Sony // 1991 // 138 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Chief Justice Sean McGinnis (Retired) // April 20th, 1999
A modern day tale about the search for love, sanity, Ethel Merman and the Holy Grail.
First and foremost, The Fisher King is a tremendous movie. A friend and I both have a real love for movies that are about the triumph of the human spirit. I guess the real issue is which movies you place in that category. We both agree that Shawshank Redemption falls squarely there, but I disagree with him about Titanic. Opinions differ. However, I firmly believe this movie belongs there, which is probably why I love it so much -- that and the outstanding performances all the way around.
This is yet another terrific transfer from the people at Columbia TriStar. Of course, being that this is from the good folks at Sony, the transfer sports anamorphic treatment. Good news for you widescreen TV owners and those of you that hope to or probably will own them one day (read everybody!). The colors of this presentation were just right. While a lot of the key points of the movie were shot outside at night, the transfer never suffered. Particularly difficult must have been the nightmare sequences where Perry is affected by his visions of the Red Knight. Colors did not bleed through in these scenes even though the Knight was backlit and shot flames from his mouth. Indeed a terrific job all around. Kudos to the folks at Sony.
Enough about the disc. The real key to entertainment here are the direction by Terry Gilliam and the performances by the four key players.
This is the first Gilliam movie I latched onto, and it has made me a fan forever. No, and I mean no single director working today can set a fantastical mood on film like Terry Gilliam. As evidence, I give you the train depot scene in The Fisher King. As a crowd of people is milling about heading for the return train trip home after a long day's work, Perry catches a glimpse of Lydia entering the station. I won't give it all away, but if you've seen this movie, you know what I mean.
The acting here is first rate too. But, then, I guess that's what you get when you take Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges, Mercedes Ruehl and Amanda Plummer and throw them in a room. Williams received an Oscar nomination for this performance and it was well deserved. He portrays a genuinely confused man dealing with a tragic loss with such verve that you forget the days of Good Morning Vietnam completely. Think of the energy of Good Morning Vietnam, with the sincerity and caring of Dead Poets Society and you have Williams' character of Perry in The Fisher King.
Mercedes Ruehl was a relative newcomer at the time, but she won an Oscar for best supporting actress for her portrayal of Anne in The Fisher King. Why this award did not propel her into the realm of actress superstardom, I have no idea. She has worked sporadically since this film, with only one memorable performance since (Lost in Yonkers), but she has three movies set for this year, and so I remain hopeful that she can rekindle the magic she shows here.
Jeff Bridges does little more than prove (does he still need to prove it?) that he is one of our finest living American actors. I have admired his work sporadically for many years and I have to admit, this is one of my favorite performances of his.
I really wish someone would give Amanda Plummer a nice juicy normal role for once. Not that I've seen everything she has ever been in, because that certainly is not the case. However, every memorable role I can remember her in involves her being a stark raving loony of some kind. Witness: So I Married an Axe Murderer, Pulp Fiction, The Prophecy, and Needful Things.
There is very little here to recommend against this disc. The one glaring omission is the typical lack of extras from the folks at Columbia TriStar. For as much as I and everyone laud this studio for their hard work, including anamorphic transfer on virtually every disc they produce, the same can be said of their lack of other supplemental materials. This omission is especially glaring on a masterpiece such as this film.
Now is an appropriate time to inform you that I came to DVD by hopping right over laserdisc as a technology. Hence, I do not have the supposedly wonderful but woefully expensive Criterion Collection laserdisc version of this disc. I sure would have liked to have its equivalent on DVD though -- especially considering the terrifically informative and well-done Gilliam commentary included on Universal's 12 Monkeys DVD (another Gilliam directed film).
Also, the audio is only Dolby Digital 2.0, rather than the 5.1 mix most of us prefer. However, the mix itself is rather good, with a clear presentation all the way around. For those of you who prefer a remastered soundtrack to take advantage of today's technology, then this will be a minus. For those of you who insist that everything be presented according to the director's original intent, then this track will not disappoint.
I recommend this movie if for no other reason than the performances. The acting is genuinely superb. The video is spectacular. The audio is not bad for its day. The only omission, as I stated above is a lack of extras. If you can live with that, then this disc is a must own. If not, then wait and hope that either Criterion can get the DVD rights off Columbia for a DVD version of their laserdisc, or for Columbia to re-issue this disc as an special edition of their own.
Acquitted on all counts, except that of extras. Pay a small fine. Six Months time served.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 138 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailers