Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - April 30, 2010

Ready to Rent

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus Sony Home Video DVD 2 hours 3 minutes Director: Terry Gilliam

by Joe Ramirez

In order to save you the effort from reading any further, I will state, much to the annoyance of his fanatical cult following, that Director Terry Gilliam's "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" is a bad movie. It is too slow, too fractured, too annoying, and too pretentious for the average moviegoer (although "Avatar" is in the same category, albeit its pretentiousness stems from the director's insistences that his streamlined action is the end-all of moviemaking). Gilliam, whose works all characteristically share some of the aforementioned attributes, comes across here as a man in the throes of mania (much like the good doctor of the title), whose rants against the phantom establishment seem like sad cries from a distant era whose philosophies have already been adopted en masse, making the message somewhat embarrassing.

Terry Gilliam may be known to you as the maker of "The Fisher King" or "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" or even as the member of Monty Python who created its phantasmagoric animations or banged the coconuts together in "The Holy Grail." He is a born moviemaker, whose visions could only be described as within the style of MC Escher crossed with the mentality of James Thurber and Dante. Gilliam is an American who emigrated to Britain in the late '60s, so he sports a hybrid of a unique folksy-cum-mechanized paranoid romanticism in which the "establishment" is bad and the world of dreams, songs and comedy are the natural outlet for the imagination. Even his characters, usually dressed in layers of clothing and dirt, are reminiscent of medieval mystics, or shades beamed straight from Woodstock, preferably during "The Incredible String Band" set.

Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is a down-and-out manager of a theater troupe with supernatural origins. The good doctor, you see, made a deal with Mr. Nick (Tom Waits - who else would play the devil so smoothly?) a few hundred years ago for immortality, and Parnassus wins on the notion that people crave imagination more than material stuff. They bet again, however, when Parnassus finds that he is aging, and this time the reward is his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole) while the playground for this match is the "imaginarium" - a magic mirror that the troupe lugs around that transports volunteers physically into their own imaginations where they are forced to choose between enlightenment and materialism. The bet looks pretty sour until they run across Tony (Heath Ledger), who is hiding from his past for a good reason.

In all fairness, "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" suffers from the horrible task of having to work around Heath Ledger's death. However, I couldn't help feeling that the script by Gilliam and his longtime collaborator Charles McKeown was disjointed to begin with; Gilliam's trademarks are all there, but they feel forced, like he is badly imitating himself. I can say that the actors used to replace Ledger within the imaginarium sequences - Johhny Depp, Jude Law and an especially good Colin Farrell - inspire the movie, which is sad, because coming from a mind like Terry Gilliam's, I would have imagined a bit more.

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