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The Fisher King(1991)
After inspiring a disgruntled caller to carry out a massacre, popular radio “shock jock” Jack Lucas suffers a breakdown, but his life changes when he meets Perry, a homeless man and former college professor, who believes he is supposed to find the Holy Grail.
For more about The Fisher King and the The Fisher King Blu-ray release, see the The Fisher King Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on November 7, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges, Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer, David Hyde Pierce, Lara Harris
Director: Terry Gilliam
» See full cast & crew
The Fisher King Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, November 7, 2011
The Fisher King marked the start of a new era for director Terry Gilliam. His three immediately previous films—1981s Time Bandits, 1985's Brazil, and 1988's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen—comprise a loose thematic trilogy concerned with imagination as a way to escape the ridiculous machinations and self-serving bureaucracy of mankind. Each, in its own way, is a high-concept satire, baroquely skewering materialism and conformity, totalitarianism and hypocrisy. The Fisher King is different. It's smaller-scaled, less special effects-heavy, and more intimate—closer to a traditional Hollywood drama than any of his earlier work.
It's also the first of Gilliam's films that he didn't write himself. Penned by Richard LaGravenese, who later went on to write A Little Princess, Beloved and, most recently, Water for Elephants, The Fisher King nonetheless shares many of Gilliam's characteristic preoccupations, from the Holy Grail and knights on horseback, to mental illness and a skewed, hallucinatory vision of the world. You might say it was tailor-written for the former Monty Python member turned imaginative filmmaker. It's unmistakably Gilliam-esque, a wild comic romance that transplants elements of the Grail mythos to the dingy New York of the late '80s and early '90s.
In a brilliantly dynamic performance, Jeff Bridges stars as Jack Lucas, a talk-radio bad boy who routinely chews out and eggs on his sad-sack callers, dispensing insensitive advice and derisively signing off with his catchphrase, "Thank God I'm me." Part Gordon Gekko and part Patrick Bateman from American Psycho—but more misanthropic than the former and less psychotic than the latter—Jack is a filthy rich, high-powered narcissist who lives in a downtown penthouse suite and gets chauffeured around in a stretch limo, sheltered in both from the riff-raff and homeless on the streets outside. On top of the world, with zero regard for those beneath him, he's an absolute image of 1980s excess and utter callousness.
This all changes, however, when one of Jack's callers takes his cynical guidance too seriously and goes on a pump-action shotgun-assisted murder spree inside a "yuppie" nightclub, killing seven. Feeling responsible, Jack spirals into an alcoholic depression, and within three years he's poor, working at a rundown VHS rental store owned by his longsuffering girlfriend Anne (Mercedes Ruehl), and dead set on suicide. Before he can go through with it, he's beaten up by some teenaged street thugs and rescued by Parry (Robin Williams), a delusional, Don Quixote-ish bum and self- described knight who's obsessed with finding the Holy Grail, which he believes is being held in a "castle" on the Upper East Side. Seeking atonement, Jack is grudgingly compelled to aid Parry in his quest when he learns that the homeless knight-errant is the way he is precisely because his wife was one of the victims of the nightclub attack.
This sets up the The Fisher King's primary theme: the mutual redemption of the two men. The mythological figure of the film's title—a wounded king healed almost inadvertently by a fool—can apply almost equally to Jack and Parry. Both are emotionally injured, and as they stumble along together towards deliverance, each becomes exactly what the other requires. Jack needs lessons in humanity and humility, while Parry— afflicted with visions of a Red Knight who gallops through the streets, shooting fire from his headpiece—just needs someone to believe him. Or, more precisely, to believe in him.
He also needs love, and a sizeable subplot is devoted to Jack helping Parry woo his bespectacled object of desire, Lydia (Amanda Plummer), a bookish and socially awkward accountant who doesn't know that Parry has been practically stalking her for the last few months. They're a good fit, and love does indeed blossom, but the real relationship here—and the real reason to watch The Fisher King—is the developing friendship between Jack and Parry, two very different souls who need each other in ways that are difficult to express. Jeff Bridges—long haired and still looking young—is terrific as a broken and bitter man who's trying desperately to rebuild credit after going morally bankrupt, and Robin Williams is in full-force comic whirlwind mode, letting loose with his characteristic stream-of-consciousness improv babble and, at one point, even prancing around Central Park completely naked. They make a great pair.
