Fish Called Wanda, A: Special Edition/Gold Edition (1988)

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Released 7-Apr-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Audio Commentary-John Cleese (Actor)
Informational Subtitles-Trivia Track
Featurette-John Cleese's First Farewell Performance
Featurette-Something Fishy
Featurette-Fish You Were Here: On Location
Deleted Scenes-25 + introductions
Alternate Ending
Featurette-A Message From John Cleese
Theatrical Trailer
Gallery-Photo
Main Menu Introduction
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1988
Running Time 103:30
RSDL / Flipper No/No
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Charles Crichton
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring John Cleese
Jamie Lee Curtis
Kevin Kline
Michael Palin
Case ?
RPI ? Music John Du Prez


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
German
German for the Hearing Impaired
Swedish
Finnish
Norwegian
Danish
Greek
Hungarian
Turkish
Croatian
English Audio Commentary
German Audio Commentary
English Information
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Credits say "FIN" instead of "THE END"

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

A Fish Called Wanda was one of the funniest British comedies to be released in the 1980s, and one of the reasons for its trans-Atlantic appeal was the fact that it featured both British and American actors - and the film gorgeously sent up stereotypes of English and American behaviours that each culture found annoying about the other.

On the surface, it seems hard to imagine why it could even be considered funny. After all, the film is about a bunch of diamond robbers who double and triple cross each other - and each of the main characters has some sort of fundamental personality flaw. Not to mention that the film is rather mean-spirited at times and unnecessarily cruel to animals. But by golly the package works very well and will bring tears of laughter to your eyes and side-splitting pains to your stomach as you roll all over the floor laughing.

Four unlikely conspirators plan and execute a daring robbery of some precious diamonds worth 13 million (or about US $20 million - in the 1980s). They are mastermind George (Tom Georgeson), his American girlfriend Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis), his stuttering accomplice Ken (Michael Palin), and "the new guy" - Wanda's "brother" Otto (Kevin Kline) - who is in reality Wanda's secret lover.

The robbery is successful, but Wanda and Otto double-cross George by dobbing him in to the police. However, George outsmarts them by hiding the jewels, so they are forced to befriend George's barrister Archie (John Cleese) in order to find out where George has hidden the diamonds. Wanda brazenly seduces Archie, but is nearly foiled by the jealous and somewhat pretentious Otto (but don't call him stupid!). In the meantime, George gets Ken to kill the star witness for the prosecution - an old lady (Patricia Hayes) - but Ken is not very successful.

The main charm of this film is the characters' flaws and eccentricities - George is your typical evil mastermind, Wanda will sleep with anybody to get what she wants, Ken prefers animals to humans, and Archie is a pompous and repressed Englishman who is hen-pecked by his wife (Maria Aitken) and daughter (Cynthia Cleese). Otto, is ... well ... Otto. Kevin Kline plays the nasty and cruel but incompetent Otto with such wild abandon that he won an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actor) for his role.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

This looks like a completely new, remastered widescreen 1.85:1 transfer, and is 16x9 enhanced (as opposed to the original R4 non 16x9 enhanced transfer). Interestingly, though, this new transfer (complete with multiple audio and subtitle tracks) fits onto a single layered disc, even though the earlier R4 release was on a dual layered disc. Go figure.

In general, this is a pleasing transfer with no major flaws. Detail levels are excellent, and colour saturation is pretty much spot on except perhaps being just a touch on the drab side.

There are several minor film marks every now and then, and I could detect a slight amount of grain present in the print, though never at an intrusive or annoying level. I also noticed some haloes due to edge enhancement.

Compression artefacts are mainly restricted to minor instances of Gibb's effect ringing.

There are quite a few subtitle tracks on this disc, including no less than 4 in English: English, English for the Hearing Impaired, English Audio Commentary, and a trivia track (more about this later). The key difference between the vanilla English and the Hearing Impaired version is non-dialogue transcriptions. Dialogue accuracy was about average, with occasional simplifications of long sentences to fit into two lines of text. Interestingly, the commentary track by John Cleese is also transcribed in a separate subtitle track. This is not selectable from the "Language Options" menu but from the "Special Features" menu.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

There are three audio tracks present on this disc: English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s), German Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s), and English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s). I listened to both English tracks.

The earlier non-"special edition" Region 4 release only had Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio tracks, so I was curious to find out how much better the remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track was going to be.

Well, it still sounds like a mono track. The whole film is very front-and-centre focused, and the only instances where I heard information coming from the other channels were for background music, and just maybe the occasional front channel pan for a Foley effect (such as a train in the background). I really didn't notice anything significant (other than the occasional ambience from background music) from the rear channels and the subwoofer behaved very meekly throughout the entire film.

The background music (original music score by John Du Prez) seems to be a mixture of pompous orchestral music (when the English characters are on screen) and funky jazzy music (when the American characters are on screen).

