Directed by Terry Gilliam
Starring: Michael Palin, Harry H. Corbett, Max Wall, John Le Mesurier, Warren Mitchell
Review by Mark Engberg
During the Dark Ages, an impressionable cooper’s apprentice is forced to slay the legendary Jabberwock monster in this farcical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic poem.
REVIEW: “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe/ All mimsy were the borogoves,/ And the mome raths outgrabe.”
After the triumphant release of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, director/animator Terry Gilliam makes his solo directorial debut by tackling the historic realm of the Dark Ages yet again with this chaotic adventure regarding a young man and his quest to slay the famed Jabberwocky, a hideous monster that has been burbling through the woods of a nearby city castle and devouring everyone in its path.
Ironically, Gilliam’s dark comedy, which he co-wrote with Charles Alverson, has little to do with the dragonlike Jabberwocky. Like Peter Benchley’s heinous novel “Jaws” (wonderful movie, awful book), the narrative content is reluctant to feature the central monster, and is more involved with the heroic challenger seeking to destroy it. In this case, that story begins with Dennis Cooper (Monty Python’s Michael Palin), and his wretched life as a peasant.
|Hearing his father’s dying words of abandonment, Dennis must travel to the walled big city in order to attain business opportunity. Once inside the castle’s confines, he discovers that the guilds are operating the city’s businesses as a monopoly, thereby making the citizens a desperate and impoverished community. As Dennis sidesteps chaotic turmoil among the starving townsfolk, he discovers that the most successful townsfolk are profiteering off the fear the Jabberwock monster has created.|
Due to the increased faith in religion and church attendance, the Bishop is hindered by the King’s mission to slay the Jabberwock. Since King Bruno the Questionable’s list of priorities is hopelessly flawed and ridiculous, he initiates a tournament to select a champion who can defeat the monster. Realizing their profits are in jeopardy, the town’s merchants conspire to send a deadly Black Knight to eliminate this warrior in order to save the monster.
But as Dennis is tossed and shoved in numerous directions by the town’s miserable inhabitants, he finds himself in the center of action staring straight into the Jabberwock’s eyes of flame.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!/ The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!/ Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun/ The frumious Bandersnatch!”
Gilliam’s film, however, differs from Carroll’s classic nonsensical poem in that Dennis is not offered any significant guidance or support from his peers. In fact, the only character who openly speaks with him is Ethel the Squire (Harry H. Corbett), who manipulates Dennis into accompanying the champion on his quest to conquer the Jabberwock.
|Almost every other character in this story beats, spits, or urinates on Dennis at one time or another. The only other character who shows him any affection is the King’s daughter (Deborah Fallender), who misinterprets his accidental presence in her chambers as an act of chivalric courtship.|
Dennis’ unbreakable ability to remain happy is one of Gilliam’s major themes in this movie. Since he achieves all of the goals typical of a fairy tale hero, his history of pain and aggravation are ultimately insignificant. Dennis defeats the Jabberwock, wins the princess’s hand in marriage and earns the adoration of the King and his people. Like Alice in Wonderland, he attains these goals purely by accident.
“Jabberwocky” is a fitting piece of work definitive of the directorial works of Terry Gilliam. The film is dark, apocalyptic, and suggests a macabre glee that would later prosper in Mr. Gilliam’s subsequent works. It is a departure from his traditional use of sketch comedy in “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” Indeed, “Jabberwocky” marks the first time the former Python player created a comedy in pure narrative format.
While many fans will no doubt be resistant to its crude sense of humor (the film features countless references to bodily functions), other viewers will respect “Jabberwocky” for its pioneering sense of dark comedy and epic cinematography. Shot by Terry Bedford, the film consists of several glorious scenic views of Pembroke Castle and Chepstow Castle in Wales.In today’s age of computer borne digital effects, it is refreshing to see the monster depicted in costume form, similar to the classic Japanese Godzilla movies. Built as a large marionette, the Jabberwock’s head is controlled by an unseen puppeteer’s pole, while the performer manipulates the beast’s wings with his arms.
Even though, the Jabberwock is only briefly presented to the audience, Python fans will most likely celebrate the intensive use of gore, bloodletting, and nudity.