visit the DVD review of JABBERWOCKY

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