Film Reviews: Up and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

October 25, 2009

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

It so often feels like a miracle that Terry Gilliam gets a movie made at all.  Gilliam could barely make a sandwich without a studio cutting the crusts off and replacing the ham with cheese.  After the documentary Lost in La Mancha it solidified his image as the cursed film director, the director who has to fight against the odds to get his vision to the screen.  I feel an enormous amount of good will to Gilliam, I really want him to succeed.  His movies are never bad even when they’re not especially good largely because being boring just isn’t in his DNA.

Of course the big obstacle this time around was the untimely death of Heath Ledger. With any other director this would’ve been a major problem but a Gilliam film needn’t have a conventional narrative and so filming was resumed with the help of an A-list B-team.  So does it work?  It works so well that if you didn’t know at the start of the film that Ledger was dead you’d only become aware when it’s mentioned in the end credits.  OK, it’s perhaps a little bit odd that the star of the film doesn’t do his character’s closing scenes but that is entirely consistent with the story.

The film is about a small group of people who have a travelling show where people can travel into the mind of Dr Parnassus.  The show is unpopular and is mocked by everyone that sees it.  Meanwhile the devil appears threatening to take Dr Parnassus’ daughter from him.   At this point the troupe find a young man dangling under a bridge.  Has he been sent by the devil?  Will he save them or doom them?

The film itself is like a marriage between the dirty, grimy fantasy of Fisher King married to the bright, brash, unreality of his Python animation.  Both worlds are scary and dangerous in their own ways.

As is often the case with Gilliam, the film hops from one visual idea to the next with the story feeling a bit secondary.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I must confess I’m already struggling to work out what it was all about.

If you’ve not seen a Terry Gilliam film you might not want to start here.  If you don’t like Gilliam’s films this won’t change your mind.  If you like Gilliam’s movies then these two hours will fly by enjoyably enough with lots of the usual visual verve you’ve come to expect.  Just don’t mention Time Bandits.  Or Munchausen.  Or Brazil.

Up

Gilliam recently said he’d love to work with Pixar.  I think he’s going to have to join the end of a very long queue.

It’s rather boring to say the same thing as everyone else: Pixar make another superb movie.

Really, that’s all I have to say about it.

Well OK, other than being really surprised that Ed Asner is still alive and doing voiceovers, I was rather impressed with the 3D.  My first experience of the new RealD 3D system was Coraline and I was not keen.  The effect only seemed to work when things were flying out of the screen, and when that happened it was rather distracting.  I don’t know if it’s because Up is a brightly coloured affair compared to the darker shades of Coraline, but it worked much better here.  Additionally the 3D was not in-yer-face but was simply used to give the image depth and to add vividness.

Having said that, I don’t see any reason to favour the 3D version over the 2D.  If Pixar have proven anything it’s that the technology is not the star, the story is.

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