Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, The (Special Edition) (Blu-ray Review)
DirectorHenry Levin, George Pal
Release Date(s)1962 (March 29, 2022)
Studio(s)MGM/Cinerama Releasing Corporation (Warner Archive Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
- Overall Grade: A+
Producer George Pal’s The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm is an epic fantasy film like no other. That’s primarily due to the fact that it was one of only two narrative features shot and released in three-panel Cinerama (the other being How the West Was Won). Most Cinerama features were travelogues or documentaries, and true to the strengths of the format, The Brothers Grimm was shot on location in Germany, with wondrous sights like Neuschwanstein Castle being displayed in the widest of widescreen glory. The Brothers Grimm was originally released as a roadshow production, with an overture, intermission, and exit music, and it’s truly a roadshow in every sense of the term. Seen on the largest screen possible, there’s nothing else like it.
The screenplay for The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm is credited to Charles Beaumont, William Roberts, and David P. Harmon, based on a story from Harmon. The film is constructed to tell three different lesser-known Grimm stories, all within a framework that shows the travails of the brothers themselves. Wilhelm Grimm (Laurence Harvey) and Jacob Grimm (Karl Bohm) are toiling to produce a family history for The Duke (Oskar Homolka), to whom they are both in debt. Jacob wants nothing more than to support Wilhelm’s wife (Claire Bloom) and family, while providing the means for him to marry Greta Heinrich (Barbara Eden). The problem is that Wilhelm dreams of collecting the folk stories told by the common folk of Bavaria, and he lets that get in the way of their work. Three of those stories are brought to life during the course of the film: The Dancing Princess, The Cobbler and the Elves, and The Singing Bone. The all-star cast for those sequences includes Russ Tamblyn, Yvette Mimieux, Beulah Bondi, Jim Backus, Terry-Thomas, and Buddy Hackett.
The framing story was directed by Henry Levin, who had plenty of experience handling fantasy productions like The Wonders of Aladdin and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Yet the fairy tale sequences were directed by Pal himself, with legends like Wah Chang, Gene Warren, and an uncredited Jim Danforth working on the effects. As with How the West Was Won, the challenges of making a Cinerama epic were best shared by a capable team. Yet everything still feels cohesive, thanks to the guiding hand of Pal as a producer—there’s a reason why it’s Pal’s name above the title. The Wonderful Worlds of the Brothers Grimm is filled with as many wonderful sights and sounds as any of his films, and it's the textbook definition of good clean fun.
Cinematographer Paul Vogel shot The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm on 6-perf 35 mm film, using Cinerama cameras with Kodak 27 mm lenses. (Stop-motion animation sequences were shot on standard 35 mm using a single Photosonics Acme model camera, which was mounted on a rig that moved to mimic the arc of a Cinerama camera—each panel was shot sequentially, and then separate strips were reconstructed in the lab.) Warner Archive’s restoration was taken primarily from the heavily damaged original negatives, with the opening Napoleonic War sequence using YCM separation masters instead. Each panel was scanned at 2K resolution, which created 6K master scans when the panels were joined, and the rest of the workflow was completed in 4K. Thanks to the tireless efforts of restoration specialists David Strohmaier and Tom March, The Brothers Grimm looks like it’s been resurrected from the dead. That’s not an exaggeration.
The image is sharp, detailed, and nearly immaculately clean. The few flaws that still exist are mostly inherent to the original production, such as a blemish on one of the lenses during the opening helicopter shot. The animation sequences are a generation removed from their original negatives, so they look slightly softer and coarser than the rest of the film, but that’s a natural consequence of how they were produced. The join lines between the panels are barely visible for most of the film, though they stand out a bit more during a few moments like the dance at the gypsy camp, or in a few shots during the carriage ride. Even in those cases, they’re only noticeable if you look for them. The colors are lovely, easily trumping any and all previous home video versions. Samples from a Technicolor IB print were used as a reference, and it’s safe to say that The Brothers Grimm hasn’t looked this bright and alive since its original Cinerama release in 1962.
Warner Archive has included the film letterboxed at 2.89:1, and also in the Smilebox format that replicates the look of seeing the film projected on a 146 degree curved Cinerama screen. The Smilebox version is effectively 2.59:1, with less information visible on both edges of the screen, but that’s accurate to the way that it would have been matted when originally projected. Both versions look fantastic, so the choice is yours. Owners of projectors with ‘Scope screens will have to opt for the letterboxed version, but anyone with a 1.78:1 display can’t go wrong either way. While the Smilebox version may be off-putting at first, it’s worth sticking with it until you adjust. Since the Cinerama camera rig shot the film in an arc to match the way that it would be projected, the flat letterboxed version carries distortions of its own, especially towards the sides of the image. Smilebox really does give a credible impression of what it was like to see these films projected on a giant curved screen.
