A Fish Called Wanda appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Never bad but never especially good, the transfer came across as mediocre.
Some of the issues related to sharpness. The movie often exhibited a slightly dull look, as it rarely appeared terribly crisp. Though softness wasn’t overwhelming, the film usually came across as a bit ill-defined. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and only a little edge enhancement was visible. As for source flaws, I saw intermittent examples of specks, streaks and marks. These never dominated, but they created more than a few distractions.
Like many Eighties comedies, Wanda displayed fairly lackluster hues. They seemed somewhat flat and drab much of the time, with only a few examples of decent vivacity. Blacks were also a little muddy, while shadows were reasonably smooth but not especially clear. The movie was always perfectly watchable, but it rarely offered visuals on a higher level than that.
Similar thoughts greeted the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of A Fish Called Wanda. Remixed from the original monaural audio – which also appears on the DVD – the soundfield remained restrained. Music showed good stereo imaging, and a little light ambience spread to the side speakers. That was about it, though, as surround usage was negligible. Other than the music, this was a glorified mono mix; the other four speakers didn’t have a lot to do.
Audio quality was acceptable. Speech occasionally showed a little edginess, but the lines usually seemed reasonably concise and distinctive. Music had good clarity though it lacked much range; highs were slightly muted and lows lacked punch. The same held true for the effects. Those elements showed decent definition but no better than that and didn’t pack much impact. This was a serviceable soundtrack and nothing more.
How did the picture and audio of this “Collector’s Edition” compare to those of the original 1999 DVD? Both seemed superior, though not by a lot. The old disc lacked anamorphic enhancement, so the 16X9 transfer managed to tighten up the image a little. The audio was also a bit clearer and better defined. Don’t expect revelations, though, as the 2006 DVD’s presentation of the movie doesn’t blow away the old one. It’s better, but not by a ton.
On the other hand, the “Collector’s Edition” adds a ton of supplements not found on the prior set and clearly obliterates the old release in that department. On DVD One, we get two elements. First comes an audio commentary from actor John Cleese. He provides a running, screen-specific discussion. Cleese chats about the film’s origins and development, script and story issues, memories of director Charles Crichton, casting, performances and collaborating with the actors, the film’s depiction of London, and other production issues.
While Cleese offers some good notes, he also tends to throw out a little too much praise, and he goes silent too frequently. Neither issue significantly mars the commentary, however, as Cleese usually gives us useful information. He mainly sticks with script and acting, which makes sense given his focus. This ends up as a generally compelling commentary, though not a great one.
Disc One also includes a Trivia Track. This text commentary gets into topics such as cast and crew, facts behind movie topics such as barristers and fish, and various production notes. These prove unusually good for this sort of program. We learn a lot of nice background info, not much of which repeats material from Cleese’s commentary. This ends up as a valuable extra.
Over on DVD Two, many more components appear. First we find a 30-minute and 30-second documentary called Something Fishy. It mixes movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews. We hear from Cleese, actors Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin, producer Michael Shamberg, executive producer Steve Abbott, and director of photography Alan Hume. The show starts with a quick overview of Cleese’s career and the evolution of Wanda. We get some notes about director Charles Crichton, elements of the script’s composition, casting and characters, aspects of the various performances and interactions, cut snippets and reshoots, and screenings and reactions.
After an audio commentary and a trivia track, inevitably we find some repetition here. That said, not a lot of duplication occurs, and the involvement of so many additional participants adds to the package. It starts slowly but gets very good once it digs into casting and shooting the film. “Fishy” offers plenty of great insights, and all involved come across as frank and funny. The documentary works well and turns into a solid program.
A Message from John Cleese runs four minutes, 56 seconds. Shot as a promotional element back in 1988, it shows Cleese as he touts the movie to American promoters – and does so in a humorously poor manner. It’s funny and enjoyable to see.
