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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gilliam's Modern Masterpiece, May 6 2010
This review is from: Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The / L'imaginarium du Docteur Parnassus (Bilingual) (DVD)
I am such a huge Terry Gilliam fan that I wasn't sure exactly how to review this movie. I decided that the only to do it is AS a fan, warts and all. Non-fans may not get as much use out of this review, but I hope you find it informative anyway.

Everybody knows the backstory to this movie, yet another Gilliam disaster. Heath Ledger died before his parts had been finished and the world was in shock. Such a bright talent snuffed out way too early. Gilliam however, as he sometimes does, turned this tragedy into something potentially revitalizing for the film. As everybody knows he cast Johnny Deep, Jude Law and Collin Farrel to complete Ledger's parts. As an added touch, he credits the film as brought to you "by Heath Ledger and Friends".

Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is an ancient being, granted immortality by a man known as Mr. Nick (Tom Waits) who is actually the devil himself in a bowler hat and meticulously kept pencil moustache. Only the creepy hair on his ears betray any demonic origin. Parnassus, it seems has a penchant for betting, and Nick is never one to turn down a wager. Parnasses owes Nick the soul of his only daughter Valentina (Lily Cole) on her 16th birthday. Mr. Nick turns up and can't resist another bet. There's a chance to save Valentina, who is oblivious to her fate.

I don't want to spoil exactly what Parnassus does or what the imaginarium is, except to say there is a magic mirror which you can enter, and a fantasy world unfolds. This is where Gilliam becomes his most Gilliam-esque. Gilliam fans will notice visuals that have been percolating in his imagination for decades, most notably from the never-made film The Defective Detective. From the Python-style landscapes to the fantastic beings and objects inside, this is Gilliam being more gleefully Gilliam than we have seen since Munchausen. This, however, is hampered by some cheap looking CG. Some of the CG works wonderfully, some does not. The poor CG work is my major complaint about this film. CG and Gilliam seldom go together well -- see (or don't see) Brothers Grimm, also with Heath Ledger. Things go much better in the "real world" portions of the film, which take place in modern-day London. The Doctor's traveling imaginarium, a massive vehicle/carnival/mobile home with numerous hatches and living areas, is an awesomely wonderful machine that kids won't be able to take their eyes off.

I was pleasantly surprised by one actor that I didn't expect anything special from. That actor is Verne Troyer, who you may know as "Mini Me". Troyer gets all the best lines it seems, and finally gets to really act instead of doing gags. If I'm not mistaken Troyer appeared previously in Gilliam's Fear and Loathing. I was consistently impressed and entertained by Troyer's character, the loyal Percy.

As for Depp, Law and Farrell, there is a certain amount of gimmicky-ness to their first appearances. Each time Ledger goes into the mirror, he can be anywhere -- or anyone -- he imagines. Of course, when Depp first appears, there is a certain joyful "Look! It's Johnny Depp!" This gimmicky feeling wears off shortly, and you sink back into the story. When Law and Farrell appear, it no longer feels as gimmicky. All three actors do Ledger justice, bringing out facets of his character that enhance the story and the fantasy. It was clearly done with love and care.

Ledger himself was, sadly, at the very top of his game here. His character, the mysterious Tony, comes along half an hour into the film, and joyfully steals every scene he is in. Ledger brings Tony to life in a way that is amazing to watch. Ledger, mixed with Gilliam's Fisher King-esque wardrobe (Gilliam seems to like to get his actors filthy) have created a character that will be as beloved as Munchausen or Parry to Gilliam fans. It is a consolation that at least Ledger went out in a great film at the top of his game.

This 2 DVD set is chock full of Gilliam extras. I always enjoy his gleeful audio commentary tracks. Deleted scenes and featurettes will offer a little more insight into a film that is not quick to give up its inner secrets.

I think Parnassus is an ideal children's film. It will ignite their imaginations the way that Time Bandits did ours. Yes, Mr. Nick can be scary, but what is a classic hildren's story without some morality plays? Gilliam's style is that he gives more credit to kids than other directors. He knows they are smart, he knows what they can handle and what they can't, and he never dumbs anything down for them. He expects them to enjoy this film on a higher level than their parents, and they very well might.

I wholly recommend Dr. Parnassus to families, for anyone who likes a deeper film with some quality behind it, to Ledger fans, to Gilliam fans, to the young, and the young in the head. 5 stars.
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