Terry Gilliam is famous if not for his participation as the only American in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, than for the unbelievable amount of unforeseen and unfortunate production problems inherent in the films he directs. It is fitting then, that the tragic death of Heath Ledger happened in the middle of the production of Gilliam’s latest movie, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. As a result, much of the story had to be re-imagined, and actors filled in to “replace” Ledger where filming had not yet taken place before his death. The production crew did a fine job filling in the gaps and as a result, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus feels like a complete movie despite its troubled creation suggesting otherwise.

Still, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a Terry Gilliam movie. And as a Terry Gilliam movie, it will not appeal to most people; including those otherwise well-intentioned souls only interested in this film to get a glimpse at Ledger’s beyond-the-grave acting. If you enjoy movies that are serious mind trips , often casting aside the reality you know to pursuit another one, then you will like this movie. It has a wonderful story with a deep emotional meaning, and although it doesn’t take itself too seriously, is enjoyable to watch. If you enjoy movies with a well defined plot, where you know what is happening, then this is not the movie for you.

Synopsis: Doctor Parnassus is the gifted mind behind a traveling theater company where the audience is literally allowed to travel inside their wildest imaginations. Doctor Parnassus, though, is not all that he seems. Without giving too much away (figuring everything out for yourself is part of the fun of this movie!) Dr. Parnassus makes a dangerous wager with the devil; losing this wager will cost him his daughter’s soul. Fortunately, fate is on his side, and Dr. Parnassus & company happen to rescue a strange fellow named Tony. Tony, suffering from memory loss with no connection to his former life, decides to join the show. Soon, Dr. Parnassus’ fortunes are looking up, but suddenly the truth comes out and Tony isn’t all that he appears to be…

Acting: Great (22/25)

  • Christopher Plummer as Doctor Parnassus: GreatA very complex character, Plummer is able to show both the grace and incompetence the part requires
  • Heath Ledger as Tony: Great – Ledger captures perfectly the flawed persona of Tony, using charisma to show both the good and bad sides of the character
  • Lily Cole as Valentine, Doctor Parnassus’ daughter: Good – A strong feminine character with a real personality. Finally!
  • Andrew Garfield as Anton: Good – A few scenes with him felt devoid of true emotion, but over all fit the role well.
  • Verne Troyer as Percy: Good – Some scenes felt more realistic with him than others.
  • Tom Waits as Mr. Nick aka The Devil: Good – Maybe not as menacing as you might think…just creepy.
  • Supporting cast (including Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Ferrell playing alternate versions of Tony): Great – Great character actors and everyone did their best filling in for Ledger.

Script/Plot: Okay (16/25)

  • Dialogue: Great– witty, meaningful. It felt real despite the unreal circumstances the movie often finds itself in.
  • Script: Okay – Difficulties in rewriting with Ledger’s death make the movie not as straight forward or comprehensible as it could have been.
  • Plot: Okay – Entertaining, yes. Straightforward and easy-to-follow, no (that could be a + or a – in your book)
  • Themes/Messages: Good – The script is teeming with them. Gilliam knows how to make a film mean something even if it isn’t easily apparent that something meaningful is happening onscreen.

Direction:  Good (20/25)

  • Professionalism: Good – The script and scenery is handled well, but while watching you are never entirely convinced that you’re watching a great movie for one reason or another.
  • Flow: Okay – The way the plot is handled is unconventional, and facts that might be useful at the beginning of the movie are only made clear towards the end.
  • Editing: Great – Scene transitions and the way the movie is put together make for an adventurous, almost epic (as in the genre of movie) , movie watching experience.

Special Effects: G00d (23/25)

  • Special Effects: Great – While the special effects themselves are lackluster at times, they are used well and really sell the whole mind-trip analogy you’d expect from a Gilliam picture.
  • Music: Good – Moody, whimsical, wacky. It enhances the tone.
  • X-Factor: Great – A perfect movie to be Ledger’s last true movie, this one has some great moments and Ledger shines throughout.

The Verdict: (81/100) = B-

  • What’s Good? Some examples of good acting, but Ledger shines here in his last role. The movie is faithful to Gilliam’s past films with its focus on story telling. It is intelligent and never dull.
  • What’s Bad? All the actors are not on the same level, many people will not understand this movie.
  • Summary: An epic story told with a side of humble pie.

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My previous review: Rated: Avatar (2009)