Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dr. Parnassus, or What Could Have Been.


This will be a short rant to vent my frustration with what could have been a great film, and was instead mediocre and disappointing. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus had everything going for it. A unique and twisted story, an AMAZING cast, beautiful visuals, a director who always makes me smile, oh and an AMAZING cast. How then did the film fall so flat?

The major problem I had with the film was pacing. The first part of the film takes a long time in setting up, the viewer is kept guessing at why we really should care about the characters, and if it even matters what they are doing. The story picks up once we are introduced to Heath Ledger’s character, but shortly after its slows down again leading into a long drawn out middle section, followed by an abrupt ending that feels disconnected from the rest of the film. To say any more would almost guarantee spoilers. The story meanders, doling out information sporadically, but never in a timely manner, back story is revealed too soon before, or too far after it is relevant, and sometimes its not revealed at all.

The film, however, was not all bad. Some of it was actually quite enjoyable. Let me first address the elephant in the room, Heath Ledger. Ledger died while making this film, and it was originally thought the project might be scrapped altogether. Instead director John Cleese found an inventive way to continue the story without him. While I believe we all would have loved more Heath Ledger, the addition of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell in his place was acceptable, if a bit forced. Each actor spends time playing Ledger’s character when he enters the imaginarium, a change that was foreshadowed once, confusingly, very early in the film. I would have preferred a single actor to take on the role of Tony as he traipsed through the imaginarium. Changing faces each time ruined some of the continuity of the story, and having Tony be surprised by the change every time was a bit corny. That being said, Heath Ledger was a powerhouse in his last performance, he shows us again in the Imaginarium why he will definitely be missed.

waitsI must also take a moment to thank John Cleese, to get down on my knees in praise of a casting choice made in this film. To make burnt offerings in response to my absolute joy at seeing one of my favorite celebrities of all time on the screen, playing a role that is tailor made for him; Tom Waits as the Devil. If you do not know who Tom Waits is, or you do not know why he is so perfect for this film, you must begin your research. This film, stylistically, screamed Tom Waits, it oozed his persona all over the screen. A dark carnival ride at 3am in a bad part of town, not so much fun as slightly terrifying, yet impossible to forget. That is Mr. Waits. His portrayal of scheming old Nick was spot on, a thing of beauty, intense in its seeming ambivalence. This was a Devil you could grow to love, after all he was not such a bad guy. Waits knocked it out of the park, he brought the quirk to the film, in a way that the crazy sets and surreal visuals only hinted at.

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus was a visual treat, if you want to settle in for a flight of fancy, this is the movie for you. If you want a final goodbye to Mr. Ledger, or you worship at the altar of Tom Waits (like I do) this is a movie for you. If you like the over the top antics of the Monty Python crew, John Cleese brings a bit of that into the film, and this might be the film for you. If you are looking for a well constructed coherent story, you might want to skip this one.


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