Plot: What’s it about?
The lands of Bruno the Questionable (Max Wall) have become troubled in the recent days, thanks to an evil, hideous beast. As if the Dark Ages weren’t dark enough, this terrible creature’s shadow casts even more gloom & doom upon the times. So what is this menace that stalks the drab countryside, you say? This foul creation is the Jabberwock, a creature with intense flames and razor sharp talons, as well as other natural weapons. It seems like even the bravest, most skilled knights would fall to this beast, so who knows when and if it can be stopped. But perhaps a hero rises from an unlikely place, as young Dennis Cooper (Michael Palin) has arrived in town and he has some serious plans for the future. After the death of his father, Dennis set out to make his fortune and become an important person. With his trusty potato in hand, he could very well be the right man to take on the Jabberwock. He might seem like just a simple, pretty much useless young man, but in truth, that is just what he is.
Although Terry Gilliam has amassed a sizable fanbase over time, even his most dedicated fans usually end up divided over this one. I suppose most people have the improper approach, expecting something like Brazil or perhaps Monty Python, neither of which is close to what Jabberwocky ends up being. It has dashes of Python madness and brilliance, but it also has more than those elements, to be sure. I think most people find this picture to be droll and dull, which is understandable, since Jabberwocky means to be droll, at least most of the time. As droll as this movie is at times, it also remains very humorous and the drollness might throw some folks off, but those who like that approach should love Jabberwocky. I don’t think it is a constant reel of hilarious moments, but the story moves well and tons of subtle touches can be found. In truth, I think a few viewing sessions are needed before passing judgment, in order to let the details soak in. It could be too droll and slow moving for some folks, but to fans of offbeat humor, this terrific movie and disc are more than recommended.
His films always seem to have a dark edge to them, even when he changes focus from one approach to the next, so of course, Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky is no exception. Gilliam often injects doses of dark humor into his movies and that’s true here, as several scenes have darker tones, but remain humorous. This picture doesn’t have the sheer volume of dark humor that some of Gilliam’s efforts do, but the elements are there, without a doubt. In addition, Gilliam loads on the dark visuals in this one and in the end, the visuals are highly memorable, I think. The locations and sets are so complex & well detailed, it is hard to believe this was a low budget movie, as it looks so refined and well executed. Other films directed by Gilliam include The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Time Bandits, Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, and The Fisher King. The cast includes Michael Palin (Fierce Creatures, Life of Brian), Harry H. Corbett (Silver Dream Racer, Hardcore), and John Le Mesurier (The Italian Job, Midas Run).
Video: How does it look?
The usual verbiage that accompanies Criterion’s releases is present: “New 4K digital transfer from a restoration by the BFI National Archive and The Film Foundation, approved by director Terry Gilliam.” The print has been cleaned up and there is still a modest amount of grain present. But it works with this movie. The colors seem drab by design and come through well enough, but contrast has been improved. The movie will never look as good as any modern-day film, but with the elements that Criterion had, the restoration that was done does give new life to the movie. It’s a good-looking a transfer as one might expect, so Criterion gets an “A” for effort for sure.
Audio: How does it sound?
I’d expected a mono track, but to my surprise and delight we’ve got a new DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The basic elements are in more than acceptable form, but seem a little forced at times, which is a let down. I’ve often had a difficult time with some of the older “Monty Python” films (and I realize this isn’t one of them, but with some of the same players I just lump that into the same category) as the dialogue seemed a bit vacant and distant. That’s really not the case here. There are several effects and some really good moments. The music in Jabberwocky ranges from Mussorgsky’s Night on a Bald Mountain to uncredited Hector Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique. It’s a great effort.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio Commentary – The main attraction here is an audio commentary track with director Terry Gilliam and star Michael Palin, who provide a loose, but enjoyable experience. The two break out a ton of humorous stories from the production and each time one is told, it seems a couple more are remembered, very cool stuff indeed. Gilliam even offers some critiques on his own work, with some honest moments where he reveals what he might have changed, if given a round trip ticket back to the film’s era of production.
- Jabberwocky: Good Nonsense – New to this Criterion edition is a 40 minute documentary. The making of the film is shown and features interviews with Terry Gilliam, producer Sandy Lieberson, Palin and actor Annette Badland.
- Valerie Charlton: The Making of a Monster – Charlton, the individual responsible for the creation of the Jabberwock, is profiled in this 15 minute piece.
- Terry Bedford – This is an audio only piece and runs 20 minutes. In it is included excerpts of cinematographer Terry Bedford talking with David Bedford about his experiences shooting Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Jabberwocky.
- Original Opening – Director Terry Gilliam trimmed Jabberwocky slightly for its initial US release in 1977. The US version has a new title treatment and the addition of some painted images with voice-over narration, Gilliam’s preferred version of the film. This version combines the longer UK cut with the American title sequences.
- Sketch-to-Screen Comparison – Held over from the 2001 disc are these comparisons of rough sketches to their final “appearance” in the film.
- Theatrical Trailer
- Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky – As read by Michael Palin, he reads about a minute and a half of poetry by Lewis Carroll.
- Illustrated Booklet – We get some production photographs as well as an essay by critic Scott Tobias.
The Bottom Line
1977 will be remembered for Star Wars and we all know it. But Jabberwocky is one of those films that’s managed to hold its own over the years and I was delighted to see Criterion get their hands on it. Oddly my favorite Terry Gilliam film, 12 Monkeys, isn’t a part of the collection as of yet. Still, with improved audio and a much-improved picture fans will enjoy this offering.