J.D. Lafrance
The Fisher King: Criterion Collection DVD Review

The Fisher King: Criterion Collection

June 30, 2015

Director: Terry Gilliam,
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer, Michael Jeter, David Hyde Pierce, Lara Harris, Kathy Najimy,

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DVD Review

J.D. Lafrance

When Terry Gilliam was offered The Fisher King (1991) he had come from the exhausting experience of making The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) that saw him clash with one of the film’s meddling producers and resulted in a limited theatrical release. That experience, and his conflict with the head of Universal over the final cut of Brazil (1985), gave the director a troublemaker reputation within Hollywood. As a result, Lynda Obst, one of the producers of The Fisher King, had to convince the studio that he was the right person for the job. Accepting the gig went against Gilliam’s dictum to never work in Hollywood and to only make films he originated. However, he was taken with Richard LaGravenese’s screenplay and jumped at the chance to work with Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams. The end result was a critical and commercial hit that successfully fused Gilliam’s trademark flights of fancy with a crowd-pleasing tale of redemption.

Jack Lucas (Bridges) is a popular New York City shock jock that has it all: a hit radio show, he lives in an expensive penthouse apartment, he’s dating a beautiful model, and is poised to star in his own television sitcom. However, his seemingly perfect world comes crashing down around him when an offhanded rant to one of his loyal listeners provokes the person to shoot-up a trendy bar, killing seven people.

Three years later, he’s working at a video store owned by his girlfriend Anne (Ruehl) and has become a bitter, self-loathing alcoholic. One night, feeling particularly sorry for himself, Jack goes out for walk in the rain and decides to commit suicide. He’s stopped by two young men who attack him. They’re stopped by Parry (Williams), a homeless man who rescues Jack and takes him to his “home,” a makeshift living space in the boiler room of a building that doubles as a shrine to the Fisher King myth. Parry informs him that he’s a knight on a quest (“I’m the janitor of God.”) to find the Holy Grail. He enlists Jack to help him in his quest, which the latter agrees to once he learns about his culpability in Parry’s tragic past.

The Fisher King continued a fantastic run of film roles for Jeff Bridges through the 1980s and 1990s as he was cast against type playing an unlikable man in search of redemption. The actor starts off playing Jack as an empty materialist and then hits rock bottom, wallowing in self-pity until he meets Parry. Bridges does an excellent job portraying a man wracked with guilt and in need of learning how to be selfless.

Robin Williams is a revelation as he alternates between manic and tragic, often in the same scene. The comedian cuts loose with his trademark zany comedy but also shows the pain that resides within Parry, usually suppressed, but the trauma he experienced years ago surfaces, usually during moments of stress. Williams depicts these moments with startling ferocity. He’s also capable of wonderful moments of tenderness, like when he recounts the Fisher King myth to Jack.

The two lead actors are supported by an impressive supporting cast that includes Mercedes Ruehl as Jack’s long-suffering girlfriend and Amanda Plummer as Lydia, the object of Parry’s affection. They get a memorable set piece together when Jack and Parry take them on a double date. Gilliam delights in playing their contrasting personalities off each other. Anne is gregarious and opinionated while Lydia is shy and mousey.

Initially, The Fisher King doesn’t seem like the kind of film Gilliam would be interested in but he takes the romantic comedy set-up and adds elements of his trademark magic realism. For example, he transforms a busy train station into an elegant ballroom or manifests Parry’s trauma into the nightmarish vision of the fearsome Red Knight. He’s also not afraid to take the characters to very dark places so that they earn their happy ending. Without meaning to, Gilliam transformed a studio movie into one of his signature films. It was an important film at that point in his career as it demonstrated his ability to work with actors – something he wasn’t know for previously – and it proved to Hollywood that the was a responsible filmmaker capable of making a commercial hit. More importantly, he created a modern fairy tale that skewered Yuppie consumerism while also telling an engaging and sweet romantic story.

Special Features:

The Criterion Collection comes through again with a superb transfer supervised by director Terry Gilliam. There is an excellent amount of detail and no signs of debris and defects. The colors all look excellent and I daresay The Fisher King hasn’t looked this good since it first debuted in theaters.

There is an audio commentary by Gilliam that originally appeared on Criterion’s 1991 laserdisc. He starts off stating the three rules that governed his filmmaking and that he broke them all on this film. He eloquently analyzes the prevailing themes of the film while also recounting anecdotes about making it in his trademark engaging fashion. He also talks about the role New York City played in the film and the challenge of shooting on location. This is a must-listen for Gilliam fans and admirers of The Fisher King.

There are six deleted scenes with optional commentary by Gilliam. They are interesting for completists but it is obvious why they were cut.

“The Tale of The Fisher King” consists of two short documentaries featuring new interviews with Gilliam, producer Lynda Obst, screenwriter Richard LaGravenese and actors Jeff Bridges, Mercedes Ruehl and Amanda Plummer. They take us through the origins of the project, including how they all got involved. LaGravenese says that the script was a reaction to the harsh materialism of the ‘80s. Ruehl had studied the Fisher King myth and was very familiar with it. Plummer knew nothing about the myth but was really drawn to the character of Lydia. This is an excellent, substantial look back at how The Fisher King came together.

“The Tale of the Red Knight” features artists Keith Greco and Vincent Jefferds looking back at the challenges they faced creating Parry’s nemesis the Red Knight using practical effects. They actually dig through the surviving props and talk about the materials they used to achieve what Gilliam wanted.

“Jeff’s Tale” features Bridges taking us through behind-the-scenes photographs he took while making the film. He recalls anecdotes behind many of the photos in this engaging extra.

“Jeff and Jack” features behind-the-scenes footage of Bridges rehearsing his shock jock material. The actor takes us through how he prepared for it, including some of the things he did. This extra provides fascinating insight into the prep work involved.

“Robin’s Tale” is a 2006 interview with Robin Williams as he recalls working on The Fisher King. Not surprisingly, he speaks highly of collaborating with Gilliam and what he loved about the man’s work. He recounts some of his favorite moments working on the film, including being naked in Central Park at night.

“Costume Tests” features footage of the four main actors trying on various outfits for their respective characters.

Finally, there is a collection five trailers for the film.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance


Rating: 100%

Website: http://www.criterion.com/films/28719-the-fisher-king


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