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MRQE Top Critic

Straight To Hell Returns

Post-Repo Man cult favorite returns with improved special effects —John Adams (review...)

Alex Cox returns... Straight to Hell

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The Brothers Grimm failed to impress at the theater, but because it’s a Terry Gilliam creation, I thought the DVD deserved a look. DVD extra features rarely make a movie better, but sometimes a commentary or documentary will shed new light on a movie that didn’t quite work.

Alas, that’s not the case with Brothers Grimm. All I could see in the two-hour extravaganza was a lot of Gilliamesque eye candy, even with the insight of Gilliam and his behind-the-scenes crew.

The Truth is Out There

Marvel at the facial hair on a Miramax DVD release
Marvel at the facial hair on a Miramax DVD release

The title characters are Jake and Will Grimm (Heath Ledger and Matt Damon). They haven’t written their famous children’s stories yet, but they’re certainly gaining inspiration. The brothers are 17th-century ghostbusters. They ride to a haunted village, make an elaborate show of banishing evil spirits, and then laugh all the way to the bank.

Like Scully and Mulder, one of the pair is a true believer (Jake), while the other has a much more scientific approach. Neither actually believes they are trapping real witches with their tricks, but Jake thinks the truth is out there.

Not surprisingly, Gilliam has created a fantastical universe. The computer-generated graphics don’t always work, but the atmosphere is wonderful. The forest is close and claustrophobic, with gnarly, overgrown trees conveying menace and gloom. Black ravens are the only birds in their branches.

But atmosphere alone doesn’t make a movie. Too many disparate things happen all at once, and I could never quite follow all the fairy-tale logic. It seemed as though Gilliam was just throwing one idea after another on the screen without a master plan.

DVD Extras

Gilliam is animated in the behind-the-scenes documentaries — there are two of them — but on the audio commentary his voice could put you to sleep (it did, in fact, put my wife to sleep).

Occasionally Gilliam will speak an interesting factoid. “The Miramax team don’t like facial hair,” is one such gem, recalling one of Walt Disney’s stranger rules for employees. (Perhaps Miramax’s association with Disney was deeper than we thought.) Apparently beards don’t sell, and it took some convincing to let Heath Ledger have whiskers.

Gilliam also admits to licking a toad to prove to his actors that it was safe. Perhaps Gilliam has a little Werner Herzog in him as well.

But more often than not, the comments from Gilliam are just “I love those barrels” or “I love Mackenzie Phillips’ character.” They’re the sort of hum-drum comments that make you wish the audio commentary were still a special feature on select, important films, and not an obligatory chore for bored filmmakers.

Picture and Sound

Gilliam’s work is best when he uses models, lighting and lenses to capture his fantastical visions. In The Brothers Grimm he relies more heavily on computer-generated graphics than before, and the result is disappointing. Still, there’s absolutely nothing to complain about regarding picture quality on this DVD.

The sound is more fantastic and expressive than in most films, so the Dolby Digital Surround Sound track is pretty good for showing off your system, although some audiophiles may be sorry that there’s no DTS track.