THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS
** (out of 5)
January 8, 2010
Christopher Plummer as DOCTOR PARNASSUS
Lily Cole as VALENTINA
Andrew Garfield as ANTON
Verne Troyer as PERCY
Heath Ledger as TONY
Tom Waits as MR. NICK
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
BY KEVIN CARR
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I pity Terry Gilliam. I also admire the hell out of him. But first and foremost, at this point in his career, I pity him.
The man is a true artist in every sense of the word. When he makes a movie, he makes it for himself, not for some studio preconstruction, and that is to be admire. But I pity him because it seems that his best days are behind him.
Gilliam has made his mark in Hollywood with a maverick film like “Brazil” as well as two studio pictures like “The Fisher King” and “12 Monkeys.” However, he has also been at the epicenter of colossal failures like “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” and “The Brothers Grimm,” which have more in common with his latest film, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.”
This bizarre fantasy film tells the story of the immortal Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), who once made a deal with the Devil (Tom Waits) for the soul of his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole). Parnassus runs a traveling exhibit in which he invites people inside to experience the wonders of their imagination. With the Devil coming to collect, Parnassus makes a new deal with him for his daughter, which involves a mysterious amnesiac named Tony (Heath Ledger) and his spotty past.
In many ways, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” reminds me a lot of Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones,” which is making its national debut around the same time. Both are highly anticipated film. Both are from visionary, respected directors. Both involves elements of in-the-mind fantasy worlds. And both fall flat on their stories, especially when they take place in the real world.
With the exception of some truly horrible line reads by Verne Troyer, the acting in “Doctor Parnassus” is pretty good. Plummer throws down, the sexy pixie-esque Lily Cole is alluring and sweet in the film and Tom Waits plays a unique and very creepy version of the Devil. Of course, most people’s eyes are on the late Heath Ledger for his part in this film, during which he dies. Gilliam and company do a fine job weaving his character back into the story with alternate versions of Tony played by Jude Law, Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell.
However, the acting prowess of the stars can’t save the murky, meandering plot. For as visionary as the concept is, and as exciting as the title reads, most of the story is incredible humdrum. Gilliam takes too long to get to the point with what the Devil wants with Valentina, and the majority of the film plays out like the behind-the-scenes of a traveling sideshow rather than dealing with the fantastic abilities of the characters.
The second half is better, with the characters diving fully into the Imaginarium, but this doesn’t make up for the baggage in the first half. Even in this more visually inspired third act, the motivations of the characters seem forced and random.
The use of Law, Depp and Farrell is inspired, but these actors do nothing more than play a different version of themselves. Depp is still an iteration of Captain Jack Sparrow, and Farrell comes across as trying to channel Brad Pitt rather than Heath Ledger.
For the die-hard fan of Terry Gilliam’s work – particularly his lesser films – and anyone dying to see Ledger’s last performance committed to film, this movie is worth it. But otherwise, it is another sad miss in Terry Gilliam’s shooting gallery.