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Grimm and Bear it

Being the dork that I am, I’m a bit partial to some of your Monty Python work. However it seems that the Python crew have all moved on to slightly more respectable work nowadays and you’re most likely to catch John Cleese hosting a show about wine and cheese on the LifeStyle channel or Michael Palin hosting a travel show on Discovery.

Terry Gilliam has also progressed somewhat (from his days as the crew’s animation artist) to an extremely talented director.

So, that said, the fact that Gilliam has his name all over The Brothers Grimm means it’s a dead set lock that I’m going to love it.. right?

The Brothers Grimm is a fanciful story based, extremely loosely, on the lives of the German brothers Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm. The Grimm brothers place in literature is somewhat muddied as a result of the watered-down versions (that we’re familiar with) of the folktales they spent much of their life collecting. Both brothers were published authors during the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, primarily their works consisted of studies on German Legal Antiquities, German Runes, German Mythology and Heroic Legends. However it’s the collected works, published under the “Brothers Grimm” name, and the adventures that this movie’s writers imagine that the brothers found themselves experiencing whilst compiling those stories, that this movie is based on.

Many of the (translated) names of the folktales that the brothers assembled are familiar to us all; Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstiltskin, and Hansel and Gretel. However the original versions, collected by the brothers, are much darker tales than the versions told to us by our parents or the Disney animators, although some still show signs of their darker heritage (Hansel and Gretel traditionally begins with the children’s parents plotting to leave them in the forest to starve to death because they cannot afford to feed them).

Take this iniquitous source material, combine it with writers with names and credits like Ehren Kruger [Reindeer Games, The Ring (I and II)], Terry Gilliam (uncredited) [Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Monty Python and the Holy Grail] and Tony Grisoni (uncredited) [Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas] – Couple that with Gilliam’s ‘must own’ directing resumé, which include Brazil, The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys, and Time Bandits, and you’d be forgiven for expecting cinema experience something akin to the “Quirky, but Dark” brilliance of Tim Burton’s 1999 Sleepy Hollow… You’d be forgiven, but you’d also be disappointed.

If you’re familiar with former Monty Python animator, Terry Gilliam’s back catalogue, then you’d be aware of his style. If not, to continue the comparison with Tim Burton, Gilliam’s movies conjure that same sense of wonder and other worldlynessâ„¢ that Burton manages to evoke consistently in his movies. I commented during my Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory review that it (Wonka) is the definitive Burton film, I don’t believe we’ve seen the best of Gilliam yet and sadly The Brothers Grimm isn’t even one of his best.

The Brothers Grimm has all the elements of what should make a great, sardonic yet humorous tale. The direction is wonderful and the film does have a gorgeous, albeit muddy, look to it. It has a strong cast in Matt Damon (Wilhelm Grimm), Heath Ledger (Jacob Grimm) and the film’s obvious love interest, Lena Headey. But the script is weak and predictable, holding no surprises and sadly, only a few passing nods to Gilliam’s Python past where as the whole tone of the film could have been lifted to classic status had even one of his former Flying Circus buddies given the script a once over. I don’t say this because *I* wanted to see a pseudo-python film, I say it because the film itself spends much of it’s time screaming out for such a turn. Unfortunately its failure to take the viewer to a coconut-clopping place doesn’t mean that it manages to cover the darker angle any more completely.

In much the same way that the film appears to be overly-concerned about being too humorous it seems equally frightened of being unduly sinister. Which, like the idea of a bedtime story about leaving your kids in the forest to starve, seems a little self-destructive. The end result being that when the film does dare to be dark and achieve anything remotely unsettling, you’re unsettled for the wrong reasons…. Basically, you’re left asking yourself if it had intended to be disturbing or funny. So, in the end, it’s neither.

Ultimately The Brothers Grimm isn’t a bad movie, it’s just not the movie that it should have been, given the fantastically talented people associated with it. It has all the elements of Gilliam’s fantastic mind and abilities as a director, but reeks of an artist restrained by studio bean counters: Which I really hope was the case because it means we can still expect brilliant things from Gilliam in the future.

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