Dialogue was easy to understand throughout. I felt that voices occasionally were on the verge of cracking and clipping but fortunately just fell short of becoming distorted. I did not notice any issues with audio synchronization.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

There is a very pleasing set of extras on this 2-disc special edition, including a commentary with John Cleese, two fairly length featurettes, deleted scenes, and more! Curiously, the second disc is also a single sided single layered disc, which means it was probably possible to cram everything onto a single dual layered disc. I wonder why they didn't do that to save production costs. The cynical part of me suspects the public is more impressed with 2-disc editions than single disc releases, so they've decided to give the public what it wants, even when it's not strictly necessary.

Menu

The main menu is 16x9 enhanced, animated, and includes background audio. Scene selections are also animated and include background audio. There's also a menu introduction.

Audio Commentary - John Cleese (Actor)

I must admit, I was really anticipating this. John Cleese, commenting on one of the funniest films of all time! Unfortunately, it initially disappointed me - John seems to start off by reading from some pre-prepared comments, and then there are embarrassing periods of silence where I can almost feel him trying to figure out what to say.

Fortunately, he kind of warms up about half way through and ends up offering some really useful insights into the cast, the crew, the evolution of the script, and how they shot certain scenes. Most of the commentary is factual, and he doesn't really joke around that much, although I found some of his comments funny. I liked it when he related that Jamie Lee Curtis commented that his kissing was very uninspiring, and he replied that he was trying to kiss "in character" (as Archie Leach)!

He even makes a valiant attempt at praising some of the crew members in the closing credits, but quickly gives up as there are too many names scrolling off the screen and not enough time to mention them all.

Informational Subtitles - Trivia Track

This consists of a popup orange box containing text every now and then which pertains to the film. I originally wanted to watch the film with this turned on, but had to turn it off because it was rather distracting. Some of the trivia presented was quite interesting, but there were way too many quotes from Nietzsche and facts about his life and philosophy. The section where the text starts listing names of celebrities who have suffered from stuttering at some stage in their lives was a real eye-opener!

I kept looking out for a text box that said "A moose once bit my sister ..." but unfortunately I was doomed for disappointment.

Featurette - John Cleese's First Farewell Performance (48:08)

This is a fairly long and in-depth featurette (probably produced shortly after the release of a film as a TV "making of" special), presented in full frame and Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)

I was pleased at the depth of some of the questions posed by Iain Johnstone, and the frankness of Cleese's responses, although some of his responses (as well as those of the other actors') are also deliberately facetious and funny.

Scenes covered include the dogs being killed, Archie hanging upside down apologising to Otto, Wanda telling Otto the "facts of life", Otto catching Archie trying to burgle his own house, the courtroom scene, Wanda trying to pick Archie up, Wanda and Archie at the apartment by the Thames, and the steamroller scene.

Featurette - Something Fishy (30:31)

This is a fairly substantial retrospective featurette, presented in full frame and Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s). It features interviews with:

This featurettes includes photos of cast & crew, behind the scenes footage, excerpts from the film and deleted scenes. It talks about the following topics:

Scenes covered included Wanda and Archie in the apartment, Feydeau farce at the Leach residence, Wanda and Otto making love, Wanda yelling at Otto, Archie trying to get the name of the hotel from Ken, and an alternate ending.

Featurette - Fish You Were Here: On Location (16:31)

This is a short featurette, narrated by Robert Powell, about the various locations in London used to shoot the film. Strangely enough, it is presented in widescreen 16x9 enhanced and Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s). It includes interviews with crew members, a trivia section in the middle, and descriptions of the following locations:

Deleted Scenes - 25 + introductions (27:33)

These are 25 deleted scenes, all featuring a short introduction by John Cleese about the background and context of the scene, plus the reason why it was deleted from the film:

All the deleted scenes are presented in full frame and Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s).

Featurette-A Message From John Cleese (4:43)

This is a rather funny sketch of Meryl Streep ... err, Jack Cheese ... err, John Cleese promoting the film in classic Monty Pythoneque fashion. It is presented in full frame and Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s).

Theatrical Trailer (1:24)

This is presented in widescreen 16x9 enhanced and Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s).

Gallery-Photo

These are separated into the following sections:

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The earlier single disc Region 4 release featured a widescreen but NOT 16x9 enhanced transfer, mono audio tracks, and limited extras (theatrical trailer and booklet).

The current Region 1 release is also single disc, and features very similar features, except it also has a Pan & Scan transfer, and a "screensaver."

The Region 4 2-disc special edition is identical to that released in R2. I haven't heard of a special edition being released in R1, so currently Region 4 wins easily.

Summary

A Fish Called Wanda is easily one of British film's best comedies of all time, and for years has suffered from being badly treated on DVD with only a non 16x9 enhanced transfer and minimal extras version released in R1 and R4. Well, no more ... this 2-disc special edition features a brand new 16x9 enhanced transfer, an audio track remastered into Dolby Digital 5.1, and lots and lots of extras.

The video transfer is acceptable in quality.

The audio transfer quality is also acceptable, although somewhat mediocre.

Extras are numerous.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Friday, February 21, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic DVD-RP82, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW11HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE (upgraded)
SpeakersFront and surrounds: B&W CDM7NT, front centre: B&W CDMCNT, surround backs: B&W DM601S2, subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

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