The Brothers Grimm Reviews
Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm fits into this category very neatly, although in terms of its problems it is unlike any of those mentioned. Where all three aforementioned flops were the director's chosen projects and therefore entirely their fault, The Brothers Grimm is closer to David Fincher's Alien 3 or David Lynch's Dune, potentially interesting projects undone by heavy-handed producers obsessed with hitting their target audience.
Where Fincher wanted Alien 3 to be as dark and nihilistic as the original, the studios wanted a mainstream action film. Where Lynch saw Dune as a chance to expand his palette to create an immersive world, Dino DeLaurentis wanted a simplistic space fantasy that could cash in on the success of Star Wars. Both films have moments where the directors' true intentions shine through (Alien 3 moreso, it must be said), but for purists they remain so disappointing.
It's not difficult to see why Gilliam would have been attracted to The Brothers Grimm. He is renowned for blending fantasy and reality together into one seamless whole, whether in the dream sequences of Brazil or the wild flights of fancy in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Many of his films are about the triumph of faith and imagination over the grim, restrictive realities we find ourselves in, a theme completely embodied in the character of Jakob Grimm. And much of his work, like Jabberwocky and The Fisher King, has a fairy tale element to it.
Sadly, all these good omens are in vain, and simply make the end result all the more unbearable. Gilliam's clashes with Bob and Harvey Weinstein were wide-ranging, from the firing of cinematographer Nicola Pecorini for "working too slowly" to their refusal to let Matt Damon wear a prosthetic nose, for fear that it would "distract audiences from his star-studded good looks." These squabbles continued well into post-production with the supervision of ever-increasing effects shots. They ran on so long, that Gilliam was able to shoot the whole of Tideland before The Brothers Grimm was even released.
The result of all this in-fighting, regardless of its cause or extent, is that The Brothers Grimm is not a Terry Gilliam film. It is a mainstream film which just happens to be directed by Terry Gilliam, with a visual style which is severely compromised and often completely derivative. Some moments seem to be cobbled together from Gilliam's previous work, in some kind of bizarre, ham-fisted self-parody. The woodland catapult feels like a lift from Time Bandits, while both the odd technology and the Grimms' armour seem to have escaped from Brazil. Elsewhere there are clear rip-offs of Sleepy Hollow (the look of the village), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (the torture scenes), and -- most insultingly -- The Lord of the Rings.
The derivative visuals can be traced to the film's over-reliance on CGI in place of more organic effects. Despite the lengthy post-production, which saw the release date pushed back almost a year, many of the effects look ropey and unfinished. The wolf's transformation is no great surprise because the wolf runs in such an odd way that we know it's a man underneath. The trees' moving branches, which seem to have escaped from The Evil Dead, are not threatening enough, nor is the scene of the horse devouring the child. Even when things get impressive, like the Ice Princess regenerating and then shattering into mirrored glass, we simply don't care because all the bad effects preceding it take us out of the fantasy and leave us feeling inert. In any case, Théoden's regeneration in The Two Towers is far more impressive, being quicker and largely unedited.
But it's not just the bad effects which make this a stinker. The script is really third-rate, never managing to do justice either to the characters or the fairy tales. It was written by Ehren Kruger, who also wrote Gore Verbinski's abysmal remake of The Ring, and in its worst moments the film does feel like Pirates of the Caribbean. The storytelling is incoherent, the dialogue is flat and incomprehensible, and the actors have the distinct look of not knowing what is going on. The goofy comedy is especially out of place, being completely at odds with Gilliam's sensibilities. In Time Bandits or Baron Munchausen, dark and forbidding worlds are created into which humour is introduced to add depth. Here we have lots of bad slapstick, with people falling over each other in various mirthless ways.
On top of all this, the film is completely miscast and badly acted. Even before we get to the individual actors, there is the issue of accents. Both Grimms speak in 'natural' English accents, which would be fine if everyone else did the same. Instead we have Jonathan Pryce nearly swallowing his words in a French accent, and Peter Stormare being impossible to understand as an Italian. Heath Ledger is quite simply all over the place, babbling his lines and stumbling around aimlessly, just as he did in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Matt Damon looks completely at sea, and Lena Headly is far too glamorous to play Angelica (Gilliam originally wanted Samantha Morton, but the Weinsteins effused in yet another act of genius). All the supporting cast look less like characters than rejects from the local freak show; the acting is hammy and over-the-top in a way which quickly stops being funny
The Brothers Grimm is a soul-crushing experience for anyone who loves Terry Gilliam, or indeed anyone who appreciates genuine artistic talent over the demographic obsessions of studios. The film as a whole bares a strange resemblance to Army of Darkness, which stripped out all the colourful darkness of the earlier Evil Dead films to create a goofy mainstream romp which ultimately falls flat on its face. All of the darkness and real substance of Gilliam's greatest work has indeed been stripped away, and all that is left is a hollow shell vainly pumped full of cheap imitations. Even if one goes in with the lowest expectations -- say, having just seen Doctor Parnassus -- the overriding emotion will be either anger or despair. It's a real calamity in Gilliam's career, and based upon his subsequent work, he has yet to recover from it.
Will and Jake Grimm are travelling con-artists who encounter a genuine fairy-tale curse which requires genuine courage instead of their usual bogus exorcisms.
The Brothers Grimm seeks to give us the "real story" behind the classic Grimm's Fairy Tales such as Hansel & Gretel, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel without compromising the mystical or enchanted aspects in each of those stories.
Just like the fairy tales represented in the storyline, to truly enjoy this film requires a temporary suspension of disbelief; but in the end what makes this a satisfying experience is that, along with the characters in the story, we enter into this tale as skeptics and walk out the other side as believers.
