Jabberwocky (The Criterion Collection) (1977) (Blu-ray film review).

Jabberwocky. There’s a name to bring a smile to members of the older generation. Some might associate it with Lewis Carroll’s poem of the same name, while others with a streak of daftness in them will fondly remember the 1977 film directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Michael Palin. The film is allegedly inspired by the poem but to what level is a subject worthy of heated debate down the local pub inn.

For those that remember the ‘Jabberwocky’ film or like a tale from England’s Dark Ages then you’re in for a treat as there is a new release of the film. This Criterion Collection edition is a 4K digital transfer from a restoration by the BFI National Archive and The Film Foundation, which has been approved by the original director himself, Terry Gilliam. It’s been released on Blu-ray and DVD. I’m watching the Blu-ray version and the quality of the restoration is impressive. It’s also worth noting that there is now a 5.1 surround mix, supervised by Gilliam and presented in DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray.

The original ‘Jabberwocky’ poem was, of course, a nonsense poem that crops up in in Carroll’s 1871 novel ‘Through The Looking-Glass And What Alice Found There’, the sequel to ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland’. Carroll makes use of nonsense words which don’t have any intended explicit meaning. These are words without any intended explicit meaning. So, starting from a baseline of nonsense, the poem, we have in the film yet more nonsense but in a different medium.

There’s a very good first line from the accompanying marketing material with this release of the film which nicely sets the scene. It reads ‘Amid the filth and muck of England in the Dark Ages, a fearsome dragon stalks the land, casting a shadow of terror upon the kingdom of Bruno the Questionable.’ Michael Palin plays the part of a slow-witted country bumpkin going by the name of Dennis Cooper who gets mistaken as the only person who can defeat the Jabberwocky.

The young Griselda Fishfinger (Annette Badland) acts as a distraction for our clueless hero Cooper as he’s hopelessly in love with her. Unfortunately, the sentiment is entirely one-sided which completely escapes Cooper’s attention. His plan is basically to go to the city to find work and when he’s earned enough he will return to marry his beloved Griselda. This proves to be rather optimistic and what ensues would probably be described as a comic farce.

While I do have a fondness for ‘Jabberwocky’, I have to admit that’s it not one of the best films ever made. This might be down to it being Gilliam’s first foray as a director. Yes, there are some very funny moments, but these are equaled by the number of scenes when things go a bit flat. Perhaps after the success of ‘Monty Python And The Holy Grail’, they thought everything they did would be successful. I’m saying ‘they’ here as there’s quite a few of the Monty Python team involved in this production.

I’ve always thought that not enough was made of the rather excellent cast that’s been assembled. It’s essentially a Who’s Who of top comic performers of the time. You could easily spend the time trying to identify them rather than trying to make out the plot as it stumbles along. There will be cries of ‘its him from Dad’s Army’ or ‘him from ‘Allo ‘Allo’ just to give you two examples but there’s many more.

On the whole I do still have a fondness for ‘Jabberwocky’ which I originally saw at the cinema when it was released. This re-release is true to the original and I’m glad I watched it again. The additional extras included in the BluRay are:-

Audio commentary from 2001 featuring Gilliam and actor Michael Palin

New documentary on the making of the film featuring Gilliam, producer Sandy Lieberson, Palin, and actor Annette Badland

New interview with Valerie Charlton, designer of the Jabberwock, featuring her collection of rare behind the- scenes photographs

Audio interview with cinematographer Terry Bedford from 1998 ” Selection of Gilliam’s storyboards and sketches ” Trailer ” An essay by critic Scott Tobias

If you’re a collector of all things Monty Python, then this has to be on your list of things to get. For the rest of us I’m not so sure. Yes, there are some funny bits and the documentary on the making of the film is certainly worth watching. I’m just not sure how many times I’m going to actually load the disc and play it.

Andy Whitaker

February 2018

(region free. pub: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2017. 1 blu-ray disk 105 minute film with extras. Price: £14.99 (UK). Criterion Cat no. CC28268DUK. ASIN: B0751HQPBR.

cast: Michael Palin, Annette Badland, Warren Mitchell, Max Wall, Neil Innes and Dave Prowse.

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I live in deepest darkest Essex where I enjoy photography, real ales, walking my dog, cooking and a really good book. I own an e-book reader which goes with me everywhere but still enjoy the traditional paper based varieties. My oriental studies have earned me a black belt in Suduko and I'm considered a master in deadly Bonsai (there are very few survivors).

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