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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Storyteller: The Complete Collection (1987)

Soldier: Do you know what this is?
Death: A sack.
Soldier: If this is a sack, then get in it!

- Bob Peck, Alastair Fullarton

Review By: Dan Lopez  
Published: December 11, 2003

Stars: John Hurt, Brian Henson, Allison Doody, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, John Atkinson
Other Stars: Edward Tudor-Pole, Miranda Richardson, Sean Bean
Director: Jon Amiel, Steve Barron, Jim Henson, Peter Smith, Charles Sturridge, Paul Weiland

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence and dark imagery)
Run Time: 04h:15m:00s
Release Date: August 26, 2003
UPC: 043396012370
Genre: fantasy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

In 1987, Jim Henson sought to once again weave his magic on television with a series devoted to re-telling classic folk stories in a very visual manner. Although his creation, The Storyteller, only initially lasted 9 episodes (and then some more later on under a different series), it left an enormous mark on the hearts and minds of those who initially witnessed it. Written by Anthony Minghella (who would go on to considerable acclaim as a writer/director of his own work) and directed by a variety of talented individuals, each 25-minute episode of The Storyteller would take a traditional tale, and allow the audience to become immersed in its strange, magical power. The episodes start simply, with John Hurt as the grizzled old Storyteller with his cowardly dog (Brian Henson), but then unfolds into an elaborate tapestry of classic "Once upon a time..." mysticism.

Here on this DVD are the nine episodes of the original series: The Soldier and Death, Fearnot, The Luck Child, A Story Short, Hans My Hedgehog, The Three Ravens, Sapsorrow, The Heartless Giant, and The True Bride. Although there were continued episodes regarding the Greek myths, they are not featured on this collection and will likely be published separately, which is probably for the best as the series are pretty far apart in many aspects. Told in a very stylized way, but lavishly produced with tons of advanced special effects (for the time) each episode brings these charming old tales to life in a way that simply doesn't happen often. It's one thing to read a classic fairy tale or see illustrations of it, but the production values here are a thing of true beauty. Mixing puppetry, skilled acting, and an overall sense of theatrics (these episodes are almost stage-like), The StoryTeller draws its audience in by immersing the listener into a place they probably would not visit otherwise. Whether it be dark forests and dungeons, or the lairs of mysterious and horrible beasts, each tale carries with it its own atmosphere and distinct setting. There are also moral messages to be found here, although they are not poured upon the viewer in such a way as to make themselves obvious. These are the style of old-fashioned tales that always taught you a lesson, but did so in a cheeky, smart-assed way that, more often than not, may have very well kept you awake at night as a child.

Interestingly, the episodes are not particularly dated. While the special effects and such may have advanced far beyond the technology used here, you really don't even notice that element of the storytelling. Of course, none of this immersion would be possible were it not for the absolutely solid quality of all the acting. Many recognizable faces play many parts in these episodes, and do so with perfect demeanor. Whether it be an intentionally humorous role (like Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French playing the wicked stepsisters of Sapsorrow in the original version of the folk tale that inspired Cinderella) or numerous dramatic roles, everyone takes the affair very seriously. There's an irony here that this much artistic precision has been put together just to translate a simple children's story. Of course, I suppose it's the simplest of stories that does pose the most problems, but the 25-minute running time of each episode (roughly) makes sure nothing gets overblown. Yet, I'm continually surprised at just how much emotion and pure artistry is packed into the brief run time.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Unfortunately, the video transfer is not quite at the standards that most StoryTeller fans would hope for. In the simplest terms, the episodes look very much like they've been directly ported from some form of videotape (that wasn't in too great condition to begin with) with no enhancement or repair. There's very noticeable trails and other analog video errors, along with some harsh pixelization. However, I'm guessing there's potentially a good reason for this and that the episodes really couldn't get much better without massive and possibly destructive remastering/editing. The disc certainly looks better than the old VHS volumes of the series, but isn't a massive improvement. At the least, nothing was made worse. The improvement over previous incarnations of the show is noticeable, though, and I'm at least pleased with that.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The stereo audio sounds quite good but is, as you might imagine, uneventful. The wonderful music score is well rendered as is the dialogue and associated material, but it isn't a very complicated mix. Some surround information is there, making some scenes carry a little more detail to them, though it can be hard to make out. All in all, it's a decent mix with very good clarity, but doesn't expand much on previous formats.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 9 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The disc's biggest problem is the complete lack of features, especially as the overall presentation is very sparse. Annoyingly, each episode is its own chapter with no additional stops, making it very troublesome to have to resume an episode after having stopped it. It's bare-bones all the way, and there's no question that will upset many fans. However, to be honest, I've waited too darn long to have all these episodes in one collection that I'm not that upset.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

As I write this review during the holiday season, I'm reminded of the immense amount of DVDs out there on the market, supposedly geared towards families and children, but I honestly can think of only a few truly worth the honor of being family possessions, and this is certainly one of them. Not the most perfect DVD, but still a true gem amongst classic television programming.


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