Review by Gordon Justesen
Palin, Harry H. Corbett, John Le Mesurier, Warren Mitchell, Max Wall
Director: Terry Gilliam
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 105 Minutes
Release Date: November 21, 2017
“I keep your potato!”
The word “odd” can be fitfully associated with Jabberwocky, both with the movie itself and my knowledge of it. For starters, I considered myself knowledgeable of all things relating to Monty Python, especially their film incarnations. And yet, up until the announcement of this Blu-ray release, I had absolutely no knowledge of the existence of this 1977 release, which is something truly “odd”.
I also considered myself a devoted fan of director Terry Gilliam, himself a member of the Python troupe and co-director of some of their films. And yet again, I had no knowledge that this was his first solo directorial effort...which is indeed “odd” if I’m going to claim to be a completist regarding any filmmaker. At this point, I could make this entire review about my periodic short comings in relation to film knowledge.
But onto the film at hand. Jabberwocky is an odd entry in the Monty Python film canon. Only one member of Python (Michael Palin) is featured here, and yet at the same time the movie does come across as a fitting companion piece to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In fact, some of that classic film’s gags are even repeated in this film to glorious and absurd effect.
Having never heard of this release, but being a devoted lover of Holy Grail, I was most wise in not setting my expectations too high before popping the disc in. What I got was an “odd” little film that, while nowhere near the comedic masterpiece it was trying to replicate every so often, does manage to produce several rousing instances of ultra hysterical lunacy. In addition, it does showcase some elements, particularly in the visuals, that would become pivotal in many of Gilliam’s later works, especially Time Bandits and The Fisher King.
The best way for me to sum up this movie is this: it’s basically a more comedic version of Dragonslayer. Now, it might not be fair to label it as such, seeing as Dragonslayer came out four years later but since I’ve seen that movie so many times in my lifetime, I simply couldn’t help but instantly think of it as this movie went along. Once again, I am illustrating something “odd” about me here.
Actually, the movie comes to us based on a Lewis Carroll poem. The setting is England during the Dark Ages. The story tells of Dennis Cooper (Palin) a witless buffoon who inadvertently stumbles into the position of a brave warrior as a much feared dragon, or jabberwocky, threatens the land with immense terror.
And that’s really all that’s offered as far as the story is concerned, and usually that is far from a good sign. But thankfully, Gilliam has so much nonsensical craziness going on elsewhere and has such a grand time indulging in all the nonsense. The end result may feel a little disjointed, but at the same time it’s hard not to find the whole thing kinda endearing, as well as “odd”.
I mentioned earlier of gags that felt like repeats of moments from Holy Grail. The biggest case is unquestionably where Gilliam gleefully ups the ante in the dismemberment of multiple knighted warriors during multiple jousting events. But in spite of being repetitive with what could be considered a leftover gag from the earlier film, my howling of laughter only increased with each insanely, bloody over the top kill.
And let’s talk about the word bloody, because this movie is rated PG. Now this was 1977, and the rules were much different concerning what you could get away with, but man the gore factor (although done for comedic effect) is through the roof here. Not only that, but there’s even a brief moment of full frontal female nudity (and I feel as if I just helped to sell many copies of this disc as a result of mentioning this). And to clear things up, this is not a criticism, but a very strong praise from a person who appreciates “odd” and unexpected things in films every so often.
Another bonus here is the jabberwocky itself. Though we only hear and don’t see it for a good bit of the movie, Gilliam is sure to let the creature take center stage during the film’s climax, and it is most impressive, to say the least. Despite a low budget, Gilliam indeed ensured that his titular creature would leave an impact on the audience, which it certainly does!
Though it appears to not receive as much popular attention as the other films in the Monty Python lineup, Jabberwocky is nonetheless a most admirable warm-up effort from Terry Gilliam, who was just getting his start as a solo filmmaker, which would lead to remarkable efforts later on such as the aforementioned Time Bandits, as well as 12 Monkeys and his ultimate masterpiece, Brazil. The movie isn’t at the level of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but contains enough moments of over the top lunacy to qualify as a good enough follow up!
I was fortunate enough to get a new 4k television recently, along with a 4k Blu-ray player. That means that from here on out, I will be getting the full visual effect when viewing a Blu-ray with such a restoration, which is especially a treat when it’s 4k presentation by way of Criterion! And boy, was this release was a grand introduction, as the 4k digital restoration (supervised by the BFI National Archive and The Film Foundation, as well as Gilliam himself) is nothing short of magnificent. Absolutely rich in visual detail, resulting in a truly organic presentation that does wonders even for low scale budgeted film as this. The murky look of the film manages to lend quite a bit to the astounding picture quality, and the periodic burst of bright colors show off excessively well, as does the look of the dragon itself. This release boasts one of the most thrilling viewing experiences I’ve ever had on the Blu-ray format, and I’m indeed looking forward to more stunning 4k restorations from Criterion in the future!
The DTS HD 5.1 mix (also supervised by Gilliam) is extremely well rendered here! For a film with this much age, one usually expects Criterion to go the mono or 2.0 route, which are always welcome but when the 5.1 treatment is brought in, you know it’s going to produce a monster performance. And that it does! The balance between dialogue delivery, music playback and all of the madness in the many insane goings on in the film results in something of an audio knockout. The roar of the creature itself delivers quite an impact, too! An absolute stunner of a presentation, and one of Criterion’s best sounding releases to date!
Criterion showcases a fiery lineup of extras for this release, including a commentary from 2001 with Gilliam and Michael Palin, as well as a brand new documentary on the making of the film, featuring Gilliam, Palin, producer Sandy Lieberson, and actress Annette Badland. There’s also a new interview with creature designer Valerie Charlton, which features her own collection of rare behind-the-scenes photos, and an audio interview with cinematographer Terry Bedford from 1998, a selection of Gilliam’s storyboards and sketches, the original UK opening sequence, a reading of Lewis Carroll’s original poem by actors Palin and Badland, a Trailer and an insert booklet featuring an essay by critic Scott Tobias.
Jabberwocky is a most welcome first solo directorial effort from Terry Gilliam, and showcases many elements that would resurface in even stronger works from him down the road. Criterion’s stunning Blu-ray release is a great opportunity to discover this “odd” but madly enjoyable entry in the Monty Python film legacy!