A Fish Called Wanda

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Details At A Glance

Category Comedy Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.78:1 non-16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Rating Other Trailer(s) No
Year Released 1988 Commentary Tracks No
Running Time
103:34 minutes
(not 108 as stated on packaging)
Other Extras Booklet (6 page)
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (61:41)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director Charles Crichton

Warner Home Video
Starring John Cleese
Jamie Lee Curtis
Kevin Kline
Michael Palin
RRP $34.95 Music John Du Prez

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 384 Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 384 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 384 Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 384 Kb/s)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 384 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes (sort of)

Plot Synopsis

   I love John Cleese, and think that he is quite simply a comedic genius. It is his wit and clear sense of what is funny that has made everything he has been in a success, including A Fish Called Wanda. However, this movie does not rely on him solely. All the leads are very good, and Jamie Lee Curtis is a knockout as usual (in more than one respect, I might add).

    The plot is the vehicle for the comedy, and is little more than a twisted robbery tale. John Cleese plays Archibald Leech (doesn't the name say it all), who is your typical wig-wearing British barrister. Archibald is defending George. George, along with Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis), Otto (Kevin Kline) and Ken (Michael Palin) stole some jewels, and George gets arrested and placed behind bars - in the slammer - and the rest of the gang basically fight each other and try to get to the loot, which George has hidden until he (hopefully) gets released.

    The times when this movie really makes you laugh out loud are those when John Cleese is doing what he does best, which is to find himself in the most awkward of situations and having to worm his way out. If you, like me, are a fan of Fawlty Towers (or Flowery Twats) you will know what I mean. You will also probably agree with me that his funniest movie was Clockwork, which was just hilarious. Luckily, he finds himself in these situations more than a few times. Michael Palin also does his bit as the speech-impaired Ken, though his part is fairly subdued by comparison. He spends most of his time stuttering (which at times is side-splitting in its exaggeration), and trying to bump-off the single witness to the crime. If he can get rid of her before the trial, George is free. He does succeed in the end, but not before he has killed all three of her dogs in different, gruesome manners. This is all the more ironic because Ken is an animal lover who wouldn't hurt a fly. To see him at each funeral for the dogs is just hilarious.

    Kevin Kline is more annoying than not, and he really over-acts in this one, though that is not too much different from any other movie he is in. I certainly can't agree with him winning an Oscar for his role, but then I am not American. Jamie Lee Curtis is just brilliant as the thoroughly delectable temptress who falls for Archie whilst she tries to glean from him where George has hidden the booty. Grrrrrrrr, very grrrrrr!

    A very good movie, which gets better with each viewing, and one which any John Cleese fan should not be without!

Transfer Quality


    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and it is not 16x9 enhanced. This, of course, is a real shame and is contradictory to the packaging. It is easy to believe that the transfer is a re-hashed laserdisc jobbie, though it is still quite good and perfectly watchable. What? Am I defending a non-enhanced transfer? Never.

    Detail was always high - or at least as high as it can be, and the image was always nice and clear. Shadow detail was perfect with one forgivable exception; near the end of the movie, when Otto "apologizes" to Archie, the scene is clearly shot in daylight and altered to appear as night-time, with predictably less-than-perfect results! There is no low-level noise, and no film grain at all.

    Now, this is a British film, and in keeping with that fact, the colour palette is slightly drab and muted but always natural looking. In fact, the colours are quite superb and well satisfying, with greens and blues being well rendered. Skin tones were right on the money, and there was nary a hint of chroma-noise or bleeding.

    There were no significant MPEG artefacts during the movie, apart from the titling at the end which suffered from the "Gibb effect". There were also very few film artefacts, though a little off-putting was the vertical line running down the film during chapter 22, and spoiled the otherwise faultless transfer in that respect. Amazingly, for a non-16x9 transfer, there was absolutely NO aliasing at all. None. Nada. Not one instance during the entire movie. This nearly helped the image have a film-like appearance, though the ever-so-slight hint of line structure was enough to remind me that it was indeed video. Curse that pesky 4x3 transfer.

    This disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change occurring between chapters 18 and 19, at 61:41 minutes. An excellent layer change that is totally non-disruptive, and I dare say you would very easily miss it unless you were paying very close attention.


    The audio is rather lacklustre. How about "undistinguished monaural" for a movie made in 1988! It's a bit lame, and it is quite strange how some movies get the full 5.1 treatment, and others get this bum-steer. Who makes these decisions? Really people, throw me a frickin' bone here.

    There are five soundtracks on this disc, and all are in lousy Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. The languages on offer are English, German, French, Italian and Spanish.

    Dialogue - which constitutes 99% of the soundtrack - was at all times very well recorded, being clear, natural sounding and without distortion. Also, peoples mouths always moved in time with what they said, which really helps.

    John Du Prez is credited with the score for this movie. I bet it was the easiest money he ever made, because if you add up all the music you could fit it in one of those recordable greeting cards. In other words, there was very, very little, and it was only ever incidental. Whenever it did occur, it was of course mono and quite poor sounding, with little in the way of fidelity or impact.

    The surround speakers, and indeed the left and right main speakers left the room and took the sub-woofer with them. I think they sat and played cards in the dining room, and the poor centre speaker was therefore very lonely, and also very busy.



    The menu is plain, and another one in which you must specify the menu language. I have said it before, but this should be read from the player, not the user.

Theatrical Trailer (2:02)

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, non 16x9 enhanced and in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, it is of the same quality as the movie itself.


   A dull read. Like the package, it states that the movie is anamorphic. It ain't, and that just rubs it in.

R4 vs R1

    Both regions suffer 4x3 transfers, so the R4 edition is the preferred version given the PAL transfer.


    An amusing tale with some very funny moments, and an enjoyable movie in all respects. John Cleese and Jamie Lee Curtis work together very well, though as "Archie" and "Wanda" they never quite work together as much as Archie would have liked....

    The non-16x9 transfer is surprisingly good, but no match for an anamorphic transfer.

    In truth, the soundtrack is mostly dialogue which is recorded well, with only incidental music. However, a mono soundtrack is a mono soundtrack ....

    No extras beyond the theatrical trailer.

Ratings (out of 5)

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© Paul Cordingley
21st February, 2000.
Review Equipment
DVD Panasonic A350A S-Video output
Display Pioneer SD-T43W1 125cm Widescreen 16x9
Audio Decoder Internal Dolby Digital 5.1 (DVD Player)
Amplification Sony STRDE-525 5x100 watts Dolby Pro-Logic / 5.1 Ready Receiver; 4 x Optimus 10-band Graphic EQ
Speakers Centre: Sony SS-CN35 100 watt; Main & Surrounds: Pioneer CS-R390-K 150-watt floorstanders; Subwoofer: Optimus 100-watt passive