Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Imaganarium of Doctor Parnassus

Terry Gilliam films are never known for telling a straight story and his productions are no different. Often both are fraught with setbacks, doomed failure and last minute redemption. His 1999 production of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was a spectacular disaster. On the second day of shooting, a flood ravaged the set causing $15 million in damages and was compounded days later when his lead actor, Jean Rochefort, sustained a slipped disc which forced the film to shut down. However, a second film crew was documenting the entire proceedings and produced the rather interesting documentary Lost In La Mancha.

His latest opus, The Imaganarium of Doctor Parnassus was no different. Starring the late Heath Ledger, whose sudden death caused production to grind to a halt having only filmed a third of his parts, it seemed that once again Gilliam's film would be destined for the cutting room floor.

With developments in technology, Gilliam initially planned to use computer generated effects to change Ledger's appearance akin to those used in The Curious Case of Banjamin Button and finish the film. However, the actors Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law were eventually cast to portray alternative versions of Ledger and production resumed several months later.

The film itself concerns the travelling theatre troupe led by Doctor Parnassus who offers unsuspecting members of the public a chance to enter a magical mirror to unbeknown worlds of an almost hallucinatory nature. These worlds are classic Gilliam animations of a similar theme of those first espoused on Monty Python albeit using modern CGI to create an ethereal reality reflecting the subjects mindset. Those who enter the Imaginarium are manipulated by Dr Parnassus to offer them an experience of a lifetime.

The twist in Parnassus's ability, however, is that his powers were granted by the Devil for a ransom and now he is back to collect on the bargain, his daughter Valentia. The role of the devil is adeptly played by Tom Waits who plays his character as a reluctant anti-hero, seemingly willing Parnussus on whilst simultaneously mocking his ability to beat him at his own game. Indeed, the Devil can also change the landscape of the vision by those who enter the mirror giving him a somewhat unfair advantage.

It's true of Gilliam films that the plot is often muddled by the visuals employed to truncate or assist the narrative and certainly there are moments in The Imaginarium where it detracts from the storyline by an overambitious and needless set piece. Nevertheless, the visual effects are stunning at times and add to the grandeur of the moment.

It is also interesting to see how Gilliam has used the mirrors own powers to change Ledgers character as he enters successive times and how this allows other actors to take his place. It would certainly have been interesting to observe the original idea as subverting the plot to allow Farrell, Law and Depp would have seriously altered the concept of intent as initially conceived.

Ledger's own performance is satisfactory and it's a shame we do not get to see the change in his own character throughout the entirety of the film but which is adequately filled by the performance of his fellow stars.

Despite these setbacks and reworkings, the film succeeds in pulling the viewer into the story, despite how ridiculous it becomes at times. As the race reaches its climax for Parnassus to save what is dearest to him, the fragmented storyline pulls more or less neatly together and it is easily Gilliams best film in a decade although not without it's aforementioned detractions.

This will certainly please fans of his previous work and must have given the studios enough confidence to start production on the ill-fated Don Quixote project which is his next film. Let's hope this is a resurgence in Gilliams ability to match creativity with an ability to deliver a fully formed concept.

I wuld give this film 7.1 mirrors on the wall out of 10

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1 Comments:

OpenID iamheatherjo said...

I would honestly watch this film just to see Tom Waits. I just love him.

Fantastic review!

5:39 am  

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