Audio is offered in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm was released theatrically with seven-channel magnetic sound for Cinerama exhibition, which used five speakers behind the screen, and had split surrounds that were manually switched between the side speakers and a rear speaker. The audio was restored by Audio Mechanics in Burbank, based on archival scans of the original magnetic tracks that were performed by Chace Audio in 1997. The results are, shall we say, wonderful—it’s a perfect match to the gorgeous imagery on display. While the five front channels have been reduced to three, the directionalized dialogue across the screen hasn’t been centered like many remixes of older films. The surrounds are active at key moments, but like most films of this vintage, most of the mix focuses on the front soundstage. The fidelity is impressive, with decent dynamics and bass response, and the lively soundtrack by Leigh Harline and Bob Merrill sounds full and robust.
Warner Archive’s Blu-ray release for The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm is a two-disc set that includes the letterbox version on the first disc, and the Smilebox version on the second—as a result, both of them have plenty of breathing room to run at a high bit rate. There’s also an 8-page booklet that reproduces the original pressbook, with brief restoration notes at the end. The trailers are duplicated on both discs, in the appropriate format for each presentation, with the rest of the extras being unique on each disc:
DISC ONE: LETTERBOX VERSION
- Announcement Trailer (4:36)
- Theatrical Letterbox Trailer (2:27)
- Radio Interview with Russ Tamblyn (5:11)
- Radio Interview with Yvette Mimieux (5:39)
- Epic Art for the Brothers Grimm (7:00)
- The Wonderful Career of George Pal (8:47)
Both Radio Interviews feature Dick Allen, and they’re pretty standard studio-organized promotional material from the era. Epic Art for the Brothers Grimm is hosted by Justin Humphreys, who is the curator of the George Pal estate, and author of the upcoming biography George Pal: Man of Tomorrow. Humphreys exhibits various pieces of conceptual and promotional artwork by Reynold Brown and Joe Smith—the multimedia silk screened character portraits by Smith are especially striking. The Wonderful Career of George Pal features Humphreys giving a brief overview of Pal’s career, with an emphasis on the production of The Brothers Grimm.
DISC TWO: SMILEBOX VERSION
- Cinerama Announcement Trailer (4:37)
- Theatrical Smilebox Trailer (2:27)
- Rescuing a Fantasy Classic (40:19)
- Rothenberg, Germany Location Commemorative Plaque (:56)
- A Salute to William R. Forman (1:49)
- Slideshow (12:00)
Rescuing a Fantasy Classic is the meat and potatoes extra of the entire set: a comprehensive look at the restoration process. Directed by Harrison Engle, this documentary features interviews with restoration specialists David Strohmaier, Tom March, and John Polito, as well as executives like James Vandever and Steven Anastasi. Strohmaier narrates, and provides plenty of before and after comparisons of the work that was done. Some of it may be a bit controversial, as it included fixing mistakes that existed in the original production: lights blinking out during the Puppetoon sequence; the visible matte lines in one shot of Tamblyn using the invisibility cloak; and elements that were too bright, like the sky in the day-for-night sequences, or the dragon in some shots. Yet it’s difficult to imagine anyone complaining after they see the quality of the restoration work that was done. It’s a truly epic achievement for an epic film.
Location Commemorative Plaque is a brief description of the plaque that was erected by the people of Rothenberg, Germany, to commemorate the filming of The Brothers Grimm. It’s still standing to this day. A Salute to William R. Forman features Cinerama, Inc. Vice President James Vandever offering his thoughts on the legacy of the developer of the Cinerama process. The Slideshow is a collection of behind-the-scenes photos, publicity photos, posters and artwork, newspaper ads, consumer products, recordings, and photos from the original theatrical release.
It's not the most extensive collection of extras, but Rescuing a Fantasy Classic is worth the price of admission alone—to say nothing of the quality of the restoration(s) of the film itself! Warner Archive’s Blu-ray release for The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm can be best summed up by three simple words: buy this set. It belongs in every collection, and after years of fans having begged for it, Warner Archive deserves the support for delivering in such a singular fashion.
- Stephen Bjork
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