Although Terry Gilliam didn't write The Fisher King, his directorial stamp is all over the film in its odd shots and wide-angled lensing, its sustained tone of magical realism and surreal mise-en-scène, juxtaposing the grimy gray New York streets with the apparition of a flaming red medieval knight on horseback. (Production designer Mel Bourne—a frequent Woody Allen collaborator—also deserves credit for the heightened, exaggerated version of New York portrayed in the film.) Perhaps the most visually striking—and moving—moment is a scene set in Grand Central Station during rush hour. As Parry catches glimpse of Lydia moving through the crowd, suddenly all of the harried commuters pair up and begin dancing, turning the enormous terminal into a joyous ballroom, a shimmering reflection of Parry's feelings. Gilliam is one of few modern filmmakers who can pull off this kind of capital-R-Romanticism without it going syrupy sweet. He also knows how to populate his films with enjoyably oddball one-off characters. Look out for an uncredited Tom Waits and a deliriously good bit by Michael Jeter as a cross-dressing cabaret singer who does a bang-up Ethel Merman impression covering "Coming Up Roses."
The film does have a few structural problems, most of which can probably be chalked up to Richard LaGravenese being a first-time screenwriter. The plot loses focus in the lengthy middle section, and the women in the script are never really given much to do, but the strength of the performances and Gilliam's imaginative eye keep The Fisher King from ever going dull. For a film with a runtime of nearly 140 minutes, this one is brisk and continually entertaining, and it closes with an ending that's well-timed and emotionally satisfying. While it doesn't rank quite as high as Gilliam's best, The Fisher King is nonetheless a magical experience, suffused with the kind of romantic drama and fantastical comedy that the director does extremely well. It's also interesting as a turning point in Gilliam's filmography, an intersection between his medieval and Victorian- themed prior films and the harder-edged futurism and gonzo Americana, respectively, of Twelve Monkeys and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
The Fisher King Blu-ray, Video Quality
Image Entertainment has brought The Fisher King to Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that's more than adequate, if a bit underwhelming. Meaning, the film certainly looks the best that it ever has on home video, but you get the sense that it probably could've looked better. I'm not sure what kind of source print Image used for the transfer, but to me it looks like it could be one or two steps removed from the original negatives—grain seems slightly heavier than it should be, and contrast is occasionally weak, with somewhat hazy black levels during the darker scenes. This is by no means a deal-breaker. The film is still a pleasure to watch in high definition, and though the print isn't quite perfect, it's clear that no attempt has been made to artificially scrub or enhance the image. There are no DNR abuses, no heavy-handed edge enhancement, no color boosting or tweaking. While a bit soft, the picture is naturally filmic, and the upgrade from the movie's DVD release is immediately apparent in better resolved textures and a greater sense of clarity overall. Aside from the occasionally weak blacks, color is strong too, with realistic skin tones and a warm palette. You will spot some light blemishes on the print—small specks, no major debris—but there are no overt compression problems or heavy noise. Fans will be pleased, although probably not wowed.
The Fisher King Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The same could be said for the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that Image Entertainment has included here—it's faithful to source, untouched by any digital alternations or new remastering, and it sounds good, even if it's rarely objectively impressive from a sound design perspective. The mix isn't particularly engaging—the rear channels only broadcast light ambience and occasional bleed from the musical score—but this isn't unusual for films from the early 1990s. As long as you know what to expect, you won't be disappointed. What the track lacks in all-surrounding immersion it makes up with consistent clarity, a satisfying dynamic range—which gets shown off during the few scenes that might loosely be called "action sequences"—and no hisses, pops, crackles, or dropouts. The music has plenty of heft—particularly Chill Rob G's "The Power"—and the dialogue is always clean and easy to understand. The disc includes optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
The Fisher King Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Unfortunately, none of the material from the Criterion Collection laserdisc has made it to this release, and the only supplement on the disc is the film's theatrical trailer, presented in high definition.
The Fisher King Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Since it falls between the over-the-top fantasy of Terry Gilliam's earlier films and the one-two punch of 12 Monkeys and Fear and Loathing, The Fisher King is sometimes overlooked and underappreciated. This shouldn't be so. It's very funny, occasionally moving, and while the eccentric touches are definitely still there, the film is arguably the closest Gilliam has ever come to making a realistic, traditional Hollywood- style drama. The movie's Blu-ray presentation is unquestionably a significant step above prior DVD versions, but fans may balk once again by the fact that none of the bonus material from the Criterion Collection laserdisc has been ported over. Still, if you're a fan of the film—or a newcomer to this tale of two broken men who heal each other through their friendship—this Blu-ray release is certainly the best way to see it. Recommended.
The Fisher King: Other Editions
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The Fisher King Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Fisher King Blu-ray Coming Up - August 3, 2011
Image Entertainment have revealed that they are preparing a Blu-ray release of acclaimed director Terry Gilliam's comic masterpiece The Fisher King (1991), starring Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Adam Bryant, and Amanda Plummer. Technical specs and region coding ...
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