Bringing the Cannes Film Festival near its conclusion earlier was The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the latest bizarre trip down to fantasy-land from director, and co-writer, Terry Gilliam. If you’ve heard the film’s name before, odds are that Gilliam isn’t the reason, though; it’s also the highly-publicized last film from Heath Ledger, the project that he still working on when he tragically passed last January. Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp, and Jude Law were all brought in to play different manifestations of Ledger’s character, which apparently fit into the dreamlike context of the film’s plot.
Reactions are trickling in from Cannes, and, as expected for a Terry Gilliam movie, the word is all over the place. Many feel that Gilliam stuck to his usual problem of reaching too far into the stars, while others see Parnassus as the man at his most disciplined, even though the story is typically beyond weird. All, however, seem to have an admiration for the film’s scope and overall execution despite its loftiness. Wouldn’t expect anything less from the guy who brought us Brazil (just watched that again courtesy of Netflix, and it’s still amazing), among other memorable flicks.
After the jump, I’ve compiled quotes from a sampling of the reviews, as well as posted a clip featuring Ledger.
First, The Hollywood Reporter‘s Ray Bennett:
“The first big question about Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” involves how the filmmaker managed to complete the film when his star Heath Ledger died in the middle of shooting. The answer is with great imagination and skill. The second big question is whether Gilliam has produced something to rank with his great fantasies “Time Bandits” and “Brazil,” and the answer is sadly no. A carnival show with a mirror to the imagination allows Gilliam to employ his remarkable gift for imagery, but the worlds he creates will not take the breath away of children or grown-ups. The combined star power involved will generate a plentiful boxoffice return, but the film is neither intelligent enough nor silly or grotesque enough to become a lasting favorite. Filled with phantasmagorical images with the occasional echo of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” the picture involves a classic duel between the forces of imagination, led by Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), and the architect of fear and ignorance, known here as Mr. Nick (Tom Waits)……Plummer and Waits are the twin rocks of the film, and they enter the spirit of playfulness with typical skill. Garfield continues to expand his considerable range, and model Cole makes a pretty picture. The three stars that came to Gilliam’s rescue also make amusing contributions, but it’s hard not to wonder how much better the film would have been with a complete performance by the charismatic, adventurous Ledger.”
Next, BBC News writer Emma Jones:
“The first shot of the actor is of him hanging from a bridge, seemingly dead. Dramatic in any situation, it’s particularly poignant for the audience…….It’s bittersweet to see him in the flesh and to hear lines spoken to him in the film about those who go before their time: “They are forever young, they won’t grow old. It’s also hard to judge his performance as the film cuts between his replacements – Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell…….Gilliam’s theme of redemption from rags harks back to his 1991 The Fisher King. There’s no doubt that the imaginary world he’s created is awe-inspiring, but it’s ultimately designed for an art house audience. The critics at Cannes loved it, but most cinema-goers would need to see it more than once to start untangling the multiple themes. As for Ledger, it feels like a post-script performance – he’s only in the movie for a third of the time and even if he had lived to complete it, it wouldn’t be chalked up as one of his most memorable films. His many fans, even if they see Parnassus, will probably quietly still attribute The Dark Knight as his last acting role. That role of the Joker, which gave audiences the full benefit of his range, still remains his fitting tribute.”
Here is Variety’s Todd Mccarthy:
“Especially considering the trauma and difficulties stemming from Heath Ledger’s death during production and the fact that Terry Gilliam hadn’t directed a good picture in more than a decade, the helmer has made a pretty good thing out of a very bad situation in “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.” Synthesizing elements from several of his previous pictures, including “Time Bandits,” “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” and “The Fisher King,” the often overreaching director addresses a mad hatter of a story with the expected visual panache and what is, for him, considerable discipline. With Ledger onscreen more than might have been expected, the film possesses strong curiosity value bolstered by generally lively action and excellent visual effects, making for good commercial prospects in most markets.…….A lot of the stage business consists of pratfalls and chaotic behavior, which quickly become overbearing, and the plot mechanics are scarcely more engaging. Fortunately, the central conception is sturdy enough to bear Gilliam’s sporadic excesses, which in any case are better focused than is sometimes the case with him. Worst are the persistent and ineffectual flailings of Anton, a character poorly conceived in hapless 19th-century romantic mode. It’s 66 minutes into the picture when Depp first appears, and you have to look twice to make sure it’s him, so closely has his pulled-back hair, moustache and beard been tailored to match Ledger’s. At one point, Depp’s Tony conducts a middle-aged woman to the river of immortality and says that there she can join the likes of Valentino, James Dean and Princess Di among those who never got old, which serves to ease Ledger’s unspoken admission to that group.”
And finally, a much less pleased view from IGN Movies‘ Chris Tilly:
“With clumsy dialogue, poor plotting and some downright terrible performances, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a huge disappointment for any fan of Terry Gilliam’s work.
Which is a shame as the plot is classic Gilliam fare. Christopher Plummer plays the titular Doctor, leader of a fantastic travelling show that allows punters to explore the outer reaches of their imagination by passing through a magical mirror………Heath Ledger fares better as Tony, a troubled soul whom the troupe rescue from a failed suicide attempt, although his tragic real-life death mid-way through production means that the role is played by three different actors during the fantasy sequences – Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law. Each acquits himself well, with Depp a particular stand-out, but with Ledger on such spellbinding form it’s a shame we’ll never get to see his complete performance. These effects-laden sequences are definitely the highlights of the film, visually sumptuous feasts for the eyes that give Gilliam the opportunity to explore his own deranged imagination. Trouble is, when we return to modern-day London, the film falls flat, and with the bulk of the movie taking place in said setting, that’s a massive problem. Combined with the aforementioned poor performances and a strangely uneven tone, the result is a film that delights and frustrates in equal measure.”
A clip from The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus:
The Hollywood Reporter review, BBC's review, Variety's review, and IGN's review: Hollywood Reporter - Film Review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
BBC - Review: Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Variety - Review
IGN - Cannes 09: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus