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With: Michael Palin, Annette Badland, Harry H. Corbett, John Le Mesurier, Warren Mitchell, Deborah Fallender, Max Wall
Written by: Charles Alverson, Terry Gilliam,
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 105
Date: 03/28/1977

Jabberwocky (1977)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Slithy Toves Gyring and Gimbling

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It becomes very clear while watching Jabberwocky (1977) that Terry Gilliam had been bit by the filmmaking bug while co-directing Monty Python and the Holy Grail two years earlier.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a funny, well-written movie that was cheaply made and is frankly not that visually interesting. Jabberwocky, which also takes place in the middle ages, is a visually amazing film with a poor script and not much going on. Perhaps Gilliam entertained some whim that he could meld the two films together into something truly spectacular.

Sadly, that did not happen. Jabberwocky plays like Holy Grail's unpleasant cousin; constantly spouting jokes about feces, rotting food, fat people, fornication, fake blood and body parts -- all the while covered in mud. It's an early version of what might have become a Tom Green comedy.

Jabberwocky is not an official Monty Python project and doesn't even really rank as an unofficial one. Terry Jones, who co-directed Holy Grail with Gilliam, appears in a small role, as does Gilliam himself. John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle are nowhere to be found. But the ever-likable Michael Palin does appear, taking the lead as Dennis Cooper. (That modern-sounding name uttered in medieval times is by far the best joke in the film, and it was borrowed from Holy Grail.)

After his barrel-maker father disowns Dennis and keels over, the jovial son hits the road for the big city and the land of opportunity, taking the time to say goodbye to his beloved, the obese and indifferent Griselda (Annette Badland). In the big city, Dennis finds strife and misery. On his last legs, he's mistaken for a prince and a champion and sent off to fight the Jabberwocky, the monster that has been pillaging the village and killing many an innocent folk.

The film fails twofold. On the one hand, the constant grime and mud becomes oppressive and on the other hand the jokes therein just aren't that funny. But Gilliam makes quite a splash as a filmmaker, using all kinds of bizarre and oblique angles, streams of light, and frenetic pacing and cutting. It's a clear calling card and proof that the director had the stuff to go on and make better films like Brazil (1985), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989) and 12 Monkeys (1995).

Strangely, in Jabberwocky, Gilliam gives up his unusual cutout animation technique that was so prevalent (and so funny) in the Monty Python television show and movies. It would have made a welcome relief to the film's dreariness.

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