Blu-Ray Review: The Fisher King (Criterion) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020  

The Fisher King

Studio: Criterion

Jun 24, 2015 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Grand Central Station’s Main Concourse, rush hour. A hopelessly-smitten Parry (Robin Williams) waits for the object of his affection to arrive. When the mousy young woman (Amanda Plummer) makes her appearance, we see the world from Parry’s love-struck point-of-view: the shoulder-to-shoulder throng of commuters begin to waltz as Parry and his paramour move between them. It’s a flight of fancy as grand as any in Terry Gilliam’s career, and perhaps the most poetic and affecting scene he’s ever put to film.

The Fisher King centers on a Howard Stern-like shock jock named Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) whose career is torpedoed when a misinterpreted on-air comment inspires a deadly massacre at a Manhattan night club. He moves from a high-rise penthouse to an apartment above the video rental shop owned by his girlfriend (Mercedes Ruehl). Following one of his long, nightly benders, Jack’s mistaken for a vagrant and nearly set on fire by hooligans; he’s saved at the last minute by Parry, a homeless eccentric convinced that heavenly voices have tasked him with recovering the Holy Grail. When Jack learns that Parry was once an esteemed professor whose wife was killed in the murder spree he unwittingly spurred, he takes it upon himself to help the man get his life into order.

The Fisher King marked a transition in Terry Gilliam’s career. The filmmaker had kicked off the 1980s quite strongly: 1981’s Time Bandits and 1985’s Brazil had cemented his reputation as a visionary—if hard-headed—director; both critically-acclaimed fantasies bore Gilliam’s unmistakable thumbprint.  By 1988’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, however, his much-publicized clashes with studios and production misfortunes caught up with him. Munchausen cost nearly double its initial $23 million budget to finish, and by the time the final product was released, Gilliam was a pariah in Hollywood.

Few studios wanted to work with Gilliam, and if it hadn’t been for The Fisher King’s stubborn producers—and star Robin Williams putting his foot down—he may have never made another large-scale film again. What separated The Fisher King from his earlier output is that Gilliam was, for all intents and purposes, a director-for-hire on the film. While certain elements—namely, the hellish Red Knight—are unmistakably Gilliam-esque, he didn’t have a hand in the screenplay. It was also more grounded than his normal oeuvre: rather than taking place in a futuristic or fantasy setting, The Fisher King was set in current-day New York. Perhaps these limitations were just what Gilliam needed to recalibrate his career, because The Fisher King—and 12 Monkeys and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which followed—numbered among the director’s masterpieces.

The Fisher King is the sort of Criterion release that spoils film fans by bursting at the seams with extra features. Among these are a pair of documentaries featuring interviews with the film’s director, writer, producers, and surviving stars which clock in at just about an hour together; these outline The Fisher King’s long production history, are a fascinating look at Hollywood Studios’ inner workings, and reinforce just how unlikely it once seemed that Gilliam would ever make another movie. (Spoiler: At different points, The Fisher King was slated to be directed by James Cameron and star Richard Pryor.) You also get a full audio commentary by Terry Gilliam as well as a collection of deleted scenes; a behind-the-scenes photo gallery narrated by Jeff Bridges; a 2006 interview with Robin Williams about the film; trailers, costume tests, and a feature on the special effects needed to create the movie’s Red Knight. Did we mention that the Blu-ray transfer looks (and sounds) superb? The Fisher King is a must-grab for fans of either Robin Williams or the director, and deserves a spot on your shelf next to Criterion’s editions of Brazil and Fear and Loathing.

Author rating: 8/10

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