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Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The (Blu-ray Review)

20 Apr, 2010 By: Chris Tribbey

Street 4/27/10
Sony Pictures
Box Office $7.6 million
$28.95 DVD, $34.95 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for violent images, some sensuality, language and smoking.
Stars Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Jude Law.

With the death of actor Heath Ledger, it’s a wonder that The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was ever completed. It’s all the more impressive that director Terry Gilliam turned out such an enjoyable film with only half of Ledger’s scenes in the can.

With Gilliam calling on Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell to finish what Ledger started, Parnassus delivers a thoroughly entertaining, two-hour head-trip via the mind of an immortal monk (Christopher Plummer).

Long ago, Dr. Parnassus made a deal with the devil: eternal life and outrageous mental abilities in exchange for his first-born when he or she turns 16. Now the (often drunk) leader of a traveling sideshow in modern-day London, Parnassus is set to see his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole) turn sweet 16, losing her forever. Only an amnesiac man (Ledger) with a dark past can save her, via a mirror that serves as a window to the imagination.

This isn’t just any cheap sideshow: those who enter the mirror on stage are able to explore their own imagination, thanks to Parnassus’ abilities. Some find their greatest dreams brought to life, while others become lost forever. As time starts to run out for Valentina, the devil makes a new deal: first person to gather five souls via the mirror wins.

While Imaginarium has great dialogue and a host of enjoyable bit actors, Gilliam’s storytelling sometimes calls for laughs where there are none, and the tale moves along a break-neck speed, with impossible situations resolved with little to no explanation. How much of the choppy story is due to Ledger’s absence is unknown.

Yet, visually this film is simply stunning, something Salvador Dali might have appreciated, and the Blu-ray brings out the wonderful colors and landscapes of the mirror’s world, as well us the blunted, back-alley darkness of the real world. The DVD transfer isn’t anything to laugh at, but the Blu-ray has as good a picture as you’ll find for the format.

The big names do exactly what you’d expect from them, with Ledger, Law, Depp, Farrell and Plummer all enjoyable to watch. But buried among the ‘A’-listers’ work is the performance of Cole, a British model-turned-actress who shines every time she’s on the screen. This was her first leading role, and I hope it isn’t her last.

Sony didn’t skimp on the bonus features for the DVD version, including a commentary, deleted scene, five featurettes, a Heath Ledger wardrobe test and an introduction by Gilliam. But besides the perfect picture, the Blu-ray also offers a fun multiangle look at one scene (from storyboards to blue screen to final shot), a more in-depth explanation of the ideas behind the film with Gilliam, and a cast and crew remembrance of Ledger, showing how the film was completed without him.

You’ll also find Sony’s movieIQ Blu-ray feature that allows for real-time information about the film.

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