This movie was filmed in true Terry Gilliam fashion and features the kind of fantastic creatures and special effects we have already seen in Time Bandits and Baron Munchausen. The PG-13 rating has little to do with strong language or sexual content (both noticeably lacking) but some of the special effects scenes may be too scary for young children.
It helps that the basic set-up of the story is an interesting and imaginative one - with the central premise falling somewhere between Ghostbusters, The Frighteners and Tim Burton's adaptation of the legend of Sleepy Hollow - with the basic idea of a fairytale myth that is approached by the filmmakers as if genuine fact being juxtaposed by a story involving two con-artist characters who work against a narrative backdrop of the supernatural, folklore and a genuine fear of ghosts, spirits, witches and goblins. This creates a nice interplay between the lead character's skepticism and the naive fear of the surrounding villagers. It also makes sense when we analyse it in conjunction with the re-casting of the brothers as manipulative tricksters, which is a nice touch and further presents the idea of toying with an audiences' preconceptions of an event in order to elicit a greater degree of dramatic tension, etc. The Brothers Grimm never comes close to that level of genius, though it does offer Gilliam the chance to play around with his beloved fairytale references, whilst simultaneously opening the film up in a narrative sense in order to incorporate elements of action, drama and adventure.
Throughout the film, Gilliam packs each frame full of wonderful little sight gags and moments of unbridled imagination, the kind of which we haven't seen since films like Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, with the whole film rolling along from one over-the-top set-piece to another, whilst the disparate strands are tied together by the likable lead performances from Matt Damon and Heath Ledger. Perhaps most audience's problem with the film is that they've become too accustomed to Gilliam films in which fantasy erupts from a vaguely real setting, like, for example, The Fishing King, or his biggest hit so far, Twelve Monkeys. Even Fear and Loathing... fell back on the drug motif, which somehow makes the fantasy elements more plausible? Here, the audience is required to take a number of leaps. Firstly, to accept the appearance of witches, then to accept that the witch is a con, only to then have to re-accept that no, the witch does exist, but there's something else going on as well... a subtle mucking around with the audience's preconceptions of the fairytale genre and of the universe in which those stories play out.
Yes, it's all flawed, and the film will never be another Brazil (why should it? We already have Brazil. Why do we need another one?), whilst the apparent involvement of the Weinstein brothers probably put a strain on Gilliam to retain his more outlandish visual tendencies, whilst simultaneously pushing the film towards a more PG-13 style popcorn audience. The fact that Gilliam has yet to disown the film (and has defended it against the critics in at least two magazine interviews) suggests that the film is at least somewhat close to what he originally intended, which should be enough evidence for those fans crying foul of the Weinstein's for ruining Terry's vision. For me, The Brothers Grimm was an enjoyable film filled with great visuals, production design and the kind of over-the-top performances that are perfect for this kind of film (Peter Stormare and Gilliam regular Jonathan Pryce are both a great deal of fun in their roles as the pantomime villains).
I can appreciate why some people would take exception to the film; for a start there are Hollywood actors attempting British accents (Ledger sounds more like his native Australian whilst Damon has clearly been to the Johnny Depp school of British accents, turning in something that sounds halfway between Captain Jack Sparrow and our own Michael Caine), a director with a track record for costly flops (the unsung Baron Munchausen) and outright failures (his aborted The Man Who Killed Don Quixote); and the fact that there's been more reports about on set wrangling than anything approaching unanimous acclaim!! To me, the only great flaws are the obvious ones that plague most contemporary Hollywood movies... firstly; the film is geared for the youth market (but the film is just too dark, too violent and a little too reliant on mood and atmospherics), whilst the overly used CGI effects are shoddy, obvious, poorly rendered and will no doubt date the film terribly in a few years time.
On another note, it's also a shame that the eye-catching Monica Bellucci is given so little to do here; the producers should have given Gaspar Noe's Irreversible a look to see just what she's capable of!! Regardless, if you can overlook the poor CGI and the larger-than-life performances, The Brothers Grimm offers an interesting story, great scenes of action and humour, and those trademark Gilliam moments of visual wonderment. To sum up, It might not be perfect, but its a fun movie to watch despite its flaws
The plot in itself was reasonable. While I'd never before imagined the Grimm Brothers as traveling con men it seems reasonably justified within the film. I was slightly less happy about the presence of the 18th Century French army, and I'm pretty sure that they could've found another way to bring the Brothers to the actual enchanted forest and keep them there. I'm guessing the French were there in order to be little more than a figure of fun, the Americans not being too fond of the French at the point the film was made.
Just about every fairy tale cliche was shoehorned in to the plot: wicked queen, glass slippers, kissing Sleeping Beauty, Red Riding Hood, werewolf (less common but is there), trail of breadcrumbs...I could go on. This overpopulation of fairy tale cliche didn't really hurt the film that much in my opinion, but made it fit more into the canon that it was involved with. All these competing images make for some very nice visuals - but also create two of it's biggest flaws. The Gingerbread Man, for example, was ridiculous and not in keeping with the tone of the film (which was trying to take itself seriously despite the content and occasional comedy). I could say the same for the horse swallowing the girl, but aside from the clumsy after-effects I thought the idea was actually a pretty good one.
There was also an overabundance of rooks, which could produce part of the Brothers Grimm Drinking Game: down a shot every time you see one. Of course this encounters problems as in a couple of scenes there are at least 10 in a group (so maybe only take a drink when you see less than three in shot, or a close up of a lone rook).
Acting was fine. A lot of the actors I recognised, and were all well versed enough to know what they were doing (or at least look like it). I would like Mackenzie Crook to do something other than be part of a common comedy double act though, I like him.