The Brothers Grimm
R1 - America - Dimension
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (28th December 2005).
The Film

Terry Gilliam has had one hell of a ride over his cinematic career. From his widely acclaimed “The Fisher King” (1991) to his largely unseen by mainstream audience cult sensations “Brazil” (1985) and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (1998), aside from Tim Burton I don’t think there is another director with a more unique vision. Coming from an animation background (and of course his many collaborations with the Pythons), that seems tailor made for Gilliam’s impressive ability to concoct imaginative creations and a distinct and sometimes over the top style that is unmistakably “Gilliam”. Fans of his have waited 7 years for another film (This absence wasn’t planned, Gilliam was at work on another film, his heartbreaking endeavour to bring “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” to the screen resulted in the most ultimate of filmmaking failures chronicled in the excellent documentary “Lost in La Mancha”(2002)). After such a long time audiences were introduced to the sometimes style over substance “The Brothers Grimm” which, was his not so triumphant return to the cinema as many had anticipated.

“Brothers Grimm” tells the story of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (played by Heath Ledger and Matt Damon respectively), the brothers travel from village to village in French occupied Germany (circa 1812) bamboozling townspeople by getting rid of demonic creatures from folklore stories they have collected over the years, witches, trolls etc. They are basically traveling conmen, when eventually they are arrested by the French, under fear of execution the brothers agree to work for the French army to uncover what they believe is a pair of likeminded individuals scaring the pants of the locals in the Marbaden forest. The idea is to send a thief to catch a thief. Keeping an eye on them is master torture expert Cavaldi (Peter Stormare) who accompanies the brothers. However, what they encounter is actual mystical forest, their investigation uncovers a terrible curse that has led to the kidnap of young girls. Before they know it they are wrapped up in the fairy tale and they must save the girls and free the townspeople from the horrid curse that has hung over their heads for 500 years.

“The Brothers Grimm” has the makings of a typically twisted Terry Gilliam film, but is let down by a less then stellar and sometimes convoluted script. Gilliam had developed this film for quite some time before filming began, however a little more time needed to be taken. The story itself is very simple, two brothers con villagers, get caught, accept a proposition at their behest and enter a world of myth and fairy tale as they try to break a curse. The problem here is that Gilliam seems to have over-complicated things by throwing in too many characters to keep track of and allows little time for any real character development, the actors also seem to be going for the over-the-top performance (it seems like they are trying to top each other, especially between Stormare’s Cavaldi character and Jonathan Pryce’s General Delatombe) which gets tiring very quickly and finally there are few moments in the film that seem disjointed, for instance when the brothers chase the horse that ate the child into the forest with Angelika (Lena Heady) leading the way. Eventually they split up, but when they are running out the forest the three come out all at once. How did they find each other since they were lost in the forest in the first place? (upon investigation this appears to be an editing problem, the scene where they find each other is included in the deleted scenes, cut possibly for runtime reasons but should not have been) one other example I can think of is SPOILER WARNING please skip next section if you don't want an aspect of this film spoiled): Cavaldi siding with the brothers near the end of the film, this sudden character shift came from nowhere and there was no indication that he was slowly becoming friends with them (this is a scripting issue) it felt like a decision made out of convenience rather than in any logical manner.

The film however has a few saving graces, Damon and Ledger have some great brotherly chemistry on screen. Their performances are pitch perfect and compliment each other quite well, Will’s older brother shtick who appears to base things on fact while Jake’s young brother who will dismiss fact and reason for the fairly take aspect work well as a unit. Not much can be said about Lena Heady who plays love interest Angelika aside from the fact that she seems to be doing her best Keira Knightly impersonation throughout this film.

The most astounding aspect of this production will have to be it’s production design, the film simply looks beautifully twisted, the attention to detail of the villages and castles is terrific and the forest itself looks and feels like a fairly tale forest should with tangled trees that look as if they’re in pain, if it’s one thing that Gilliam is a master at, it’s creating a world.

“The Brother Grimm” is for the most part an entertaining film with some genuinely good performances from the two leads, but suffers from a over complicated script. Die hard Gilliam fans may get a kick out of this flick but newcomers should consider renting first.

Video

Presented in a widescreen ratio of 1.78:1, this anamorphic transfer isn’t as perfect as I’d have expected, considering this film came out this year. The image is usually sharp, colors are radiant and flourish on screen, the problem I had with this transfer is mainly relegated to the scenes that incorporate a lot of red lighting. The deep red and yellows tend to bleed quote a bit, this directly causes a loss in image detail, especially with characters that have a lot of make-up detail (the Queen with rotten flesh for example). It’s rather distracting at times, a way to fix this could be to color time the film with the director to decrease the intensity of the reds in the print. The scenes that are predominantly red make up about 20% of the film. The rest of the film, which has a naturally lit feel to it, holds up quite well. I couldn’t spot any print damage, skin tones in this environment looked fine, and black levels are deep and bold.

