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Legacy Review

Jabberwocky (1977)

Jabberwocky is Terry Gilliam’s first solo directing effort and second overall after Monty Python and the Holy Grail. To watch the movie is to see in real time Gilliam’s transition from the broadly comic Monty Python work to the warped, cynical adventures that have made him a cult cinematic hero.

The film follows peasant cooper Dennis as he is disowned by his father and fails upwards as the kingdom faces the plague of a flesh-eating monster. Dennis repeatedly fumbles from one scenario to another, misinterpreting every event along the way.

Gilliam absolutely revels in irony here. Roles are constantly reversed in unexpected ways, like when a princess pursues a reluctant Dennis, or the king’s council recommends ways to keep the title monster alive for the benefit on the economy.

Where Holy Grail’s murky, shabby aesthetic was largely the product of budget and inexperience, Jabberwocky weaponizes that texture into a sleaze-bath of gray skies and grime. Extras crowd interiors, and you can almost smell the stench hopping off the screen.

Gilliam’s visual and narrative craft are a work in progress here. Camera techniques are more varied and cinematically used than in Holy Grail, especially close-ups, high/low angle pairs, and well-constructed long shots.

It’s all pretty promising stuff, but Gilliam made the critical mistake of featuring the film in medieval times, just like Holy Grail. The jokes feel like Monty Python leftover scraps.

The film also suffers from its clashing tones. Some portions still feel like sketch comedy, people whackin’ each other with fishes and gags resolving after 2 minutes to never appear again. Other portions are more ambitious satire and adventure material, most notably the final showdown (featuring some memorable puppetry).

It’s watchable and entertaining enough, but definitely less than the sum of its parts.

Is It Good?

Good (5/8)

Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.


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