Jabberwocky Blu-ray Review
Nonsense poetry in motion
Terry Gilliam's debut, a madcap adaptation of Lewis Carroll's nonsense-poem Jabberwocky, sets the template for the filmmaker's distinctive later efforts.Originally recruited as the animator for Monty Python's Flying Circus, it wasn't long before Gilliam became a fully-fledged member (although his animations are amidst the most memorable - and distinctive - elements of both the series and the films), co-directing Holy Grail in 1975 before getting his solo directorial debut in 1977 with Jabberwocky. Gilliam's fantasy style and Dark Ages influences - evident on Monty Python - would carry forth across his career, in everything from Time Bandits to Baron Munchausen, to even The Fisher King, but back here he kept his story comparatively grounded, although enshrouded in thinly-veiled socio-political commentary that looks at the insanity of bureaucracy and commerce in the microcosmic society depicted.Taking many of his Python cast members along for the ride, it's Michael Palin's bumbling 'hero', Dennis, who drives the piece, as he inadvertently stumbles through a society gone mad, trying to work his simple trade as a cooper but ending up mistaken for a witch, a prince and a beast-slayer by sheer accident. All around him Gilliam brings vignettes to life with sharp reflections on the stupidity that defined the Dark Ages, mirroring contemporary inanity. Understandably, given the budget and the fact it was his first solo outing, the end result is quite rough around the edges, but it's still fun to see Gilliam bring his ideas and style to life beyond Python, and see where it all started for the man who would go on give us classics like Brazil and Twelve Monkeys.
Picture QualityJabberwocky comes to Region B-locked UK Blu-ray) courtesy of the Criterion Collection, with a presentation sourced from a new 4K digital restoration conducted by the BFI National Archive and The Film Foundation, and approved by director Terry Gilliam. On the one hand, it's the cleanest, most faithful and respectable video presentation that anybody is ever likely to see for this limited budget 40 year old film. On the other, it's not one of the most impressive 4K restorations, almost undoubtedly due to the limitations with the source material.
It is a restoration of some merit, let down more by the source material than the quality of work put in to cleaning it up
Detail does have some unquestionable high points, picking up on finer nuances both on close-ups and even mid-range shots, and – for the most part – remaining strong in the face of some rather variable levels of haze (the whole film subsists on a misty haze) as well as a pervasive, suitably filmic layer of grain. Despite the better looking moments, there are some quite shocking glimpses of poorer images (for example the announcement of the "Joust") which look zoomed-in, utterly robbed of any detail, and enshrouded in overwhelming noise. Undoubtedly the lighting levels are to blame for some of the problems, and the new restoration does its best with some surprisingly dim sequences (the shot through the window announcing 'the Black Knight') or the dawn landscape shots of or around the castle. These look almost picture perfect by comparison. The colour scheme too impresses, with rich greens and a few nice tones in the period piece, whilst black levels may fluctuate but do occasionally impress. It is a restoration of some merit, let down more by the source material than the quality of work put in to cleaning it up.
Sound QualityA suitably engaging aural accompaniment
Jabberwocky earns itself a brand new remastered DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack mix also supervised by director Terry Gilliam, and it's a strong offering that does its best with the limited source material, promoting the most important element - the witty dialogue - with precision, cleanly and coherently across the front channels. Effects are slightly tinny, although that's only to be expected, with a few noises getting better coverage (the monster growls which use thunderstrikes) and the clang of metal-on-metal commonplace, whilst the bustling crowds that populate Gilliam's affair give it a sense of scale despite the limited budget. The score is not particularly serviced by the more expansive surround mix, still sounding distinctly mono in its coverage, and it does tap out at the top end, but still manages to provide a suitably engaging accompaniment to the messy proceedings.
ExtrasAs usual, Criterion deliver an impressive selection of extra features, headlined by the Terry Gilliam / Michael Palin Audio Commentary from 2001 and delivering a couple of strong new offerings including a new Documentary, Jabberwocky: Good Nonsense, with Gilliam, Palin and co-star Annette Badland on hand to discuss their work, whilst the new Interview, Valerie Charlton: The Making of a Monster has the special effects artist talking about creating the Jabberwocky. There are audio excerpts from a 1998 Interview with cinematographer Terry Bedford about his work shooting this and Holy Grail, and the original UK opening (this new version has the director-preferred amalgam of US and UK openings), as well as a Sketch-to-Screen Comparison, a brief reading of Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky (by Palin and Badland) and the Trailer, all in Criterions usual impressive package complete with booklet.
Blu-ray VerdictGilliam fans should check this new Blu-ray release out
Criterion's Region B-locked UK Blu-ray release of Jabberwocky provides 4K restored video, although the image is still not particularly pleasant, and strong audio, as well as a great selection of extras and Gilliam fans should definitely check this out.
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