Terry Gilliam is one of the most interesting film directors working
today. Even his detractors will admit that his films are visually
unique and have a flavor all their own. Unfortunately, as often happens
with true artists, Gilliam's films haven't met with the commercial success
they deserve. In an apparent attempt to remedy that, Gilliam
created a movie with a lot of box office potential: The Brother's
Grimm. It seemed to have everything going for it: a high
powered star, a script that was similar to an earlier hit, and a lot of
special effects. The only problem is that the movie isn't very good.
As often happens when setting out to craft a summer blockbuster, plot,
characterization, pacing, and general storytelling ability are left by
the wayside in favor of flash and dazzle. It's too bad that a director
of Terry Gilliam's stature fell into that trap.
Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm (Matt Damon and Heath Ledger) have a nice little
scam going. They send a pair of guys into a town and have them "haunt"
an old barn or building. When the superstitious peasants start to
panic the brothers ride into town and offer to "save" them from the evil
scourge for a hefty price. This works fine until they become a little
too famous. A French General (Jonathan Pryce) becomes aware of the
con men and after apprehending the pair orders them to the German city
of Marbaden where young girls have been disappearing. The general
thinks it's another scam, and wants the brothers to expose it. When
they arrive however, accompanied by Cavaldi (Peter Stormare), they discover
that it's not a con, but a real haunted forest inhabited by an evil witch
who has the curse of eternal life.
This movie is visually stunning and reveals an amazingly detailed and
intricate world. Added to that there's also…well, umm. Not
much. This is a case of style over substance taken to extremes.
The movie itself is confusing, poorly paced, and features some atrocious
acting. Though Damon and Ledger seem to have fun with their roles
and do a credible job, everyone else seems to think that they are in a
Monty Python film and that overacting is the word of the day. Pryce
and Stormare are particularly bad with horrid accents and over-the-top
performances that are hard to watch.
The usual Gilliam humor is missing from this film too. The only
slightly interesting plot device is the way that many of the Grimm fairy
tales are worked into the plot: a girl with a red cape and hood being captured
as she leaves the forest, a boy selling a cow for magic beans, etc.
The only problem is that this gets old fast. Viewers are soon rolling
their eyes when an old hag knocks on a door trying to sell apples.
Most of these inclusions had nothing to do with the story however and were
apparently put in so the writers and director could say "look at how clever
we are, here's another scene from a fairy tale!"
This film had a lot of potential but it never lives up to any of it.
The story wasn't engaging, and neither were the characters. The plot
wasn't as inventive and creative as I was expecting, and the acting was
neither humorous nor good. When all is said and done, though there
were some very nice looking scenes and the visual style is wonderful, that
alone isn't enough to carry the film.
For some unknown reason Buena Vista has decided not to include menus
with their Blu-ray films. When the disc is popped in the movie automatically
starts. To select a different audio track or view a bonus item, the
pop-up menu has to be accessed while the movie is playing. You have
to set the subtitles and audio track on the fly which is a very inconvenient
way of doing things. The menu was one of the great things about DVDs
and eliminating it is a huge step backwards. What were the people
at Buena Vista thinking???
The 1.85:1 image looks very good overall, with only a few defects to
mar the picture. On the positive side, the level of detail is excellent
and there is a lot of dimensionality to the film. There are a lot
of "oh wow!" moments in this film and watching it will make you happy that
you splurged for the BD version of the film. The colors are also
strong and vivid. The party at the French General's palace was filled
with brightly colored clothes, but the various browns and grays that the
peasants wore were also nicely shaded.
There were only a couple of defects. The biggest one was a few
instances of pretty sever posterizing. A good example of this is
when Cavaldi has the drop on the brothers after leaving the enchanted forest.
Instead of the night sky gradually changing from one shade of black to
another, it changes in distinct steps. There's a band on one color
black, a band of another, and yet another. I was very disappointed
to see this. The clouds above the tower during the movie's climax
have the same problem.
The blacks were weak too. Though the level of detail in shadows
was very good, the blacks themselves could have been darker and more even.
The forest scenes are very dark and stronger blacks would have made them
a bit more effective.
Some of the CGI effects looked a little weak in HD too. The spiders
that frequently appear in the forest look a bit too glossy and don't have
as much surface detail as other objects around them.
The last nit I have to pick is with the coloring. While the hues
themselves are nice and strong, in one or two scenes it looked like they
were boosted too much in post-production. The festival at the end,
taking place in twilight, was covered in yellow light and makes the people
look a little bit jaundice. This could have been the look Gilliam
was going for, but I would have preferred if it was toned down a notch.
This film comes with an English uncompressed PCM 5.1 track (48Hz/16-bit)
as well as French and English Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. I screened
the film listening to the PCM track and it was very good. The full
soundstage is used to great effect and some of the sounds that pan across
the room are impressive. The fake accents, which I abhorred, sounded
fine and viewers are able to make out what everyone is saying. The
background noises were clear without being overpowering, and the range
was very good. All in all a nice sounding disc.
This disc comes with some pretty standard bonus material. There
is a commentary track with director Terry Gilliam that is fine but not
outstanding. It's more interesting to note what he doesn't
say than what he does. He doesn't mention the difficulties he had
with the studio (he and Bob Weinstein frequently clashed on everything
from the casting to the final cut of the film) and barely mentions the
problems with the script (he wanted writing credits for the work that he
and Tony Grisoni did on the script but the WGA wouldn't allow it.)
He mainly stays on safe topics of how the movie was filmed etc. That's
too bad, this could have been a much more insightful commentary track.
There are also 12 deleted scenes which run about 15 minutes.
The highlight of these is a special effects sequence that was cut from
the beginning of the film.
This wasn't the film it could have been. Visually entrancing by
only mildly entertaining, this attempt at a big summer movie falls flat,
as most of them do. It's too bad really because Gilliam has made
some very interesting films and is a better director than this movie shows
him to be. The Blu-ray disc looks good but it has a few defects that
keep it from being reference quality. This one would make a
good rental, but it isn't worth buying.