Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Video review: "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus"

"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" is a fitting final bow for star Heath Ledger, who died midway through the shooting of this kooky, wonderful flight of fancy from director Terry Gilliam ("The Fisher King").

Ledger plays Tony, a mysterious figure with amnesia who gets adopted by a traveling theater troupe whose featured act, Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is a (literally) ancient mystic. Living like circus carnies, they put on a show in which people can wander through a dreamscape of Parnassus' creation, where they're tempted by the Devil himself (Tom Waits).

Since reality is unsettled inside the Imaginarium, Tony changes appearance every time he goes inside (Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp lent a hand to stand in for Ledger). Even though it's an ad-hoc necessity, it's still a lovely storytelling device.

Gilliam spins his most Gilliam-esque tale, one full of strange metaphysical themes, computer-generated universes and shadowy motives.

The film died in theaters, but I'm truly hoping audiences will give it a chance on video. I would hate the idea that, like Parnassus, Gilliam is a forgotten old man spinning his odd tales for a world that has stopped listening.

As you might expect, DVD extras on this film wouldn't be complete without an exploration of how the production was affected by the death of Ledger, and "Parnassus" certainly delivers.
The most wrenching bits are costume and makeup tests with Ledger, and an audio interview right before shooting started. Gilliam says cast and crew gathered to discuss if it was even possible to complete the movie.

Seven featurettes explore various topics such the CGI creative process and the film's red carpet moments. In an introduction and feature-length commentary, Gilliam is an amusing and illuminating guide -- at one point he confesses that even he's not certain of Dr. Parnassus' exact history and powers.

He says he started out wanting to make something "light and joyful," without the neuroses that he'd been exploring all his career. If that was his aim with "Parnassus," then he certainly failed.
But for real Gilliam fans, it's the very irrational nature of his imagination that make him such a compelling filmmaker.

In addition to the aforementioned features, the Blu-ray version also has "The Imaginarium of Terry Gilliam" and remembrances of Ledger by cast and crew.

Movie: 3.5 stars out of four
Extras: 3.5 stars

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