A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 370 – Jabberwocky

Jabberwocky – March 5th, 2011

I don’t know if I was quite in the right frame of mind to watch this tonight. Then again, I don’t know if it’s quite possible to ever be in the right frame of mind to watch this. It’s an oddity of a movie, full of bizarre elements that are never quite fleshed out. Oh, I like the concept and it’s very obviously a Gilliam movie. But it’s also very obviously an early Gilliam movie and well, it has some flaws. I might have had the same reaction to it regardless, but I do not recommend watching this while muzzy and headachey from a not-quite-long-enough nap. It doesn’t help in the least.

Ostensibly, this movie is based on the poem Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll. And yes, the poem does provide a basic framework. There is a fearsome beast and as Alice says, it’s clear somebody killed something. But, well, the poem doesn’t really have much in the way of a cohesive and coherent story, does it? That’s rather the point of it. It’s nonsense verse, presented in an imaginary world and read in a mirror. Therefore it’s perfect for Gilliam. Really, it’s the perfect sort of thing for the guy who did the animation for Monty Python. Bizarre imaginary creature? Nonsense? Bring it on! Unfortunately, I think he ended up with too many ideas and not enough editing.

The movie follows the story of Dennis, an apprentice cooper whose father renounces him because Dennis is obsessed with efficiency and bookkeeping, not his craft. Dennis loves a young lady named Griselda whose family make dried fish, but her family doesn’t think he’s worth much of anything. So off Dennis goes from their tiny village to a big city where the king lives. He gets in scrape after scrape, bumbling his way around the city. Meanwhile, the king has started a tournament to pick a champion who will go and defeat the beast that’s terrorizing the surrounding countryside. Eventually Dennis ends up acting as squire for the winning knight (the Red Herring Knight, who won a game of hide-and-seek) and defeating the monster himself after a bunch of fighting and another knight and some bandits. And back he goes to the city and he ends up marrying the princess because that’s how this sort of story is supposed to end. Except he wanted to marry Griselda and since he defeated the monster her family decided he was worth paying attention to. But who cares, cause they don’t end up together.

There’s a strange mix of serious and humorous here. The monster itself is rather frightening. It’s not really cartoonish and it leaves flayed corpses when it attacks. Gruesome flayed corpses. Michael Palin is sort of hard to see as anything but goofy and a few other parts are played purely for laughs. But other parts aren’t. Or they’re played as a sort of middle ground, where you know there’s some humor there but it’s not enough. There’s a lot of what feels like stuff that didn’t make it into the world Monty Python and the Holy Grail was set in. And then there’s some strange stuff that feels like it should have gotten more time and created a firmer and deeper story, but doesn’t. It’s like Gilliam was determined not to make a movie full of sketches, but couldn’t really manage to fully express what he wanted to do otherwise.

There’s an attempt at some deeper plot going on, with the king’s council trying to keep the citizens down by having the monster terrorize them, but well, it’s a weak attempt at best and not followed through well enough. It gets mentioned once, and then once again, and both mentions feel like minor conversations when clearly they’re not. The castle is in horrible disrepair, with towers falling down and the throne room full of debris and dust. It’s just sort of the way things are. No explanation. No sense of it meaning anything. In the grander scheme of the movie it feels like just another Gilliam sort of thing, not something with a point. And that’s sort of how a lot of the movie felt to me. Things were done. Sometimes funny, sometimes just odd. And when those things were done half the time they felt like they fit into the world and half the time they were just there. In the movie. Taking up screen time. It’s a muddled sort of movie, messy and uneven, but if you want to see Gilliam having some fun unfettered by coherence or expectation, this is the movie for it.

March 6, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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