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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Jabberwocky (1977)

"'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

- Lewis Carrol, from his poem

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: October 23, 2001

Stars: Michael Palin, Harry Corbett, John Lemesurier
Other Stars: Warren Mitchell, Max Wall
Director: Terry Gilliam

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: PG for (some gore, language, and sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:44m:44s
Release Date: October 23, 2001
UPC: 043396922495
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+C+B- B

DVD Review

When director Terry Gilliam began work on Jabberwocky, he had just recently completed on the medieval comedy, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Understandably, there was pressure on him to somehow deliver something that was Python-esque. In fact, on the cover of this DVD, the words Monty Python and the Holy Grail can be found in text almost as big as the title. In general, this was not his intent, but as it stars Python alumnus Michael Palin, has a cameo by another (Terry Jones), and is set in the same medieval environment as Holy Grail, comparisons were almost impossible to avoid. Initially, the project began life as a BBC-funded television program, but then expanded into a full-length film when he collaborated with writer Charles Alverson (who had been Gilliam's collaborator from his Help! magazine days) after wisely turning down working on All This and World War II. The end result is a film both revered as a masterful comedy and criticized as a piece of unoriginal garbage. If Terry Gilliam is good at one thing, it is certainly confounding the critics.

Inspired by the nonsensical Lewis Carroll poem, Jabberwocky tells the story of Dennis (Palin), an apprentice cooper who believes in modern business and efficiency, though his father will have none of it. His one true love is the rude and distasteful Griselda Fishfinger, but she'll have nothing to do with him until he's rich and successful. When Dennis' father dies and doesn't leave him the business, he sets off to the walls of the city in order to find fortune amongst the more densely populated world. There is one big problem however: virtually the entire world around him has gone stark, raving mad over the presence of a strange monster, killing everything in its path. The king, Bruno The Questionable (Max Wall), decides to hold a tournament of knights, and when Dennis decides to become a squire, he only sinks deeper into the crazinessaround him.

While Jabberwocky is actually a linear story, unlike the surreal, madcap Monty Python work Gilliam had done before, it actually still manages to be very funny, as it really isn't about the Jabberwock monster, but rather what everyone does because of it. It doesn't get too silly; it coaxes humor by placing the characters into present-day problems and situations even though set in the middle ages. In fact, one might call it something of a remake of Holy Grail's environment through the eyes of a fantasy storyteller like Gilliam who wanted to invest more time in characters and setting than in skits and brief bits of unrelated humor. Jabberwocky also marks Gilliam's first solo effort as a director, having previously shared credit with Terry Jones on Grail. Surely, during the early moments of this film, in which a trapper (played by Jones) is mutilated by the Jabberwock, is meant as some sort of statement about Gilliam working fully on his own and "offing" Jones.

Ironically, despite this being such an off-the-wall and, at times, disgusting comedy of errors, it features some of the most brilliant use of low budget set design and lighting schemes. Gilliam's wonderful, decaying, crumbling world of the past, populated with all sorts of distasteful characters, is arguably the most accurate portrayal of the Dark Ages seen on film. The hilarious sequences inside the castle of King Bruno are among the best in the film; Max Wall's marvelous performance is surrounded by a musty, foul castle in constant disrepair with servants of dubious quality, which Gilliam himself admits was very much taken from the Mervyn Peake novel, Gormenghast. He manages to take the concept of a world that is in shambles and pushes that into every detail, even in the costuming, done by Flying Circus alumni, Hazel Pethig. Gilliam may not have been able to break out of the Python mold in quite the way he wanted to, but the achievement is a wonderful comedy that has an edge rarely seen nowadays.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: Jabberwocky is a dual-sided disc with a full-screen, pan & scan transfer on one side, and a 1:85:1 anamorphic transfer on the other. The widescreen transfer is a bit of good and bad in equal parts. While the colors look much better than previous releases, almost the whole film is plagued by extremely heavy grain and physical print damage. Some scenes look fine, even great, but others strangely revert into badly artifacted and low black level detail. It does look better than any other version I've seen, but it isn't going to blow the doors off your perception of image quality. It needs a full-on restoration. For the most part, the movie looks fine, iand is at least given back the widescreen composition. The full-frame version has far more exaggerated problems with compression artifacts; everything bad about the transfer is slightly amplified, thus making it worse. I don't recommend pan & scan transfers on principle, but this one earns avoiding anyway.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes
PCMEnglish, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The new Dolby 5.1 mix on the disc is a bit on the extreme side. A lot of the sound effects and music are beefed up into multi-channel power, but since the majority of the soundtrack and dialogue are collapsed into an extremely flat center channel mix, the difference between the original and 5.1 enhanced portions is very jarring. You really have to get used it. That aside, there are quite a bit of new effects and split-surround events. It's a bit overboard, in my opinion, for a mostly non-action comedy. If you don't like it, the Dolby Surround audio provides a more balanced sound mix with similar enhancements, but they don't sound decades apart in terms of quality of effects versus quality of basic dialogue and sound.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Actor Michael Palin, Writer/Director Terry Gilliam
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Sketch-to-screen comparisons.
  2. Japanese, Polish, and British theatrical posters.
Extras Review: Easily the best feature of the DVD is the commentary by Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin, who are both together on the track discussing their memories of making the film. It's wonderful and funny, filled with insights and trivia from two people that not only have a lifelong relationship behind them, but virtually live right next to one another. While they joke around a lot, it doesn't prevent them from providing a serious and interesting examination of details on the making of Jabberwocky, and this marks one of Gilliam's best commentaries. A 7-minute featurette (if you can call it that) compares conceptual drawings of Gilliam's with the eventual product in the film, including costumes, characters, and other visual elements. This is best watched after the film. The original trailer (in rather damaged condition) and theatrical posters from Poland, Japan, and the U.K. are presented.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Jabberwocky is a superb comedy that works because of the great combination of talent that drives it. The DVD edition, though it could be better, is satisfying and finally puts an often ignored piece of Terry Gilliam's career back into the limelight.

 


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