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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

New on Video: Winsome Robin Williams in The Fisher King

Posted By on Tue, Jun 16, 2015 at 6:00 PM

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1991's The Fisher King has always been my favorite Robin Williams film, as well as my favorite Terry Gilliam movie. Sure, as anyone who claims to be into movies must, I have a deep love for Brazil — though my mother still hasn't forgiven me and my brother for insisting that she take us to see it at Fresno's Tower Theatre in the mid-1980s, especially after she learned that it had already been released on VHS by that point — as well as a healthy respect for Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas features the best use of CGI in the 1990s, in that it actually comes close to replicating what low-level hallucinations on acid look like (not that I would know such as thing). But The Fisher King has always been my favorite on a purely emotional level, closely followed by Tideland, which nobody else but me seemed to like.

When Robin Williams ended his life last August, it had the surely unintended consequence of a critical reappraisal for The Fisher King, in which he plays a mentally unstable homeless man in New York named Perry who enlists the aid of disgraced former shock jock Jack (Jeff Bridges) to find the Holy Grail, which Perry believes is in a swanky house on the Upper East Side. Not that it was greatly disliked beforehand (again, it ain't Tideland, which former SF Weekly contributor Nick Schager described as a "wack-job of a film" and "something of a catastrophe"), but when bloggers were looking back on his career, the only movie everybody could agree on was The Fisher King, which the Criterion Collection is releasing on Blu-ray and DVD on June 23.


This isn't Criterion's first time releasing The Fisher King; they released it on Laserdisc in the 1990s, a laserdisc which I owned and watched many times back in the day. The new Blu-ray artwork is swell, but I do miss the original laserdisc cover. I get that Blu-ray and laserdisc covers are very different canvases and it had to be changed, and the original was arguably a sloppy pre-Photoshop cut-and-paste job, but it still perfectly evokes the wistful tone of the film.

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Terry Gilliam's excellent commentary track from that disc has been retained — which gives me hope that someday Criterion will release David Cronenberg's Crash on Blu-ray, since Cronenberg's commentary for that Laserdisc was stellar — and there are also newish interviews with the principal cast and crew, including Amanda Plummer and Mercedes Ruehl, neither of whom are getting nearly enough work these days. I'd argue that The Fisher King is as much of a career high for them as it was for Williams and Bridges, and watching it now, the female characters are actually much more interesting, even with their comparatively limited screen time. Ms. Ruehl won a richly deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar, but these days, it's Ms. Plummer as Lydia, and her character's arc throughout the film, that really hits me where I live.


Both Williams and Bridges are in fine form, of course, and Bridges in particular is using his full acting arsenal, including what I've always called The Bridges Maneuver. One of the more notable examples of it is in the original Tron; the original scene isn't available in its entirety on YouTube, but you can catch a glimpse of it starting at 40 seconds into this trailer, when explains why he wants to hack into Encom. Pay close attention to his delivery and arm movements, as well as how this ace programmer who knows everything about computers has to struggle to find the word "memories."


Similarly, the full scene in question from The Fisher King isn't available online, and we only get to see a few non-consecutive seconds of it in the trailer, but the relevant part begins at 1:20, as he explains why he's trying to help Perry hook up with Lydia.


That right there, that is acting.

I'm being a tad facetious, because Bridges is actually great in the film, as is everyone else, especially Amanda Plummer. If you've never seen The Fisher King, or haven't in a while, treat yourself.



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Sherilyn Connelly

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