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THE FISHER KING
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer
Director:  Terry Gilliam
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Criterion
Features:  See Review
Length:  138 Minutes
Release Date:  June 23, 2015

"Did you lose your mind all at once, or was it a slow, gradual process?"

Film ***1/2

The Fisher King marks a slightly different kind of movie than what we're used to seeing from director Terry Gilliam.  This was the first project of his where he was a director for hire, and had nothing to do with the writing of the film.  That being said, there are some decidedly Gilliam themes throughout the picture, including the struggle against circumstances beyond our control, and the fine lines between fantasy and reality, and how the perceptions of such help to define us.

Bridges plays Jack, a typical crude talk show deejay, the kind who manages to insult his audience and callers and somehow remain popular.  When one of his unbalanced callers ends up on a killing spree in a restaurant, Jack is devastated to the point of giving up his career, and pretty much becoming a drunken bum, incapable of coping or relating to those around him, including his longsuffering girlfriend (Ruehl, in an Oscar winning performance).

Three years after the event, Jack is pulled back (sort of) from the brink of suicide by an eccentric homeless man, Parry (Williams).  Parry is the epitome of those people we see on the street from time to time who talk to themselves, and seem to be constantly reacting to things invisible—you sometimes wonder if they're crazy, or if they really see something you don't.  Parry believes himself to be a knight in search of the Holy Grail.  He talks to little people, has visions of Red Knights, and is convinced Jack is the chosen one, the one who will retrieve the Grail from a luxurious, castle-like apartment on 5th avenue.

Parry is also secretly in love with a shy, timid wallflower (Plummer), and arranges his day so he can be there to see her come to and leave work, and her daily lunch break.  These are the highlights of his life.

Jack soon learns the truth about Parry:  he was once a prominent history professor, who seemed to lose his mind after his beautiful wife died in...you guessed it, Jack's listener's shooting spree. Jack begins to feel not only responsible for Parry, but some how, logically or otherwise, convinced that his own redemption might be tied up in this man.  He therefore makes it his goal to bring Parry together with his dream girl.

Basically, what we have from Gilliam is a compelling, touching, and humorous character study in which people have to learn to cope with their demons, be they real or imagined.  The script is absolutely terrific, and the performances even more so, particularly the two leading men.  This may be Williams' finest work as an actor, and the role not only gave him a chance to display his talents for both comic and dramatic acting, but provides Gilliam with a means to inject a little bit of the fantasy images we've come to expect from his films.

It's fair to call the film quirky or a little eccentric, but it would be unjust to dismiss it as only that.  There is real humanity shining forth from every frame of the movie, and the film never strays from the truth. It simply chooses fantastic and whimsical routes to arrive at it.

Dedicated to the late and eternally great Robin Williams.

Video ***1/2

THIS is more like it...after having only been available in a lackluster studio edition, this beautiful 2K digital Blu-ray from Criterion finally delivers the visuals with all the clarity and crispness you would expect.  Darker sequences are much improved; very little grain noticeable anywhere, and solid contrast throughout.

Audio ***1/2

This uncompressed surround audio is also a vast improvement, finally bringing all stages of Terry Gilliam's vision into the mix.  Dynamic range is strong, and spoken words are nicely balanced against the solid musical score.  The fantasy sequences really bring the audio to full life, making good use of the rear stage and offering smooth panning across all channels.

Features ****

There is a commentary track with Terry Gilliam, plus new interviews with Gilliam, producer Lynda Obst, writer Richard LaGravenese, as well as Jeff Bridges, Amanda Plummer and Mercedes Ruehl.  There are interviews with the film's artists, and a vintage one with Robin Williams from 2006.  There are also some deleted scenes, trailers, and costume tests, along with footage with Jeff Bridges training as a radio personality and an essay featuring his own on-set photographs.

Summary:

The Fisher King is a compelling, character driven comedy/drama/fantasy, one that dares to stray from the center line often without losing its sense of direction or purpose.  Anchored by two strong lead actors and Terry Gilliam’s unique, singular vision, it’s a movie that’s both entertaining and thoughtful.  This Blu-ray edition from Criterion is exactly what fans have been waiting for!

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