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.
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.