Blu-Ray Review: ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’ With Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp

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CHICAGO – Oscar-nominated for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design, Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” is a great fit for Blu-ray as the luster of 1080p enhances the best thing about the movie. Highly touted as “Heath Ledger’s final film,” history is likely to remember the film as more of a return to form for the director of classics like “Brazil” and “The Fisher King”. Blu-Ray Rating: 4.0/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 4.0/5.0

“Doctor Parnassus” is nowhere near as accomplished as the work from Gilliam’s peak, but it is much closer to the apex than the very disappointing “The Brothers Grimm” or the simply unbearable “Tideland”. It is truly sad to wave a mournful goodbye to one of the best actors of his generation with this sorrowful elegy but it is inspiring to think that he passed along a bit of creative spark to Gilliam.

Ledger died with “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” incomplete but Gilliam not only forged on, he arguably improved his work due to the massive revisions necessary and what they added to the piece. It may be morbid, but what Ledger’s death did to “Parnassus” enhanced the film’s themes of identity and personality in resonant ways. Ultimately, the film isn’t quite focused enough to be truly landmark Gilliam but it’s much closer than anything he’s done this millennium.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on April 27th, 2010.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on April 27th, 2010.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Video

Most buyers/renters may be surprised to learn that the title character of Gilliam’s film is actually played by Christopher Plummer as a magic man with a travelling sideshow that allows customers to enter their own imaginations. His assistants, including the showman Anton (Andrew Garfield), the eye-catching Percy (Verne Troyer), and his own daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), work with the good doctor in presenting his subjects with the choices of their subconscious – moving away from evil and toward goodness.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on April 27th, 2010.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on April 27th, 2010.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Video

Evil is represented by Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), better known to most as the devil, a powerful man who gave Parnassus the gift of immortality a thousand years earlier. Of course, as with all gifts, there was a cost. Parnassus would have to give up his only child to the forces of evil on her 16th birthday, a day that is rapidly approaching. Consequently, Mr. Nick shows up, giving Dr. Parnassus one more gamble to save his daughter’s soul. He and Mr. Nick will battle for souls and the first one to five wins.

Enter Tony Sheppard (Heath Ledger), a man found hanging from a bridge with no memory of who is or how he got there. With hints at a shady background, Sheppard joins the troupe, creates a love triangle with Anton and Valentina, and becomes the ultimate salesmen in Dr. Parnassus’ Imaginarium. All of the “real world” footage of Tony features Ledger in the role, but when he enters the Imaginarium, identities become fluid and other actors take up the part. First, Johnny Depp plays Tony as a slick, smooth talker. Second, Jude Law becomes the wide-eyed dreamer of the fantasy world. Finally, Colin Farrell represents what could be the true Tony, a sleazeball.

Whatever may be said about its script, there is a LOT going on thematically in this ambitious film that covers issues like fate, sin, evil, good, love, imagination, technology, and identity. Wrestling a story with so many ideas into something coherent would be difficult for any filmmaker and the very skilled Terry Gilliam loses his way at a few crucial points, resulting a film that can sometimes feel as cluttered as it does creative. It feels like it may have needed one more rewrite or trip to the editing room to completely live up to its potential.

Having said that, it’s a beautiful film, made even more so with Sony’s excellent 1080p high definition picture. Judged purely on its Oscar-nominated visuals, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” is a must-see on Blu-ray. And the film itself ain’t half bad either.

Special features:
o Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Visual Effects and see Heath Ledger’s Interview and Wardrobe Test
o Deleted Scene
o Introduction & Commentary by Director Terry Gilliam
o 5 Additional Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes
o The Imaginarium of Terry Gilliam
o Heath Ledger and Friends - Cast & Crew remember their friend
o “The Drunk” Multi-Angle Progression Sequence
o MovieIQ

‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’ is released by Sony Pictures Home Video and stars Heath Ledger, Andrew Stanton, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Verne Troyer, Colin Farrell, Jude Law, and Johnny Depp. It was written by Terry Gilliam & Charles McKeown and directed by Gilliam. The Blu-Ray and DVD were released on April 27th, 2010. It is rated PG-13. content director Brian Tallerico

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