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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • Dual Layer (RSDL )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Mono
  • French: Dolby Digital Mono
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono
  • German: Dolby Digital Mono
  • Italian: Dolby Digital Mono
  Subtitles
    English, French, Spanish, German, Polish, Dutch, Portuguese, English - Hearing Impaired, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, German - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Booklet

A Fish Called Wanda

MGM/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 108 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Years ago, when I still qualified for a concession ticket, I went to see Twins at the Boronia Hoyts multiplex. It was part of a double-feature with an English film I'd never heard of, and while I was reasonably entertained by Twins (hey, I was young!) I walked away raving about A Fish Called Wanda.

And I wasn't alone. The low-budget comedy raked in over $60 million in the States, making it the most successful British picture in the US to that point. It's certainly John Cleese's best work since the heady days of Monty Python.

On the off chance you haven't seen it, it's farce concerning a gang of thieves who have just pulled off a massive diamond heist. When lovers Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Otto (Kevin Kline) report the ringleader, George, to the police, they expect a life of luxury. Only one problem - George has shifted the diamonds, and Wanda must try to discover their location from Archie Leech (Cleese), his barrister. Meanwhile, Otto (who has a near-fanatical hatred of the British) is trying to get information from stuttering Ken (Michael Palin), who is the only gang member George trusts enough to confide in. Cue romance between Wanda and Archie, insane jealousy from Otto, and general chaos!

There's plenty of wonderful, classic scenes in this film, and it's got far greater comedy legs than, say, There's Something About Mary in my not-so-humble opinion. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's one of the strongest comedies of the last 20 years. But what of the disc?

  Video
Contract

Oops. MGM claim the video is 16:9-enhanced both on the back cover and in the enclosed booklet, so it's rather annoying to find out that it isn't! That said, the image isn't disappointing at all. Encoded in France, the 1.85:1 widescreen frame perfectly reflects the low budget of the film and the look of the film stock which (like most British movies) doesn't appear as glossy and artificial as American blockbusters. Maybe I'm not being objective, because I really dislike the look of big Hollywood films, but I had no problem with the visual side of the disc at all. Like all comedies, the emphasis is on the humour, not the cinematography anyhow.

Blacks are satisfyingly deep, grain is kept to a minimum and colours are very filmic and natural (if that's not a contradiction!). While resolution isn't as dazzling as an A-grade reference title, I never felt like I was squinting to make out details as I've noticed I am starting to do when watching laserdiscs. The image is almost completely free of film artifacts, which is pretty good considering the negative is over 10 years old now.

The disc is dual-layered, which suggests a very high bitrate (currently I have no way of verifying the actual rate, but the MPEG encoding seems excellent). I couldn't see the layer change on my DVD-ROM, so it's obviously well-placed, though you may see differently with another player.

Overall, a satisfying picture, but I'm very surprised that the disc isn't anamorphically enhanced as the packaging promises. A lot of space (and quality potential) wasted, then.

  Audio
Contract

I never noticed this when I was young, but A Fish Called Wanda has a pretty cheap soundtrack! I'm almost ashamed to say this, but when my girlfriend and I sat down to watch it, I didn't even realise the film was mono, and assumed the packaging was incorrect when I began typing the review. Only when I put on headphones did I realise that I'd sat through an entire film without even noticing that my centre speaker was doing all the work. Like I said, comedy can do that.

However, what did jump out was the dodgy sound mix, with some dialogue mixed a little loud (probably to punch through audience laughter in the cinema) and a lot of obvious ADR work. What works for a packed theatre doesn't necessarily translate to a small room, I suppose.

I always listen at reference level, and found that the soundtrack was also rather bright, requiring cinema equalisation to remove the harsh edge and keep the laughs coming.

  Extras
Contract

I'm always in two minds about a small amount of extras. Okay, it's bad as a consumer when you don't get much to play with, but it sure makes my life as a reviewer easier! Does that make me a bad person?

An 8-page booklet gives some facts about the film, some of which I knew, some which were new to me. The US theatrical trailer was very effectively put together, but I would have liked to see the original UK trailer as well.

  Overall  
Contract

Well, our disc isn't anamorphic, but then neither is the Region 1 (although they do get a 4:3 transfer as well). If you can get past that, you'll have no problems with the disc. I have to admit that after a while I stopped watching critically and just enjoyed the performances!

Personally, if it comes down to a decent transfer of a strong film, or a reference transfer of rubbish, I'll take the former every time. So please, buy this rather than Speed 2!


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      And I quote...
    ""
    - Paul Dossett
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    • MPEG Card:
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    • TV:
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    • Amplifier:
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    • Video Cables:
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