Film: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Dir: Terry Gilliam)

I'm going to put my cards on the table straight away. I'm a bit of a pompous arse, a little bit verbose, vague and over-dramatic. Anyone who regularly reads Urban Landfill would probably agree This naturally has a knock-on effect when it comes to to the type of art I like – I'm generally a fan of the pretentious, the overblown and the smart-arsed (my affection for the likes of Frédéric Beigbeder, David Lynch and the Brian Jonestown Massacre all being cases in point).

You'd have thought that Terry Gilliam's latest film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, would be bang up my street. It sounds like it should be – it critiques contemporary consumer culture, it deals with a fantastical world of unbridled imagination that transports people out of their humdrum lives, and it's directed/co-written by Terry Gilliam, the ex-Python genius behind such wonders as The Fisher King, Time Bandits, Brazil and the filmed version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. On paper, it ticks a lot of my boxes. What a shame, then, that this time Gilliam seems to have got it spectacularly wrong.

It's often mentioned that Gilliam is an unlucky film director, and this production clearly wasn't helped by the untimely death of Heath Ledger during the film's production. That said, you have to take the final product on it's own terms and Doctor Parnassus is, quite frankly, a shoddy, even flabby piece of film-making. It seems messy, disorganised and chaotic – not in a charming way but in a manner that makes the final product unfocussed, shambolic and difficult to follow. The movie's central symbol, the Imaginarium, a faded fairground sideshow, that gives passersby the chance to be 'cleansed' by the imagination of Dr Parnassus (played by Christopher Plummer) could have been a rich metaphor for the movie industry, for an examination of Gilliam's own position as a director, but it is poorly defined, even confusing.

Much has been made in the build-up to the films release about how the movie was 'saved' by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell to complete Ledger's parts after he passed away. Now, I'm not a huge fan of the four of them (Depp has been brilliant, Law can't act, and Farrell is a joke), but they all manage to out-act the late Antipodean heartthrob. It's, quite frankly, a half-baked, shambolic, and even slightly embarrassingly unconvincing performance from Ledger as Tony Shepherd, one that almost comes over as under-rehearsed (his English accent keeps slipping ferchrissakes…) 

It's not just Ledger (God bless his little self), though. The majority of the cast of Imaginarium get it wrong – it's one of the most poorly acted films I've seen in a long while. Plummer comes over as a poor man's Ian McKellan, Lily Cole just isn't an actress, Andrew Garfield (Anton) is like something out of a sixth form drama production and Tom Waits (I can't actually believe I'm writing this) is a less than convincing Devil.
The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus is a frustrating, ultimately disappointing, film. We know Terry Gilliam is capable of greatness, but this number just doesn't deliver. Should it have even have been completed? It's too self-indulgent, too pompous. Urban Landfill has taken note…


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