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The Brothers Grimm (2005)

September 28th, 2007 · 2 Comments

“Miramax is brilliant at publicizing its successes, but it’s even more brilliant at burying its failures,” said Dennis Rice, their former president of marketing. Miramax Films was notorious for test screening its movies – often in malls in New Jersey – and barely releasing the ones that scored poorly. Some went straight to video, even those with major stars. Here’s a look at some of the studio’s B-sides, bombs and greatest misses.

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In French occupied Germany, 1811, Will Grimm (Matt Damon) and his brother Jake (Heath Ledger) arrive in the town of Karlstadt. The locals are under the impression that a witch has afflicted the area around a mill. Experts in folklore and combating the supernatural, the Brothers Grimm vanquish her. Out of sight of the locals, the witch is revealed to be a trick manufactured by the Grimms.

An Italian tongued magistrate and designer of torture devices named Cavaldi (Peter Stomare) arrests the brothers and brings them before the French general (Jonathan Pryce) in charge of the kingdom. They’re informed that nine children have disappeared near the woods of the town of Marbaden. Villagers have attributed this to the supernatural, but the general believes it’s a hoax and dispatches the brothers to uncover the culprits.

A local woman (Lena Headey) guides the Grimm boys and Cavaldi into the woods, where a castle lies in ruin and the trees appear to move. The forest turns out to be truly cursed, complete with a wolf who stalks girls in red hoods, a gingerbread man, and a mummified queen (Monica Bellucci) with endless hair who stares into mirrors and asks who is the fairest one of all.

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Production history
Terry Gilliam hadn’t directed since September 2000, when his decade long journey to film Don Quixote was shut down five days into shooting. Two years later, producer Charles Roven sent Gilliam a script called The Brothers Grimm. Written by Ehren Kruger, MGM had spent two years developing the project. Gilliam read it and didn’t like it. But he needed to work, and felt the film would allow him to revisit his childhood love for faerie tales.

Gilliam & Tony Grisoni rewrote the script. With Matt Damon and Heath Ledger eager to work with Gilliam, MGM greenlit the film. It came close to being shut down when Sony Pictures acquired the studio. Luckily, Harvey and Bob Weinstein stepped in, picking up the $75 million budget. They obtained distribution rights in the U.S., but more importantly, would now oversee all aspects of the production.

For the female lead, Gilliam and Damon both wanted Oscar nominee Samantha Morton. Bob Weinstein felt her arms were too big, and Lena Headey was cast instead. Gilliam and Damon wanted his character to fashion a prosthetic nose. The director sent makeup tests to Harvey Weinstein and felt they had an all-clear, but the day before filming began in June 2003, the studio head vetoed the nose.

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As the 17-week shooting schedule at Barrandov Studio in Prague fell behind, Bob Weinstein went to visit the production. Gilliam’s director of photography Nicola Pecorini was blamed for the delays, fired and replaced by Newton Thomas Siegel. Gilliam completed filming and – refusing to talk to the Weinsteins at this point – began assembling the film for a November 2004 release.

A 140-minute version was test screened in the spring of 2004. Reaction was mixed, but Gilliam learned he would have plenty of time to hone the film when the Weinsteins announced they were splitting from parent company Disney. The release of several of their projects was put on hold indefinitely, including The Brothers Grimm.

Gilliam took six months and went to Canada to make another movie, Tideland. Of the Weinsteins, Gilliam said they “walked away with a lot in their pockets, but films were abandoned.” The Brothers Grimm was finally released in August 2005, where the story of how tumultuous the production had been was far more interesting than anything on the screen. The movie was commercial failure, grossing $37 million in the U.S.

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Like Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam began his career as an animator. While the macabre Burton works within the system – directing blockbusters like Batman and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Gilliam has stayed a maverick, battling producers, studios and insurance companies to get films like Brazil and Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas on screen whatever the price.

Damon and Ledger were cast against type, with Damon playing the charismatic brother, and Ledger trying to pass himself off as the goofy bookworm. The casting mistake aside, the film is so hyperkinetic and silly that character or story never elbow their way into this mess. The digital effects are iffy, and unlike the great faerie tales, there’s a total absence of either wonder or menace to the movie.

The Brothers Grimm is like some ragged soldier who raises a white flag, limps across a battlefield, then steps on a landmine and explodes anyway. It’s messy, but the act of capitulation is what’s really sad. This feels like a tired movie from an exhausted director pretty much just going through the motions. The art design, props and wardrobe are a triumph, but underneath, the entire project is just a shotgun marriage of Indiana Jones and Shrek, mass produced to sell tickets.

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“If you and your family are looking for some fairly mindless pablum to spoon into your minds, this will fit the bill nicely. Just don’t expect the true spirit of the original Brothers Grimm,” says Alex DeLarge at Movies For Guys.

Marilyn Ferdinand at Ferdy on Films, etc. writes, “Degenerating into noise and catastrophe using fair-to-poor special effects, the plot barrels over the characters and teeters on the edge of incoherence until it reaches its wimpering end.”

“I can see behind the creaky artifice of a troubled film to the magic underneath, but The Brothers Grimm does not have enough magic in it to survive the scrutiny,” writes Daniel Kasman at d+kaz.

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Alternate universe · Beasts and monsters · Brother/brother relationship · Femme fatale · Small town · Sword fight

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 kadesh // Nov 9, 2009 at 5:23 am

    this movie so interesting..”the brothers grimm” is certainly a quality fantasy film, wich remain a gutter genre all the piles of money and oscars being thrown at it of late..

    i trully enjoyed watching it…

  • 2 Cassidy // Jun 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    This is my all time favorite movie!!!!

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