Being that I am a geek, I get obsessed with things pretty easily. Not in the unhealthy, stalker, I've-written-your-name-on-my-walls-in-Magic-Marker-until-the-fumes-made-me-get-dizzy-and-black-out kind of way. No, no. More in the way that I fix onto a subject and research the heck out of it. Then I spout information off to my friends, even if they don't care.
First and foremost, my largest obsession is Disney. Disneyland, more specifically. Next, probably would have to be Jim Henson's Muppets. I'm also into fairytales and things of a medieval/renaissance/way-before-my-time nature. And my most recent obsession has been the Harry Potter books. I started reading them over the summer, and just finished book five a few weeks ago in fact.
So, naturally, when Jim Henson's "The Storyteller" came out on DVD at the end of August, I had it on preorder.
If you are not familiar with "The Storyteller", let me attempt to fill you in. For some reason or another, Jim Henson was big in England. At least, bigger there than in the United States. I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe it was cheaper to shoot things like "The Muppet Show" and almost all of his films there? Maybe the British are just more appreciative of puppetry over there? Who can say? Obviously I cannot.
"The Storyteller" is a series of episodes for television that were shot probably around 1985 and were released in 1987-1989. It also aired in the United Kingdom, Japan and Australia, according to the DVD insert. They were all about non-standard fairy tales, many for middle-eastern Europe. The episodes were all written by Anthony Minghella, who wrote and directed the Oscar-winning film "The English Patient". They attempted to keep them as true to their original storylines as possible, so they have a darker sense about them. Americans might remember seeing some of them if they ever watched "The Jim Henson Hour" in 1989, the television show Mr. Henson made before he passed away.
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, these episodes are darker than Kermit and Piggy. They definitely have more of a "Dark Crystal" or "Labyrinth" feel about them. The DVD contains only the nine fairy tale episodes. There were some episodes based on Greek myths as well, but they're hosted by a different actor and do not appear on this disk. The DVD content itself is very basic. All the disc contains are the episodes, and that's it. No making-of featurette. No audio commentary. No interviews. No subtitles. Just the episodes. You do have the option to watch them consecutively or one by one, however. Also, there is a little flier with concept art and an insert with descriptions of each episode inside the case. Each episode is full screen because they were shot for television in the 1980s, and there weren't too many 35mil. Television shows out, yet.
The muppetry, if you will, is outstanding on these episodes. And some of it looks as though it may have inspired future endeavors (watch "Fearnot" and then watch "Labyrinth" to see what I mean, for example). The real prizes here, in my opinion, are the actors. And if you are a fan of the Harry Potter films, you will be happy as well. For the Storyteller himself, is played by none other than John Hurt. Besides the loads of work he's done on countless films and stage and what have you, he plays Mr. Olivander in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone". He sells Harry his wand. The Storyteller is quite similar to Mr. Olivander, except his hair's less bushy. And his nose is bigger. And his eyes are brown. And he's more energetic. And his speech pattern's different.
Okay, so the two characters are hardly alike. But it's still John Hurt.
In fact, this DVD has a few more tie-ins with the Harry Potter films. In the episode "Fearnot", Fearnot's brother is played by Mark Williams, who plays Arthur Weasley, Ron's dad. In "Sapsorrow", Dawn French, who plays Badsister 2, will play the Fat Lady in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban". And in "The Heartless Giant", Gemma Jones, who played Madam Pompfrey in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets", plays the Queen.
As a matter of fact, with this disc you can play everyone's favorite game, "Hey, Look! It's That Guy/Girl!" You know the game: you're watching a film or TV. show and it suddenly dawns on you that you've seen an actor on the screen in something else. Only, you can't remember their name.
"Hey, look! It's that guy!" You think to yourself, or maybe say out loud. And suddenly it becomes your mission to figure out what else you've seen that actor in, even if it means you mentally miss the rest of the show.
Well, fear not. I am here to fill you in on as many of those guys and girls as I possibly can so you can watch this DVD with a clear mind. Or you can watch it with someone else and annoy the heck out of them as you spout off useless trivia, as I would do.
