Release Date(s)1991 (June 23, 2015)
Studio(s)TriStar Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (Criterion - Spine #764)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A+
After Robin Williams’ death, I was very apprehensive about revisiting Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece The Fisher King once I knew it was being re-released. I knew that it was going to be somewhat biographical about Robin as a person and that it would affect me pretty deeply. And I certainly knew that the new extras contained within the Criterion Blu-ray release of the film would reflect Williams’ passing, as well. But, not barring any strong emotional ties I might have with it, I rewatched the film for the first time in what seems like an eternity and I was pleasantly rewarded... but I still cried.
Released in 1991, The Fisher King tells the story of Jack (Jeff Bridges), a shock jock whose life goes down the drain after he inadvertently causes a tragedy. Three years later, he lives above a video store in an alcoholic haze with his caring girlfriend (Mercedes Ruehl). After a heavy night of drinking, he stumbles upon a crazed homeless man named Parry (Robin Williams), who he finds out was directly a part of the tragedy that he had caused. After feeling the weight and the guilt of this, Jack sets out to help Parry in various ways, but most importantly to help win the heart of a shy and awkward young girl (Amanda Plummer). Meanwhile, Parry is chasing some demons of his own as he is at constant odds with his own mental instability.
Terry Gilliam, at this point, was fresh off of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, a project that really tested his mettle, while also giving him a certain reputation amongst the film community, particularly Hollywood. Gilliam has always been a director with very little patience for a studio system. He’s always resisted it and fought against it whenever he’s had to, and Munchausen was a project that, even though most people consider it one of his best works, was a difficult project for him to make and then to follow. Enter screenwriter Richard LaGravenese and producer Lynda Obst, who were both eager to work with Gilliam on their project The Fisher King. After a very successful collaboration, the film opened to rave reviews and did more than double its budget at the box office. Mercedes Ruehl won an Oscar for her performance and Robin Williams further established himself as not just a terrific comedian, but a terrific actor as well.
Although The Fisher King is severely dated in a lot of ways, there’s no denying how good the movie is, even to this day. The relationships between the characters, the performances, and Gilliam’s direction all combine to make a very sweet and moving film. Gilliam, who was known for his outrageous and unorthodox visual style, set his own aesthetics aside for almost the entirety of the production. The final product is a happy marriage of great talent behind and in front of the camera. I would go so far as to call The Fisher King Gilliam’s most accessible movie. It’s certainly relatable across genders and isn’t just a trip into wild and unsavory territory. At its heart, it’s a love story, but it’s also a story about redemption, and Williams’ performance helps seal the deal almost more than any other actor in the film.
For Criterion’s Blu-ray release of the film, they’ve chosen to utilize a restored 2K digital transfer from a 35mm interpositive of the film under Terry Gilliam’s supervision. The results are spectacular, and despite a previous bare bones Blu-ray release of the film from another label, this is the definitive home video presentation of the film. Grain levels are perfectly even from scene to scene, and both depth and clarity are amazingly high. Even nighttime scenes benefit highly from new visual information. Fine detail, especially concerning facial textures and costumes, is better than ever. The color palette is lush with a range of robust hues, while black levels are inky deep with some wonderful shadow detail visible. Contrast levels are also perfectly satisfactory. There are absolutely no signs of digital enhancement or artificial sharpening to be seen either. The frame is always perfectly stable and there are no abrupt film defects on display anywhere. For the audio portion, there is a single option: English 5.1 DTS-HD. To be honest, I’ve never found The Fisher King to be a film worthy of a surround soundtrack, mainly because I’m so invested in the characters that it never feels necessary. However, upon revisiting the film, I can safely say that I was wrong. The score and the songs used in the film benefit greatly from the space in the surrounding speakers. Dialogue is always prioritized well, as to be expected as its definitely about the words spoken, but sound effects also play an enormous role. It’s not a soundtrack full of speaker to speaker activity, per se, but it definitely represents and enhances the experience perfectly. To be succinct, Roger Pratt’s photography and the film’s soundtrack are represented flawlessly here. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
The good news for fans of Criterion’s Laserdisc release of the film is that all of the extras have been carried over, along with plenty of new ones. There’s an audio commentary with Terry Gilliam; a set of six deleted scenes with optional audio commentary by Gilliam; The Tale of The Fisher King, a documentary about the film in two parts: The Fool and the Wounded King and The Real and the Fantastical; The Tale of the Red Knight, an interview with artists Keith Greco and Vincent Jefferds about the creation of the film’s Red Knight; Jeff’s Tale, a video essay with on-set photographs taken by Jeff Bridges about his experiences taking them; Jeff and Jack, another interview with Jeff Bridges talking about how he studied to be a shock jock with acting coach Stephen Bridgewater, as well as footage from several improv sessions filmed in 1991; Robin’s Tale, a 2006 interview with Robin Williams about the film; a set of costume tests; the film’s five theatrical trailers; and a fold-out paper insert with an essay by critic Bilge Ebiri that also doubles as a poster on the opposite side.
Needless to say, there is very little worth complaining about with Criterion’s release of The Fisher King on Blu-ray. It’s a terrific film that has now been given the deluxe treatment that it certainly deserves. Fans old and new will find plenty to enjoy with this release. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons