Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

Some of my all-time favorite movies were directed by Terry Gilliam.  The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Brazil were brilliant.  I also enjoyed Time Bandits and Twelve Monkeys, and, of course, his Monty Python work is terrific.  So any time Gilliam comes up with something new, I get excited.  Of course, I am sometimes disappointed.  The Brothers Grimm was pretty good, The Fisher King was OK, but I loathed Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, perhaps his most imaginative work, and one of his boldest efforts, left me with mixed feelings.  As you would expect, if you know Gilliam's work, the movie is visually stunning, overloading the viewer with images.  The titular Imaginarium, actually the mind of Dr. Parnassus, through which people can experience their dreams, takes the form of a travelling sideshow act.  Dr. Parnassus, his daughter, and a couple of assistants travel around giving people the opportunity to have their dreams come true, even if for a few moments.

Along the way they pick up Tony, a drifter who they find hanging from a bridge.  Tony's role, mostly played by Heath Ledger, morphed into a face-shifting role when Ledger died during the filming.  Jude Law, Johnny Depp, and Colin Farrell each filled in on scenes that Ledger had not completed.  This does make for an interesting movie-making story, showing the adaptability of Gilliam and the cast to complete the project in the aftermath of Ledger's death.  But for the viewer, it makes a manic, confusing role even more confusing.

Imaginarium is, at times, fun to watch, but the story, in which Parnassus tries to win back his daughter, who he's about to lose in a bet with the devil, doesn't work well.  This is not Gilliam's worst movie, but it doesn't rank with his classics.

Bottom line, 3 stars.

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