Audio

Two optional audio tracks are included for this film, the first is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track and the second is the French Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English track. I was impressed with this soundtrack, it possesses all the hallmarks of a finely tuned surround experience. The dialogue was clear and distortion free, the atmospheric surrounds were well placed and immersed the viewer (especially in the enchanted forest), action scenes use up the entire 5.1 space with a bit of grunt to it (although didn’t have enough depth to it, a DTS track would be stunning on this film), finally the score made excellent use of each channel without being too overbearing.
The film also includes optional subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

Extras

Dimension Home Video have included a handful of supplements for this film, here you will find an audio commentary, a selection of deleted scenes, two short featurettes and a collection of bonus trailers, below is a closer look at each of these extras:

First up we have a the feature-length audio commentary by director Terry Gilliam, Gilliam discuses the early history of the project when it was set-up at MGM. Interestingly enough this was a script that Gilliam did not originally like, but took it on because he needed something to do and developed it. (with Tony Grisoni, but the writer’s guild wouldn’t allow them credit on the screenplay). Throughout the track Gilliam discusses various aspects of the production, choosing to primarily focus his energies on the film’s production design, sets and locations. He occasionally talks about his cast but seems to be pre-occupied with the overall production design.

Following that are 12 deleted scenes, these scenes include optional commentary by director Terry Gilliam. The commentary on these scenes explain why the scenes were removed, as well as interesting trivia regarding the scenes. These deleted scenes include:

- “Escargot” which runs for 1 minute 6 seconds, in this extension to an already existing scene where General Delatombe convinces the brothers to work for him by threatening to torture them, after that we see that he is unhappy with his food and Cavaldi offers him escargot.
- “Brothers in Cages” which runs for 21 seconds, here the brothers are locked in cages en-route to Marbaden.
- “Cavaldi Warns Will” runs for 54 seconds, here Will informs a Marbaden villager about their fee, when Cavaldi interrupts and warns him to keep his conman ways in check.
- “In The Forest” runs for 33 seconds and is an extension to an already existing scene where the group embark through the mystical forest with Angelika for the first time, here we get some additional dialogue between Will and Jack.
- “Cinderella Story” runs for 2 minutes 6 seconds, this extension to an already existing scene sees the brothers scrubbing the floors dresses in women’s gowns while Cavaldi and his goon tell of a story not too dissimilar to Cinderella.
- “Will to the Rescue” runs for 2 minutes 3 seconds, here Will saves Angelika from a hostile tree in the mystical forest.
- “Chef Gets the Chop” runs for 2 minutes 38 seconds, in this scene Jack loads up supplies onto the carriage, while Cavaldi tries to convince the General Delatombe that he has more pressing matters to take care of in the dungeons rather than deal with the mystical forest. As Cavaldi and the brothers depart we see the chef being executed for crimes against cuisine.
- “No Hidey Hidey Secrets” runs for 25 seconds, here Cavaldi tackles Will for hiding secrets.
- “The fat Soldier” which runs for 1 minute, in this scene a tied up Angelika seduces a fat soldier with her eyes, only to get free from her bindings.
- “Where is the Tower” this scene extension runs for 1 minute 26 seconds, General Delatombe orders for Cavaldi to tell him where the evil tower is.
- “Sasha’s Funeral Procession” runs for 1 minute 1 second, during the procession Sasha is discovered to be alive, the other kidnapped kids are seen running out of the forest after the curse has been lifted.
- “Ready for Life on the Road” which runs for 1 minute 26 seconds, the villagers celebrate the lifting of the curse, here Will asks Cavaldi if he’s ready to join them but decides to stay as he’s found a woman.

Next up is the first of two featurettes entitled “Bringing The Fairy Tale To Life” which runs for 16 minutes 30 seconds, this standard EPK style featurette includes interviews from key cast and crew, behind-the-scenes footage of the production as well as clips from the final film. In this piece we discover that this film is not a biography on the brothers but rather a story set within their world. We of course learn about the production design especially the use of surreal visuals and marrying them to the natural world. There is also the usual amount of back patting going on here, everyone just appears to be so happy in working with such person, and that person is so impressed with the director and his vision…blah, blah, blah. If only the cast and crew would spend more time talking about how the film was made rather than complimenting each other we’d have a great making-of piece, but instead it’s just your typical EPK fluff.

The second featurette is entitled “The Visual Magic of the Brothers Grimm” this short piece runs for 8 minutes 40 seconds, and as the titles suggests it covers the effects of this film. We discover that a number of tricks were employed to create the world of Grimm that includes models and computer generated imagery. However, most model effects were dumped as they didn’t look so good on film so CGI was used to enhance the scene or use CGI completely such as the werewolf. The featurette also includes split screen comparisons between the originally shot footage and the final version. Although brief this piece gets its point across, however I would have like to have seen supplements that explore these issues in far greater depth.

Rounding out the discs extras are a series of bonus trailers, these play before the disc’s start-up menu and can be skipped by pressing the ‘menu’ button at any time. The trailers include:

- “Flightplan” which runs for 2 minutes 35 seconds.
- “Underclassmen” which runs for 1 minute 17 seconds
- “Dark Water” which runs for 2 minutes 34 seconds.

Overall

“The Brothers Grimm” is not Gilliam’s best work and is far from a decent comeback, the film’s plot seems a bit convoluted and does suffer as a result, but despite the film’s shortcomings it is entertaining and for that it’s worth a rental. Dimension has included a nice transfer that could use some improvement paired with a strong surround track and thrown in a handful of extras, of which the commentary and deleted scenes are worth checking out, the featurettes aren’t really worth repeated viewing.

The Film: C+ Video: B Audio: A Extras: B- Overall: B-

 


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