Jabberwocky (1977) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Jabberwocky (1977) is very loosely based on the Lewis Carroll poem of the same name in Alice Through the Looking Glass, and is in the Monty Python style. Indeed, it is directed by Terry Gilliam, and stars Michael Palin as a young cooper who is disowned and disinherited by his father on his death bed. He sees the city as his future, but the times are a little strange in that the Jabberwocky is terrorizing the countryside, and anyone who has the  means to bribe guards is hiding in the city. 


see the main commentary

The guildsmen love the arrangement, as they have never had a bigger market for their goods, but the peasants are pressuring the king to do something. He decides on a joust to choose a champion to go against the monster. The winner is to get half  the kingdom, and his daughter's hand. 

It is into these heady times that Palin manages to insert himself. In the scene most pertinent to us, he is escaping some sort of trouble, and ends up in the princess's room. Said Princess, Deborah Fallender, is very nude. Although the film is PG, we have complete exposure, and in a lengthy scene. Even after she puts on a robe, nothing is hidden. 

It's sort of the poor man's version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but with a different look. Holy Grail is filmed with a daylight luminescence that made those times seem a bit cheerier than they were. Jabberwocky decided to make the dark ages really dark. Although you would guess that this was an earlier effort than Grail, it was actually made two years later, and was a big disappointment to fans who hoped for another masterpiece. Gilliam was already a good filmmaker at the time, and would become a great one. His later films include Twelve Monkeys, Time Bandits, Brazil, and The Fisher King, three of which are in the IMDb Top 250. 

But Jabberwocky seems a little like an unfortunate detour on his career path. 

Although the film isn't as slick or as funny as Grail, and doesn't match the technical savvy and imagination of Gilliam's later films, there are some funny bits. King Bruno the Questionable is funny, and is surrounded with a silly assortment of courtiers, including many who plot to keep the king's champion from defeating the dragon, because the dragon is their economic lifeblood.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1, and a full screen version

  • Full-length commentary by Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin

  • sketch-to-screen comparisons

The court advisers try in vain to convince the king that it is a really poor idea to hold a jousting competition to determine the champion who will fight the dragon. The problem with that time-honored method is that it kills off every knight except the winner. Some of the others suggest that a hide-and-seek game would be more appropriate and would keep everyone alive.

The irony of the story is that poor Michael Palin just wanted to become a cooper and marry his fat, ugly girlfriend, but his inadvertent success against the dragon forced him to accept half of the kingdom and the hand of the beautiful, horny princess in marriage. He went out kicking and screaming, but sometimes life is tough.

Sadly, Terry Gilliam is in his 60's now, and it has been seven years since he directed a great movie. Since the brilliant Twelve Monkeys (1995, 7.8 at IMDB, top 200 of all time), he has only done the disappointing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Does he have more great movies in him? I hope so, because I love his best work. He's working on Good Omens as I write this, and he does seem to be the right guy for the job.

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 5.6 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C. Pythonesque films are sort of their own genre, this one is barely OK. A Gilliam-Palin film can't be completely awful, but this is quite far from their best work.

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