Friday, December 16, 2005

Day 77: Jabberwocky

Terry Gilliam's first solo work as a director is untidy as hell, pitched as a farce, but only sporadically funny.  Most of the jokes fall flat and, since the movie's so giddy, it comes off as loud, obnoxious, and overlong.  The movie's not entirely unwelcome though.  As a whole, it doesn't come through, but it's clever in fits and starts and, though the hit or miss ratio is weighted heavily to the misses, the hits are sharp.  

The basis for the film is to pit romantic notions of the Dark Ages with the very unromantic reality of the time.  As such, the movie spends a lot of time wallowing in the filth of the age, exploring the festering, crumbling, and bloodstained world.  Though this exploration is sometimes delightful (I enjoyed the inclusion of the ways characters went to the bathroom), it's often didactic in tone.  The whole purpose of the film is to point out how rotten everything was, exposing the lie found in the myths and legends about the age, which is cute at first but quickly becomes tiresome as it hits this same note over and over again with very little variation.

The Lewis Carroll poem is included in the film, but its purpose never seems clear.  It's shoved into moments when it's fitting and dropped for the rest of the film.  I'm aware that it's a short poem, but its use here is awkward at best.  Also awkward are the anachronistic jokes, like a character beaming with pride after mentioning that he'd traveled two miles.  Again, this is cute but hardly noteworthy and, frankly, pretty easy.

Jabberwocky plays like a more cohesive, coherent version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  It's less jokey than its predecessor and treats the story of its main character with a certain amount of seriousness.  However, it also attempts to tap into the same anarchic spirit of the Python film and is unsuccessful at this for the most part.  The feverish pacing remains, but the stabs at absurdity fall flat.  Performances that seem as if they were modeled on the Pythons absent from the film don't help, either.

Nevertheless, Python Michael Palin acquits himself rather well as a silly leading man and Max Wall puts in a funny performance as King Bruno the Questionable, delighted at bloodshed, blustering at the small problems in his kingdom, and overlooking the important issues.  The film also has a great forced marriage scene and an incompetent knight out to slay a monster who, when faced with a band of rogues, can only ask, "Monster?  Where monster?"  These are highlights, but they're shoved into an overwrought film that's too silly and pleased with itself for its own good.  And, worse, the timing is all off.  Each joke is paced just a hair too slowly, telegraphing the punchline in a most unfunny way.

3 comments:

Redphi5h said...

Gilliam leaves me cold. Frankly, I think that failing his association with MP, people simply would not entrust him with vast sums of money to make films, nor would he have an audience.

David Wester said...

I used to agree, but then I saw 12 Monkeys. I think Gilliam had a nice triple whammy with Fisher King, Monkeys, and Fear and Loathing.

And I think that Gilliam would have found an audience with Brazil, MP or no.

zora said...

actually, i never really liked what he did with the pythons... i alyways found his cartoons a trifle too long and too hectic.
but his films i just love. brazil is no. 3 of my all-time most depressing movies top 3 (1:requiem for a dream, followed by 21 grams), but what's most important for me about tg is his mercilessness with his characters... it's like seeing that sadness is very important in life. his movies always get me (except bros.grimm, but that's another story...)