The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

2010-06-18 09:02
 
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

What it's about:

The Imaginarium of the title is a travelling sideshow that has, at its main attraction, a mysterious mirror that allows any who enter it, access into a wild and wonderful world of magical wish fulfillment and dreamlike landscapes, but with a dark side that constantly threatens to steal the unsuspecting visitor's soul. As the story progresses, we are introduced to amnesiac con men, fracturing relationships and, oh yes, some very nefarious deals with the devil.

What we thought:

After the seemingly artistically compromised Brothers Grimm and the weirdly infamous obscurity of Tigerland, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus marks the welcome return of one of cinema's great visionary directors. After all, it's not just anybody who can surpass an early career as a Python, but Terry Gilliam did just that with a long stint as a wildly imaginative, versatile and steadfastly uncompromising filmmaking auteur. And say what you will about the not-without-its-flaws Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus but it's impossible to deny that, unlike so much of the trash spewed out by the Hollywood machine, it is a genuine piece of filmmaking by someone who clearly loves and understands the medium and uses it in innovative and unique ways to bring his vision to life.

On that note, before getting into all the things that Imaginarium gets so very perfectly right, there is an unavoidable and fundamental flaw with the film that has to be dealt with first. Gilliam is clearly a guy with a vision but in this case, the vision is somewhat compromised by a plot that creaks and shudders at times under its own whimsical machinations, never coalescing into an entirely satisfying whole. This isn't entirely a new hiccup in Gilliam's work but it does mean that I can't ever see this being considered in the same league as Gilliam's magnum-opus, the darkly humorous, dystopian nightmare of Brazil.    

What it does have going for it though is, well, pretty much everything else. For a start, there is that white elephant in the room that I have managed to studiously ignore so far. For all my talk of Terry Gilliam, Imaginarium is inevitably most hotly anticipated as the final project to involve the presence of the sadly departed Heath Ledger. His incendiary performance as the Joker in 2008's The Dark Knight set the film world alight and garnered him every best supporting actor award under the sun. Most importantly, it finally solidified his place as one of cinema's greatest acting talents after a solid career that, in retrospect, now feels like a warm up to the all too fleeting main event.

The question then, is not only whether or not his final role lives up to his most famous turn, but how precisely Gilliam would be able to work around the fact that Ledger died in the middle of making the film. To the former question I can only say that even if his performance here isn't nearly as memorable or as iconic as the Joker, it is a poignant reminder of an actor who, with seemingly little effort, could enliven up the screen with a real, easygoing charm and genuine, honest-to-goodness screen presence.

As to how Gilliam fared in dealing with this crushing blow to his production, one can only assume that all those years of troubled productions, gave him the ability to deal with a problem that would have capsized most films. His solution is elegantly perfect in its execution to the point that it seemed like the plan all along. It's also touching in that it involves Ledger's colleagues and friends Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, stepping in to essentially pay tribute to the fallen actor. I'll leave it up to you to discover just how he managed this (though I believe it is, by now, widespread knowledge) but, aside for a slightly flat resolution to his character's arc, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a fine epitaph to Ledger's career. "A film by Heath Ledger and friends", indeed.

Another potential factor that could have easily crippled the film was of Gilliam's own choosing, but again he rises to the occasion and dispels all fears. Gilliam has long been known for his wonderfully realised physical special effects that his move to the now more conventional computer-generated effects threatened to hurt his latest film in the way it did Burton's most recent efforts. Unbelievably, while I did miss the almost tangible way he used to bring the impossible to life (and there was the very occasional hiccup) the CGI actually served the film really well, allowing his formidable imagination free reign on screen once again.

Rounded out by a great cast including model Lily Cole and the ever-wonderful Christopher Plummer and Tom Waits as the title character and devil respectively, well drawn characters, some genuine heart and a beautifully offbeat sense of humour, this may not be Gilliam's best film but it is well worth seeing for anyone who likes their movies to be somewhat off the beaten track. And throw those pirated DVDs away. I know it has taken a while to get here, but this absolutely beautiful movie has to be seen on a nice, big screen in a proper, good ol' cinema.    


Beautiful, offbeat and filled with genuine heart, Heath Ledger and friends present what turned out to be the late actor's final role.

Janet 2010/06/12 1:00 PM
This was an absolute lovely movie, very artistic, enjoyed it immensely, stunning photography, do go see it.
Johan1 2010/06/16 4:45 PM
  • Rating:
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
You mean "free rein". "Reign" is what a king does. "Reins" are the straps used to control a horse while riding it. To give a horse "free rein" means to let it wander where it wants to. That is what you meant.
CAMERON 2010/06/16 9:24 PM
PLAY WITH FIRE GET YOUR FINGERS BURNED.
Jaco 2010/06/17 12:41 AM
  • Rating:
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
I'm to a large extent in agreement with this review. A fine, thought provoking film by Gilliam indeed.
Phil 2010/06/17 12:57 AM
  • Rating:
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
Although "free rein" would also make sense, the actual expression is "free reign". If you have free reign you can do what you want, like kings who had the power to do what they wanted. And the movie was good! I enjoyed it.
James 2010/06/17 8:14 AM
  • Rating:
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
It's free rein, you dimwits: Give/allow sb/sth free/full rein to do sth - to give sb complete freedom of action; to allow a feeling to be expressed freely. That said, the movie was awesome!
semantics 2010/06/17 2:20 PM
Actually either are acceptable , one is to ride free rein the other is to rule unappossed . so stop arguing over semantics.
NoYou 2010/06/17 4:50 PM
You're a semantic...
James 2010/06/18 9:32 AM
I can't believe you changed it back to reign! It's wrong on so many levels! Google free reign. For the love of God, Google it!
Rene 2010/06/19 10:34 AM
Rein, reign, rain, shame James you're a pain.
James 2010/06/21 2:46 PM
Oh wow, it rhymes!
Sandy 2010/06/22 12:35 PM
  • Rating:
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
Loved the movie, loved the review.
Ilan Preskovsky 2010/06/22 2:37 PM
  • Rating:
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
Man, these are the greatest comments ever! Especially since apparently both spellings are correct.
Liz 2010/07/01 12:18 PM
  • Rating:
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
R.I.P Heath - brilliant actor! :)
NEXT ON CHANNELX
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.