Release Date(s)1988 (October 3, 2017)
Studio(s)MGM/UA (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
Gestating over a period of five years and eventually put in front of the camera in 1987, A Fish Called Wanda saw its wide state-side release in August of 1988 and later on in the U.K. in October. Immediately considered one of the finest comedies ever made, it was extremely received well by critics and did great business at the box office, earning back a little over eight times its original budget. The brainchild of both directo Charles Crichton and Monty Python veteran John Cleese (who later admitted to co-directing the film due to Crichton’s advanced age), it was also nominated for several Oscars and BAFTAs, winning several of each.
Cleese is a high court barrister named Archie Leach, who has been summoned to a case involving a successful jewel heist in which the culprit George (Tom Georgeson) has been double-crossed by his larcenous co-horts Otto (Kevin Kline) and Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis). However, only he and a stuttering, animal-loving hitman named Ken (Michael Palin) knows the whereabouts of the hidden loot. The comedy ensues as Wanda attempts to seduce Leach for information, getting more than she bargained for in the process, while jealous Otto tortures poor Ken into giving up the location of the diamonds, one pet fish at a time. As everyone sets out to find the stash of jewels and take it for themselves, backstabbing, dog-flattening, and accidental nudity play out to hilariously side-splitting degrees.
Although previously released on Blu-ray by MGM, Arrow Video’s new release of the film sports a presentation taken from a 4K restoration of the original 35mm camera negative. It’s not a dramatic improvement, but it certainly bests the previous high definition master in many ways. Color and contrast benefit the most from this new transfer, as well as a healthy dose of clean-up. Grain levels are mostly solid with only minor compression artifacts cropping up, and even then, hardly noticeable. There’s also much more clarity and detail on display, which is sharper and more accurately reproduced. Skin tones are also a little less pale, dipping more into pink territory than orange. Although this is a film set mostly during the daytime, black levels, in particular regards to the wardrobe, are deeper with more concentrated shadow detail. As I previously mentioned, it’s also a cleaner presentation, with dirt, scratches, and debris virtually absent from the final images. It’s not a film that ever looked that bad on home video to begin with, but it’s now a little more vibrant and cleaner, which is not a bad thing at all. For the audio, two tracks are available: English mono LPCM and English 5.1 DTS-HD. Both tracks certainly give the film’s score depth, but I have to (as I tend to do) side with the original theatrical mono as the best of the two options. However, there’s nothing really wrong with the 5.1 remix, other than it doesn’t offer much in terms of surround activity. Occasional ambient activity is present, but not enough to warrant the extra speaker space. On both tracks, dialogue is clean and clear with sharply-rendered sound effects and excellent overall fidelity, but the mono is definitely the more satisfying track of the two. Subtitles are also provided in English SDH if needed.
In the extras department, this disc is also jam-packed with goodies. Even better is the fact that everything has been carried over from the film’s previous releases, even the Easter eggs. All that’s missing is a measly screen saver from an early MGM DVD, and let’s face it, who’s really holding on to that? On this release, you’ll find an audio commentary with John Cleese; the documentary on the making of the film John Cleese’s First Farewell Performance; the Something Fishy 15th anniversary documentary; An Appreciation by Vic Pratt, a BFI film archivist; an interview with production designer Roger Murray-Leach; On Location, revisiting the film’s shooting spots with Robert Powell; A Message from John Cleese, a tongue-in-cheek introduction to the film; 25 deleted and alternate scenes, as well as an introduction and an alternate ending; an image gallery with 57 stills; a trivia subtitle track; the theatrical trailer; and a 40-page insert booklet with an essay on the film by Sophie Monks Kaufman, a vintage interview with John Cleese by John Morrish, and restoration details. As for the Easter eggs, one can be found if you press right while hovering over “image gallery”, which is the Mr. John Cleese Shows His Thoughts on the United States of America outtake. If you press right while hovering over “trivia track”, you’ll find an additional alternate scene. And finally, if you press right while hovering over “trailer”, you’ll find a Jamie Lee Curtis interview outtake.
Considered one of the sharpest and most hilarious comedies of all time, A Fish Called Wanda was a welcome surprise when it originally premiered and has aged remarkably well, despite the late 1980s setting. While the film has had a pretty good aftermarket life, Arrow Video’s latest Blu-ray release tops them all in nearly every category. It’s a fine package and well-worth upgrading to, even if you already own the previous MGM Blu-ray.
- Tim Salmons