So here we go. All of this information was found on imdb.com. Many of the actors appeared mainly on British television, so I'll only be mentioning those who would be familiar to people from, um, other countries as well.
In the episode "Hans My Hedgehog":
Abigail Cruttenden, who played Charlotte in "Hideous Kinky", plays the Princess.Jason Carter, who played Ranger Marcus Cole in "Babylon 5", played the Man.The Jailer, played by Robin Summers, played Wheeler in "Return to Oz".
In the episode "Fearnot":
Mark Williams, Fearnot's brother, also plays Wabash (the stuttering narrator) in "Shakespeare in Love". He's my current favorite That Guy.Tinker was played by Willie Ross, who was Roy in "The Cook, the Thief, the Wife and Her Lover".Half Man was played by Frederick Warder. He played Calico Jerry in "Muppet Treasure Island" (though I'm sorry I don't remember him).Peter Jonfield, who played Inspector Marvin in "A Fish Called Wanda", plays Fearnot's Father.In "A Story Short":
Brenda Blethyn plays the Storyteller's wife. Among all the things she has done, she is probably best known for playing Grace in "Saving Grace", Mrs. MacLean in "A River Runs Through It", and Mrs. Jonkins in another Henson film, "The Witches".The Beggar is played by John Kavanagh, who played Craig in "Braveheart" and Brian Mahon in "Circle of Friends".Richard Vernon, who played Smithers in "Goldfinger", plays the King.Sarah Crowden, who played Sylvia in "The Man Who Knew Too Little", plays the Queen.
In "The Luck Child":
We've got a big one-Robert Eddison plays the Ferryman. He was the extremely old knight who told Indiana Jones to "choose wisely" in "The Last Crusade".The Chancellor is played by Paul Brooke, who played Mr. Kenneth Fitzherbert in "Bridget Jones' Diary" and Charlie the Pub-keeper in "Saving Grace". Lucky's Mother is played by Merlina Kendall, who played Mrs. Parsons in "1984" and an old woman in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves".
In "The Soldier and Death":
Bob Peck, who played Robert Muldoon in "Jurassic Park", plays the Soldier.The Card Trick Beggar is played by Walter Sparrow, who played Duncan in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves".
In "The True Bride":
Jane Horrocks played Anja. She was Little Voice in "Little Voice".Sean Bean played the Prince. Among the tons and tons of work he has done, he's probably currently best known as Boromir in "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring".
In "The Three Ravens":
Miranda Richardson played the Witch. She has played many, many, MANY roles. If you don't know her from the TV. Miniseries "Merlin" (that the Jim Henson Creature Shop worked on) as Queen Mab, or Vanessa Bell from "The Hours", you will know her as Madam Giry in the film version of "Phantom of the Opera" once that is released.Jonathan Pryce played the King. Once again, loads of credits. Among them, Governor Swann in "Pirates of the Caribbean", Juan Peron in "Evita", and he was a regular performer in the British version on the TV. series "Whose Line is it Anyway".Joely Richardson played the Princess. Among other roles, she played Anita in the live-action version of "101 Dalmatians" and currently plays Julia McNamara on the TV. series "Nip/Tuck".
Dawn French also wrote for "Absolutely Fabulous", and worked a lot of other projects with the star...Jennifer Saunders, who played Badsister 1. She also played Mrs. Bluberidge in "Muppet Treasure Island". Seeing as how these two have a history together, I wouldn't be surprised to see Ms. Saunders in a future Potter film. Alison Doody played Sapsorrow. She is probably best known as Dr. Elsa Schneider in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade".Geoffrey Bayldon played the King. He played Weston in "To Sir With Love" and Dr. Duval in "The Pink Panther Strikes Again" among many other roles.
Finally, in "The Heartless Giant":
Gemma Jones also played Bridget's "Mum" in "Bridget Jones' Diary".The Giant was played by Frederick Warder, who played the Half Man in "Fearnot" and Calico Jerry in "Muppet Treasure Island" (who I still can't remember).
And there you have it. So many That Guys and Girls your head must be about ready to explode. If all of this was too much for you, I still recommend "The Storyteller" DVD very much.
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