This is an imaginative take on the characters of the collectors and tale-tellers; indeed this take would probably be libellous if the brothers were still alive, for Matt Damon and Heath Ledger portray them as frauds, making money off the back of the supernatural fears of the peasantry in Napoleonic Europe. Terry Gilliam, the director, in one of the extras states that his film "has nothing to do with the real Brothers Grimm ... Instead of thanking them, we are using them."
It's a fantastical comedy, or a comical fantasy, but with dark overtones featuring toad-licking, wolves, ravens, and assorted creepy-crawlies. It does have a happy ending, though, which was disconcerting for Gilliam since he doesn't usually do happy endings. Indeed, it was a surprise to learn that he was asked to direct this film rather than he coming up with the idea for it himself, given that the subject-matter is classic Gilliam territory.
Filmed in the Czech Republic, there are numerous references to tales of Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, the Gingerbread Man and Rapunzel. But the core of the story involves ..., well that would be giving the game away. It sometimes feels like a poor cousin of `Lord of the Rings'. The script, written by Ehren Kruger, is perhaps unnecessarily complicated and overly contrived. The film itself suffers from some poor ADR (especially Peter Stormare and even Jonathan Pryce), and I'm not sure that the cockney accent of our two heroes works either; as Gilliam says, we have here an American and an Australian playing Germans with English accents. He doesn't mention also the Swede playing an Italian and a Welshman playing a Frenchman.
There is a good commentary supplied by Terry Gilliam. Here we learn that originally Matt Damon and Heath Ledger were to play their opposite roles; that there was "certain pressure from certain sources" (the Weinsteins?) to prevent the heroes from shrieking like girls; and that the amazingly vast forest was constructed in a studio - but that the most expensive scene was cut because the forest's supernatural qualities were deemed too explicit.
The extras also include deleted scenes. It seems to me that these should have been kept in to provide further background and characterisation, two aspects poorly served in the film as it presently stands, where the action predominates to push the story forward. Another extra is a sixteen-minute film called `Bringing the Fairytale to Life' where we see, for example, the clever use made of mirrors in the tower scenes
I am a big fan of Gilliam and have all but one of his films on DVD in my collection (guess which one I refuse to buy), so I have to ask myself if I would have purchased this DVD if it had not been a Gilliam film. Difficult to say: I give it four stars (for Amazon = `I like it'), but not five (`I love it'), so I have no qualms about it taking up space on the shelf. But, yes, it is so rich in imaginative invention that, despite some hiccups in the film, I will enjoy watching it again and again, for Gilliam has created a fairy tale anew.