I was eager to see “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” since it was the film Heath Ledger was working on at the time of his death. I must say; however, that I was extremely disappointed. I wish they had let him go out on the high note of “The Dark Knight.”
I get the use of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Ferrell inside the mind sequences was an attempt to explain Ledger’s absence in those scenes. He died before they were filmed. Overall, it wasn’t difficult to accept that solution so it wasn’t the sticking point.
However, I think using one, instead of three, actors in that role would have been a better solution. Having four different “faces” for Ledger’s character, Tony Shepherd, really didn’t make a lot of sense and actually distracted from the film.
That said; however, that was the least of this movie’s problems overall. It had so many more, and worse, issues to deal with.
First was the script, penned by Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown, was not very good. The concept was a great one; having a monk willing to wager against the devil. But how the concept was carried out was a bit like I would imagine a bad acid trip.
It was dull, boring, and down right stupid! Actually it was an attempt to write something that was supposedly so creative it would be over the head of most moviegoers. It didn’t succeed in that. I got it. I just didn’t like it.
The movie deals with an old fashioned sideshow troupe based in London. The ragtag group of performers includes Doctor Parnassus himself (Christopher Plummer), his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), a jack-of-all-trades named Anton (Andrew Garfield) and a midget named Percy (Vern Troyer).
Parnassus is the monk who made a deal with the devil for youth and immortality so that he could meet, win and marry the woman of his dreams, Valentina’s mother (also played by Cole). There was; however, a catch. Any child born as a result of their wedlock would, at the age of 16, belong to the devil.
Parnassus assumed he was home free until, at age 60, his wife announces she is having a baby – Valentina. She dies in childbirth, leaving Parnassus alone and unwilling to deliver on his promise. So he continues to wager with the devil for the soul of his daughter.
He does this by trying to win souls for the good side against those won by the devil for the other side. Unfortunately, he always loses; well, except for once when the devil let him win for his own reasons. So when Valentina’s 16th birthday looms near, he becomes desperate to find a way to save her.
Enter Tony Shepherd (Ledger), a man the troop rescues from hanging to death. He claims to have amnesia as a result of the experience and agrees to work with the troop.
His ideas to update the show and his ability to charm wealthy women seem to be working until someone recognizes him and chases him inside the good doctor’s mind. Then the real battle begins.
There is much more wrong with this movie than right so I’m not even going to try to address all of that. Suffice it to say, the major problem is the screenplay itself. Since Gilliam also directs, there was no one else there to help bring it any kind of balance.
Plummer is Plummer is Plummer. He is always good and he does his best to salvage this role. He doesn’t succeed but he comes close.
Ledger is, as always, brilliant as the villain. One has to wonder how much better the end result might have been had be been available to complete the entire film. Depp’s, Ferrell’s, and Law’s parts were so short that they did not have time to make any real impact.
Cole is winsome, charming and poignant as Lily. She is beautiful and breathtaking to watch on screen. One could palpably “feel” her desperation for a normal life.
Garfield’s role as Anton is pivotal and a good one. He does it justice and brings the only real balance the film enjoys.
Troyer almost steals the entire movie out from under Plummer and Ledger. They were right to give him such a key part. He made the film almost worth watching all by himself.
Obviously, when it comes to special effects, this movie has more than its share. After all, most of it takes places inside the mind of Parnassus himself and the imagination of his various victims.
The images are both beautiful and ethereal and frightening and depressing, depending upon the individual’s imagination and Parnassus’s state of mind.
But even special effects can’t save this piece of drivel. It is bad, depressing, and a poor way to remember a brilliant actor’s final days. I give it a mere 1.5 stars and that is pushing it just because I loved the actors involved.
RATING SCALE USED:
0 = A stinker. Don’t waste the money!
1 = Bad. Rent it at your own risk.
1.5 = Not good but it has at least one redeeming quality.
2 = Below average. See only if you have time to kill.
2.5 = Average. A toss up.
3 = Good. Worth a looksee.
3.5 = Very Good. I recommend it.
4 = Excellent. Don’t miss it!
4.5 = Outstanding. What are you waiting for?
5 = Destined to become a classic. You will be sorry if you don’t see it.