26 Deleted and Alternate Scenes fill a total of 29 minutes, 37 seconds. That running time includes introductions from Cleese. He gives us notes about what we’ll see and lets us know why they cut the sequences. I agree with the majority of the edits, as most prove redundant or simply unnecessary. We also see some more graphic elements like blood related to the death of the dogs. Seeing these bits shows what a mistake it would’ve been to feature the more gruesome side of things, since those parts work only because they’re so cartoony. A few amusing moments emerge – I especially like a discussion between Otto and Wanda about their relationship, and the subplot in which Otto uses cats’ tails for target practice – but most deserved their fate.
Under the “Featurettes” category, we find three pieces. John Cleese’s First Farewell Performance goes for 18 minutes, 11 seconds and presents a piece created concurrent with the film’s shoot. In addition to behind the scenes materials, we get interviews with Cleese conducted by Iain Johnstone. They chat about Cleese’s frequent threats to give up comedy, his writing methods, making Wanda more palatable for Americans, and working with Crichton and the actors. We also get a few remarks from Kline, Palin, Crichton and Curtis.
As with most featurettes of this sort, “Performance” works best when it focuses on shots from the set. We find lots of nice elements from the shoot, and these prove interesting. The interview segments are too brief to add up to much, but they’re played straight enough that they add a bit to the package.
Next we find the 29-minute and 51-second Farewell Featurette: John Cleese. This essentially acts as a continuation of “Performance”, as it presents more from Johnstone’s sessions and delves further into the production. Here Cleese chats about cut sequences, filming the bit where he hangs from a window, working with the other actors, his character, his personal life, and his plans for the future (as of 1988).
Since “Farewell” resembles “Performance”, my comments for it apply here. It includes all the same strengths, as I continue to like this program’s behind the scenes materials. Actually, “Farewell” is a bit less effective than “Performance” just because it pads its time with movie clips. Few of those appear in “Performance” but “Farewell” uses quite a few of them. It’s still fun and informative, however.
For the final featurette, we get Kulture Vulture. This 16-minute and 31-second program mixes elements. Film expert Mark Adams gives us some notes about the production while host Robert Powell provides a tour of Wanda locations. Since most of Adams’ comments appear elsewhere, we don’t learn much from him, and the glimpses of movie sites proves only moderately interesting. This ends up as a mediocre program.
Still images pop up in a Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery. It breaks into five areas: “Key Stills” (11 shots), “Behind the Scenes” (20), “Deleted Scenes” (5), “The Stars” (34), and “Publicity Images” (8). Most prove uninspiring, though some of the ads are interesting.
In addition to the Trailer for Wanda, we get a collection of Previews. This area includes ads for the 2006 Pink Panther, The Princess Bride, Casino Royale, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
If you hunt, you’ll find some Easter Eggs. On the “Mug Shots” menu, go right from “Special Features” and you’ll highlight some shoes. Hit “enter” to see an 88-second clip that shows an alternate version of the scene in which Wanda extracts information from Ken.
On the “Special Features” screen, go to “Main Menu” and click left to highlight the pearl necklace. This reveals a one-minute and 43-second interview clip with Curtis in which she discusses subsequent gift exchanges with Cleese and gets interrupted by a phone call from husband Chris Guest. Cool fact: Curtis’s ring tone plays the theme from Halloween.
For what appears to be the last egg, go to “Deleted Scenes & Alternate Scenes” and highlight “Special Features”. Head left from there to see a key. Press enter for a 27-second outtake in which “Mr. John Cleese Shows His Thoughts On the United States of America”.
Finally, the DVD includes an eight-page Booklet. This features biographical sketches of the movie’s six main characters (including Wanda the fish), a few facts about the performers, and some details about fish. It’s a nice little addition to the set.
After 18 years, A Fish Called Wanda holds up nicely. The film barely dates and offers a droll sense of humor mixed with excellent performances. The DVD provides fairly mediocre picture and audio but packs in a very solid roster of extras.
While the quality of the movie presentation doesn’t excel, this set works enough to merit my recommendation, especially for new buyers. If you don’t own Wanda, get this special edition. If you do have the old DVD, this new set is an iffier purchase – at least if you don’t care about extras. The SE is a great buy for fans of supplements, and it also improves the picture and audio of the old disc. However, those areas don’t see radically superior here, so don’t expect a great step up for your money. I think it’s worth it, but I don’t want you to anticipate a slam-dunk package.