The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Program Length: 122 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p
Languages: English, Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA; Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English SDH, English, Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
This film means a lot to me, and I’m not sure what all those things are, because it’s been so complex, so emotional, so nightmarish, so wonderful, so beautiful, so horrible, so everything. – Terry Gilliam
Whether you love or hate his movies, few would deny that Terry Gilliam is one of the most original and inventive directors currently making feature films. In his introduction to The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Gilliam explains that he had reached a point in his career where he wanted to make a film which was totally original but also represented “a compendium of the things that had always been either in my films or films that I wanted to make…Something more playful.” He and co-writer Charles McKeown (who had worked with Gilliam on
Forced to flee from the site of one of their shows after a brawl breaks out, they stop on a bridge when Valentina and Anton spot a man (Heath Ledger, in his last acting role) hanging from a noose. They manage to save his life, and they later learn that his name is Tony. Tony has a dark secret and was left to die by some very dangerous men, but he also has undeniable charm and immediately comes up with ideas to make the show more successful. It turns out that Doctor Parnassus has a dark secret of his own. He is being pursued by the devil, in the form of Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), who is determined to collect on an old debt. Many years ago Doctor Parnassus made a pact with Mr. Nick, whereby he received immortality and fantastic powers in exchange for handing over his first-born child to the devil when that child reached the age of 16. Valentina’s 16th birthday is just a few days off.
What follows is a wild, fantastic, unpredictable and totally implausible series of events, some of which are supposed to be real and some of which are flights of surreal imagination. However, the implausibility scarcely matters, because Gilliam has designed images which are so spectacular and breathtaking that suspension of disbelief is automatic. Along the way there are appearances by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, but to explain how they fit into the story would be to give away too much of the plot.
Plummer, who has been a reliable and admired actor for nearly sixty years, is perfect as the mysterious and deeply troubled
Roger Ebert has written that when he saw The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus at
This is a typically superb 1.85:1 1080p Blu-ray transfer from Sony. Within the doctor’s imaginarium we see bright and intense primary colors, and also a sense of depth which is almost three-dimensional. The street scenes in
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is excellent. There are enough explosions and other loud noises to keep the subwoofer busy, and the surround channels are used effectively to convey ambient sounds and provide a sense of immediacy. The film includes an excellent and evocative musical soundtrack which is played by The Budapest Film Orchestra, and it is given a pleasing and expansive soundstage. The dialog is most confined to the center channel and is clear and understandable. For those who need them, the white subtitles are easy to read.
There are a number of entertaining and informative extras on this Blu-ray disc.
In addition to the introduction by Terry Gilliam which is referred to above, the director also recorded a commentary track which provides many insights into the production of the film. He also discusses the changes which had to be made in order to complete the film after the death of Heath Ledger.
Also included is one deleted scene which can be viewed with our without commentary by the director. The scene was eliminated very early on and the CGI is very much unfinished.
“Behind the Mirror” is a short featurette in which Terry Gilliam talks about the genesis of the story. Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Tom Waits and Andrew Garfield have an opportunity to discuss their characters, and co-producer Amy Gilliam (Terry’s daughter) talks about how gratifying it was to complete what was a very difficult production.
“The Imaginarium of Terry Gilliam” goes into more detail about the director’s vision for the film. Co-producer Samuel Hadida talks about how well Gilliam works with his actors and how much they enjoy making his films. The principal actors (Ledger excepted, of course) give Gilliam praise for allowing them to try different things. Also included are insights from the visual effects supervisor, the costume designer and other members of the technical team. This featurette has a running time of 6 ½ minutes.
“Building the Monastery” is a look at the design of the most elaborate set made for the film, from the original conception to the finished product. It provides interesting details about how the set was created and runs for about 7 minutes.
Also included is a multi-angle progression sequence of a scene which allows the viewer to toggle among storyboards, blue screen footage, visual effects and the final product.
“Heath Ledger and Friends” is a touching tribute to the late actor. Gilliam, the producers, Christopher Plummer, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Tom Waits, Lily Cole, Andrew Garfield and Verne Troyer all talk about their respect and admiration for Ledger.
“Heath Ledger Wardrobe Test” is two minutes of dialog-free footage of the actor trying on various costumes. It can be played with optional commentary by Gilliam.
Another featurette consists of segments from a 2007 interview with Heath Ledger which was done for a radio program several weeks prior to the beginning of the filming of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
“Doctor Parnassus Around the World” includes footage of the film’s premiere at
“Cast and Crew Presentation on Stage” is a featurette in which most of the principal cast and crew appear on stage at the
“The Artwork of Doctor Parnassus” is a 4-minute discussion by Terry Gilliam about how he drew storyboards as he and his co-writer came up with ideas for the film.
Finally, Sony has included the original theatrical trailer and previews for the following films: Dear John, Not the Messiah, The Young Victoria, Nine, Extraordinary Measures, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, An Education, It Might Get Loud, Whatever Works, Coco Before Chanel, Soul Power, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, A Single Man, The Road, and Chloe.
The supplements are in high definition and English stereo (with subtitles in English, Spanish and Portuguese). Movie IQ and BD-Live features will be available on the release date.
The single disc comes in a standard Blu-ray keep case.
The Final Analysis
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a typically idiosyncratic Terry Gilliam film, with a somewhat convoluted and non-linear plot, but also featuring superb acting and extraordinary images which really come alive on Blu-ray. Sadly, it also features the final performance in the acting career of Heath Ledger. It also has the potential for (and may even demand) repeat viewing. For fans of Gilliam and the actors, it is highly recommended. Those who are usually put off by Gilliam’s filmmaking may want to consider giving it a rental.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specification by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable