"It is the middle of the dark ages,
darker than anyone had ever expected."
When it came to my attention Criterion was releasing director Terry Gilliam's Jabberwocky (1977) on Blu-Ray that became one omission from my film education that needed to be filled.
My affection for Michael Palin is endless based simply upon his input into the world of Monty Python as both a writer and performer and capped off by his role as stuttering Ken Pile in the outrageously fantastic A Fish Called Wanda (1988) by director Charles Crichton (Space:1999).
P-P-P-P Palin co-wrote Time Bandits (1981) with Monty Python troupe member Terry Gilliam.
As most are familiar Monty Python was the amalgamation of Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Graham Chapman. The wildly entertaining group all went on to become immensely successful in their own rights respectively.
Stepping outside of the group Gilliam teamed with Palin for first time project Jabberwocky. With a project that included a dragon (check out that immense Criterion cover art) and no signs of CGI to be found this was essential viewing. In fact, Gilliam's dragon channels the man in a suit approach popularized by Ishiro Honda in the Godzilla franchise.
The film looks glorious restored on Blu-Ray and whilst not the best on offering from either respective artist Jabberwocky is nonetheless an entertaining romp inside of a world filled with Gilliam's trademark imagination.
To this traveler's surprise the film was shot at Pembroke and Chepstow Castles in Wales both of which I visited as a younger man having walked in the very steps of Palin and Gilliam. Wow.
Palin too is charming and light and adorably funny as the film's unsuspecting hero short on intellect, but high on good fortune. A few scenes with Mr. Fishfinger are uproarious.
Yet there is also a darker subtext about business and commerce and the struggle to survive during the period. Fear of the Jabberwock creature drives business and commerce and the rich seemingly get richer whilst the poor are dependent and literally hacking off body parts to get by. These were indeed hard and dark times to be sure despite Palin's positively gleeful approach to living. The protestors of this day really don't have a clue.
Speaking of disposition, this is another theme throughout Jabberwocky. It is one of outlook and happiness despite circumstance. Palin's Cooper character is unmolested by success and even seems blissfully ignorant of it in the end. As one writer noted, Cooper simply wanted to embrace a bit of travel, even two miles from his home would be something, and an overweight peasant thing (played by Annette Badland) who essentially rejects his ovations throughout the film. It's hard not to love young Dennis Cooper despite all of these obvious shortcomings. He somehow seizes the joy of life through it all. There are many out there who could learn a thing or two.
With production design and originality permeating the film in the mold of all things wonderful that accompany the world of Monty Python outings Jabberwocky is a delightful treat if not essential. There are indeed cinematic wonders to behold throughout the enterprise and I fully enjoyed the journey Palin's character, Dennis Cooper, took us on throughout the film. He was entirely relatable and likeable and by God that's half of the real battle.
To put things in some perspective when it comes to Gilliam's fantastic discography. If you consider The Fisher King (1991), Brazil (1985), Time Bandits (1981) and 12 Monkeys (1995) among the top tier of his work, I'd comfortably select Jabberwocky, Gilliam's first solo film as a director, as an assured, solid mid-tier entry, but worthy of a placement in any film collection.
Jabberwocky. Director: Terry Gilliam. Writer: Terry Gilliam/ Michael Palin.