Jabberwocky Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Frabjous Film! Callooh! Callay!

After co-directing Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Terry Gilliam returned to the Dark Ages for his first solo outing, Jabberwocky, a fantasy tale inspired by Lewis Carroll’s poem of the same name. It’s an amusing adventure filled with Gilliam’s humor and sensibilities that showcases his directorial aesthetic. Those expecting a sequel to the Python’s madcap comedy classic will be disappointed, like many of the characters who live in the world of Jabberwocky.

A deadly monster roams the forest as the audience and a fox hunter (Terry Jones) find out in the opening scene. Dennis (Michael Palin), not Holy Grail‘s 37-year-old man who lives in an anarcho-syndicalist commune, is the son of a cooper, but rather than learn the trade he is more interested in improving efficiency and making business deals. He is so fond of the unattractive Griselda Fishfinger (Annette Badland), even though she is disinterested in him, he cherishes a rotten potato she threw away. After his father dies, Dennis heads to the fortified city, ruled by King Bruno the Questionable (Max Wall), hoping to improve his life.

However, life in the city is hard. The best cooper Dennis knows is working as a beggar because it’s so hard to get into the guild. Dennis replaces a squire (Harry H. Corbett) he befriends, and serves the knight who takes on the monster. It’s a familiar tale, and where most would end with the hero saving the day and gaining the hand of the princess and other treasures, Gilliam suggests that those might not be rewards worth winning, or desired by everyone.

Influenced by painters Bruegel and Bosch, Gilliam and his team create an authentic medieval world, which comments on the modern one through the screenplay he co-wrote with Charles Alverson. Their clear opinions societal authority and fear-mongering as a tactic to control the populace. They crews also executes impressive visual gags such as the monster’s POV when attacking the fox hunter and Dennis and the tavern owner getting thrown out of the building to name a couple, which Gilliam is known for.

The video has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. According to the booklet’s liner notes: “Jabberwocky was restored by the BFI National Archive and The Film Foundation in 2017, with funding provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation and with the participation of director Terry Gilliam. The film was scanned in 4K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner and restored in 4K resolution from the 35mm original camera negative and other original film elements. All image repair for the new 4K master was carried out so as to best present the film’s original photography and texture, and was completed at L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, Italy.”

Fog and smoke increases the grain. The color palette uses a lot of earth tones. Strong hues are seen in the green of foliage, which looks lush. Blacks are inky, but the source is quite dark. Shadow detail is weak, and objects get absorbed into the darkness, as seen when guards’ faces disappear under the shadow of their helmets. Flames on candles have a bit of bloom around them, as does the top of the frame from the sunny sky when Dennis tries to get into the city walls.

The audio is given a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Also from the liner notes, “The original surround soundtrack was remixed in 2001 from the original monaural magnetic multi-tracks by Andre Jacquemin at Redwood Studios, London, using iZotope RX software to give the dialogue, music, and effects new vibrancy.”

Dialogue is good, although there’s some artificial echo effect occurring when two nobles ride through town. Ambiance fills surrounds nicely, such as the cheers of the crowd during the joust. The track has a wide dynamic range with the soft sounds of rain falling on one end. And on the loud end, supported by the subwoofer, there’s many examples like a great oomph from the crumbling West Tower and the cacophony of the armory’s destruction. The classical music used for the score has a full sound, a tad too good in contrast to the video’s appearance.

Special Features include an audio commentary by Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin from 2001. They have an entertaining, informative conversation about working on the film. Cinematographer “Terry Bedford” (22 min) can be heard in audio excerpts from a 1998 interview talking about working on Holy Grail and Jabberwocky, covering when he briefly resigned.

The remaining features are presented in HD excepted where noted. “Jabberwocky: Good Nonsense” (41 min) is compiled from new interviews with Gilliam, Palin, Annette Badland, and producer Sandy Lieberson. “Valerie Charlton: The Making of a Monster” (15 min)” highlights the production designer talking about working with Gilliam to create the Jabberwocky and those who got in the way of her doing the job. “Original Opening” (3 min) presents the UK opening sequence featuring Gilliam’s original title treatment. Sketches and storyboards along with scenes from the film allow for a “Sketch-to-Screen Comparison”(1080i, 7 min). The “Trailer” (1 min) clearly is had Gilliam’s involvement and wasn’t just thrown together by a marketing. One of the few times I highly recommend checking it out.”Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky'” (1 min) is recited by Palin and Badland.

In contrast to Dennis’ journey, it is rewarding taking on Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky and the extras on this Criterion release. The high-def presentation elevates the audio and delivers pleasing video considering the source.

Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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