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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Jim Henson's The Storyteller: Greek Myths (1990)

Dog: What a beautiful story!
The Storyteller: I'm afraid it isn't over yet.

- Brian Henson, Michael Gambon

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: September 09, 2004

Stars: Michael Gambon, Brian Henson
Other Stars: Frances Barber, Gina Bellman, Jesse Birdsall, Arthur Dignam, Robert Flemyng, Jeremy Gilley, Ian Hawkes, Derek Jacobi, Art Malik, Mel Martin, David Morrissey, Maggie O'Neill, Pat Roach, John Wood
Director: Paul Welland, Tony Smith, David Garfath, John Madden

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violent themes and suspense)
Run Time: 01h:36m:00s
Release Date: September 07, 2004
UPC: 043396068100
Genre: family


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- B+B-C+ C-

DVD Review

The first iteration of Jim Henson's The Storytelle aired on network television in 1987, featuring a pointy-eared John Hurt as the humble narrator, recounting relatively obscure fairy tales to his faithful dog (a Muppet voiced by Brian Henson), and naturally, each episode featured the inventive and clever creations from the Jim Henson Creature Shop, alongside human actors. The series ran just nine episodes before being dropped, and it wasn't until 1990 that the show was resurrected and given another shot, this time by HBO, and was to apparently operate under the more manageable auspices of a mini-series.

This release from Columbia TriStar, dubbed "The Complete Collection", contains the only four episodes of the series, this time centering on the rich tapestry of Greek mythology accented by the occasional Creature Shop character. Kindly storyteller Hurt has been replaced by the booming profundo of Michael Gambon, who here takes on the narrator role, as he and his inquisitive dog (once again voiced by Brian Henson) spend the series traversing a twisting labyrinth, trying to find their way out. Some random artifact discovery along their way will lead Gambon's character to explain a Greek myth to his dog, and as each 24-minute episode unfurls they weave in and out of the story via clever transitional sequences.

It's tough to narrow down and isolate just four stories out of all of Greek mythology—and perhaps if given more time this series might have the opportunity to explore additional sagas—but the ones selected for Storyteller feature a couple of more traditionally familiar characters (Icarus, Medusa) as well as a couple that may not be so well known to the masses (Eurydice, Theseus).

Daedalus and Icarus
Directed by Paul Welland

The lesson here is "not too low, not too high", and in between that decree to toe the line, we get a story with no less than the deaths of two children and a man doomed to a life of eternal sadness. Skilled craftsman Daedalus (Derek Jacobi) is constantly irritated by the clumsiness of his young son Icarus (Ian Hawkes), and has a strange attraction to his nephew Talus, who is everything Icarus isn't. Throw in the building of a labyrinth, talking vultures, a fey King Minos, a bull-headed Minotaur, and the inevitable flying too close to the sun, and this tale leads off the disc with a somber tone that sets the pace.

Orpheus and Eurydice
Directed by Tony Smith

Eternal love might seem comparatively mundane next to the woe and suffering of Daedalus's story, but this one sneaks up and delivers probably the most lyrical and moving of all four episodes. Master musician Orpheus (Art Malik) literally woos the wood nymph Eurydice (Gina Bellman) from out of a tree (it's almost like childbirth), and the two live happily ever after. Oh, wait a minute—that can't happen in Greek mythology. After frolicking with a hairy satyr, the lovely Eurydice soon bites the big one, and Orpheus has to travel to the land of the dead to meet with the King of the Underworld to try and get her back. The message here is "be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it." Death, dismemberment, and the adventures of disembodied heads are the order of the day.

Perseus and the Gorgon
Directed by David Garfath

After being spawned as a result of a Zeus-inspired immaculate conception, Perseus (Jeremy Gilley) grows up to survive being imprisoned in bronze cell, tossed into the ocean while locked in a trunk with his mother, and of course his eventual battle with the snake-haired Medusa (Frances Barber), who has the power to turn folks to stone. Watch for an appearance by the late Pat Roach as a weary Atlas left to hold up the heavens. This ep features the best creature effects of the series, with the creepy Gorgon and her hag sisters looking especially disturbing.

Theseus and The Minotaur
Directed by John Madden

Theseus (David Morrissey) discovers he is the son of King Aegeus (Robert Flemyng), and in order to please his wealthy new pop the young man decides to do battle with the labyrinth-bound half-man/half-bull Minotaur that currently demands a number of regular sacrifices. One of Theseus's main problems is not just the twists and turns of the labyrinth, but the questionable loyalties of King Minos' cute daughter Ariadne (Maggie O'Neill). Death comes in the form of an old man dropping off of a cliff, a woman left to die alone on a remote island and of course that scary Minotaur. One of the neatest transitional bits in this ep features Gambon relating the story while a series of moving hieroglyphics advance the story behind him.

There are lots of interconnecting characters with oddly similar names, and the themes are definitely not for young children—this ain't no Muppet show—but anyone over the age of 11 (and that includes you adults, too!) will probably appreciate the chance to gleam a cursory understanding of stories that have truly withstood the test of time. The stories here, all presented with the right amount of creature effects, are grim, and filled to the rafters with death, sorrow and danger, but if you peek through the cracks you might pick up a life lesson or two.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: All four eps are presented in their original 1.33:1, and the transfer is simply good, but not great. Scenes set in darkness or shadow look close to awful, with detail lost due to poor black levels that render some moments nearly imperceptible. That's not to say all is lost, because when a sequence is set in daylight, the color reproduction is actually very warm, with a decent palette of gold-hued colors. It's a shame this disc didn't get better treatment on the video transfer end of things. Minor specking was also evident.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The sole audio choice is a weak-kneed 2.0 English stereo mix, one that delivers Michael Gambon's narration cleanly, but unfortunately suffers from moderate distortion and clipping during the individual segments. Dialogue is often difficult to understand fully—which I would normally classify as a problem—due in large part to the flatness of the presentation.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 4 cues and remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Mirrormask, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Columbia TriStar has not dressed up this release with any extras to speak of. Nothing here other than three trailers, the best of which is the preview for the upcoming fantasy Mirrormask, written by Neil Gaiman. Based on the trailer, that one looks quite good.

For some strange reason, each 24-minute installment is not chaptered, so we're left with a total of four chapter stops.

Extras Grade: C-

 

Final Comments

The creative minds at the Jim Henson's Creature Shop and the visual richness of Greek mythology seem to go pretty well together, and the relatively minor usage of anything Muppet-related in these episodes prevents it from being simply a puppet show. It's hard to argue with the quality of the ageless stories, and Michael Gambon's hosting duties/narration are both scary and charming.

 


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