'Twas brillig when the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe. All mimsy were the borogroves and the mome raths outgrabe.
Imagine a cross between the sketch-comedy insanity of Monty Python's Flying Circus and the signature bizarro world of Terry Gilliam. This is Jabberwocky, an intermittently humorous film with a touch of horror that has been burned onto a disc with some modest extra content and a competent technical presentation.
Facts of the Case
The Jabberwock is a terrible creature roaming the land, killing and causing great panic throughout the Kingdom of Bruno the Questionable (Max Wall). The King and his advisor Passelewe (John LeMesurier) decide to use a tried and true method: hold a tournament in the main city to find the bravest and strongest in the land, who will defeat the Jabberwock and gain great lands and the King's daughter as a reward.
Meanwhile, Dennis Cooper (Michael Palin) doesn't exactly have his heart set on being a craftsman cooper like his father. He'd much rather woo the not-so-fair Griselda (Annette Badland) and make cheap knock-off barrels for more money. When his father finally loses patience with his faithless son and throws him out, Dennis must journey to the city to find his destiny. Getting into the city is trouble enough, but once Dennis is inside, his troubles are far from over. Self-mutilating craftsmen, irate innkeepers, roguish squires, and religious fanatics are just a few of Dennis' encounters. Further fate and misadventure finds Dennis, now a substitute squire for the King's chosen champion, striking out to locate and fight the beast, bringing peace to the kingdom.
It's not nearly as simple as all that but isn't that always the case? Battle, blood, gore, more battle, cowering under shields, and the like are all utilized as Jabberwocky is brought to its peculiar conclusion.
Jabberwocky finds Terry Gilliam at a career crossroad. Coming out of the landmark "Monty Python's Flying Circus" television show, Gilliam stayed within the Python boundaries when he stretched his resume beyond bizarre animator to feature film (co)director of Monty Python And The Holy Grail. Jabberwocky is a clear step beyond the Python style of comedy to a much more coherent dramatic tale, though with Pythonic touches of humor. You can sense the developing visual style of Gilliam in this film, as he begins to explore the cinematic possibilities that later blossomed in such striking, awesome films like Brazil and 12 Monkeys.
No doubt Terry Gilliam would be the first to admit that his style is not geared towards a mass-market, Hollywood audience. Indeed, the furor over Brazil, chronicled in Jack Matthews' book "The Battle of Brazil," was touched off by Universal studio head Sid Sheinberg's efforts to make Gilliam's dark vision lighter and presumably more marketable. However, the drawback of Jabberwocky is that it is likely to be a minor disappointment to those who are fans of his cinematic style, as it is to those who might be expecting another Monty Python film. Not quite a Gilliam film, not quite a Python film, Jabberwocky is a lukewarm compromise more interesting than it is funny or dramatic as the story limps to a conclusion.
The cast, even for a follower of British television and cinema, is by and large a collection of unknowns. Michael Palin ("Monty Python's Flying Circus," A Fish Called Wanda, "Full Circle with Michael Palin") is the glaring exception. His deft comedic touch and acting skill keep Jabberwocky afloat as it plods along, though his efforts only go so far. While none of the other cast members (including ex-Python Terry Jones) stands out from the rest, chalk it up to a quality, professional cast trying their best to reconcile the confused mix of humor and drama of Jabberwocky. Well, perhaps songster and Python bit player Neil Innes does poke his head a hair above the rest with his soft-spoken, bewildering herald. Trivia note: David Prowse, the man inside Darth Vader's intimidating armored visage, shows up in Jabberwocky sporting similar armored costume.
The anamorphic video is well supplied with a variety of bits, blips and flecks and some film grain. Blacks vary from solid to blue or gray depending on the scene. Perhaps by design, even in scenes of gory death the colors are toned down, giving Jabberwocky a soft, depressing gray look. Well, it is the Dark Ages! On the up side, you will appreciate the lack of digital artifacting.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is little different than the Dolby Surround mix, as you might expect with a less than recent film of limited means. Neither is going to annoy the neighbors or frighten your cats, unless you crank up the volume out of spite, although the low boom of the Jabberwock's ominous pace is pronounced. Since the limited sonic quality is expected, but not attention grabbing, nothing here is worthy of pointed censure. Dialogue, with a few indistinct spots, is suitably clear and understandable (the words, anyway…)
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Though the extra content is not very extensive and thus worthy of criticism, at the same time I am not too surprised. Jabberwocky is certainly a cult-audience, niche sort of film, so expecting significant effort and monetary outlay is silly. So, all I really want in this department is some idea of the film's genesis and how it fits into Terry Gilliam's directorial resume. The commentary track fits the bill quite handsomely, featuring lead actor Michael Palin and the auteur himself. Not that I minded Jabberwocky, but I ended up enjoying the commentary more than the film itself. Terry Gilliam is very focused on his craft, but yet eager to discuss his creative process and other associated topics with freewheeling candor. As he threw the verbal football back and forth with his pal Palin, I began to get an inkling of the source of the sound and fury that Gilliam incited during his infamous battles over the butchering of Brazil.
Finishing off the content are a few production photos, short sketch to screen comparisons for a number of scenes and the theatrical trailer.
Primarily of interest to fans of either Monty Python or Terry Gilliam, Jabberwocky is a peculiar film. There are some who will no doubt be devoted fans, but more often than not, it is likely to leave the audience wanting in some respect. By all means rent it if you are looking for something offbeat and British, but don't expect too much. Purchase ($25 list) only if you know what you're getting!
Sometimes funny and more often flawed, Jabberwocky finds the Court in merciful mood. No punishment is ordered at this time.
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