Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)


After thousands of years of making bets with Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), a physical personification of the devil, Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) must face the ultimate consequence. If he cannot claim five souls before his daughter's (Lily Cole) 16th birthday she will belong to Mr. Nick for all time. With only two days remaining Parnassus enlists the aid of charismatic, amnesiac, Tony (Heath Ledger) for one last go.

I have to admit, pretty much nine times out of ten I don't go for the Terry Gilliam idea over story framework. I like my stories far too much to delegate them to an afterthought. So, I went into watching Parnassus with a great deal of hesitancy, and worry as to what to expect. And, much to my surprise, here Gilliam has managed to find a strong balance between them.

Wonderfully navigating the old school good vs. evil for the souls of mankind tale, Gilliam maintains his tale with wonderful visuals interwoven, creative characters, and a solid, if ill-explained, plot, bounded in subtext. Parnassus knows it involves many plot devices, and openly utilizes them as it deems fit. For that's the benefit of its premise. In a world where your imagination defines what occurs, one can do anything, and manipulate anything they want. A powerful tool for any filmmaker.

And for the most part Gilliam captures his world wonderfully. He plays to the quirky side of things, but develops the characters fully. They go through emotional rides, and in return so does the audience. And as for the cast, they handle these transitions wonderfully. Ledger is a testament to the strength of his career, and the trio of Law, Depp, and Farrell support that persona. While Plummer stands out as a highly memorable Parnassus, Cole and Andrew Garfield (slight of hand/stage-man Anton) also manage to hold their own. Waits is also a nice surprise as the quasi-villain of the story, whose random appearances are filled with smooth, and amusing plays on humanity.

The only weak link the cast I found was in Verne Troyer, as Parnassus' long time follower and friend Percy. The character just felt flat, one note by comparison, and Troyer's never really had the vocal range with emotion to elevate a character beyond that. It's a shame, but hardly something to whip out the complaint stick too heavily over.

Parnassus, despite offering its actor a wide range of emotions, is really about the visual world it creates. The bright lighting and colorful Imaginarium is beautifully in contrast to the dark, cloudy, allies of these characters reality. Though at times, especially towards the end, I felt like the film gets ahead of itself. Mr. Nick's schemes and plans seem to weigh down, and get muddled up in I really don't get why he's doing that moments. Gilliam holds it together as best he can, but I think he could have gone for more in the ending. Instead he settles on a rather cheap, predictable, trick. It closes the movie with a smile, but it's hardly the hammer home a film as high minded as this could have had.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus isn't going to break the narrative bound, but it does offer a nice, refreshing, play on an old tale. Breathing life into each sequence, and giving a good deal of depth to an otherwise visual bound tale.

5 better thoughts:

TheAnswerMVP2001 said...

No comments... for shame. Well I'm not a big Gilliam fan and you don't appear to be one either, so maybe this one is worth checking on when released on Dvd, since a 7.25 is pretty good coming from you.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Wow. I'm a little freaked out that you liked it so much.

Univarn said...

@MVP I think it makes a good rental, especially now since it's almost impossible to rent (I saw it two months ago but put the review on backlog for Kurosawa)

@Andrew What? I'm not allowed to like movies? :P

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Well if this is what you're liking, no you're not allowed to like any movies. I probably should rewatch this, but all I remembered is being bored on annoyed for two hours...I even forgot to grade mind just sort of repelled it.

Andrew Robinson said...

I'll give you the ending but at the same time I want you to realize that Gilliam had to do massive rewrites after Ledger died so as to complete the film. I think it's best to give Gilliam a pass with the ending just for how well he was able to rework it so that it was able to be finished without having to reshoot the entire film with a different actor in the main role for the entire movie.

I give it a 9/10 (review to come on my site..)

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