By Noah Redfield, Staff Writer
Everyone knows about "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" as Heath Ledger's last film, but for my money, it's the new Terry Gilliam. The former Monty Python animator has been leaving his unique mark on cinema for over 30 years with his breathtaking visuals and madcap sense of humor.In this regard, his latest film is no exception and the fact that it exists at all is a miracle in itself.
The immortal Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) travels around London in his Imaginarium, a magical theatre that allows customers to step inside a magic mirror and let their imaginations blossom. Sadly, no one is listening and no one cares. To make matters worse, the Devil himself (Tom Waits in pitch-perfect casting) has come to collect his due in the form of his 16-year-old daughter's (Lily Cole) soul. Meanwhile, a charismatic outsider called Tony (Heath Ledger) joins the group and tries to bring Parnassus the audience he deserves all while they try to stall the Devil's advances on his daughter.
When Ledger passed away, he hadn't filmed any of his scenes within the Imaginarium, so every time Tony steps into the magic mirror, he is either being played by Johnny Depp, Jude Law, or Colin Farrell. The transitions between Ledger and his three replacements are seamless, and all carry themselves off well. Although it would be a lie to suggest that Ledger is on the level of his work in "The Dark Knight" or "Brokeback Mountain," it is a testament everyone's love and admiration for Ledger and Gilliam's skills as a filmmaker that "Parnassus" holds together so well.
But this is still Christopher Plummer's film, and he's absolutely magnificent. He plays Parnassus like a washed-up Prospero, a brilliant dreamer who has lost his ability to mesmerize and charm, an obvious metaphor for Gilliam himself. He has reunited with Charles McKeown, co-writer of "Brazil" and "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen," and together they have made the film Gilliam fans have been waiting for since the disappointment that was "The Brothers Grimm." It has that unique blend of fantasy and comedy that makes his best work so rich and moving.
That's not to say "Parnassus" is a perfect film. Verne Troyer (a.k.a. Mini-Me) demonstrates that he is best without any lines, and has nothing on great dwarf actors like Peter Dinklage or Michael J. Anderson. A subplot involving a love triangle only serves to muddy up the plot and should have been left on the cutting room floor. But it should be expected that a Terry Gilliam picture isn't wrapped up in a neat little package. His films contain so many ambitions and ideas that inevitably some elements aren't going to work as well as others (Think of the clumsy action sequences in "Brazil."), but the awe-inspiring power of his vision more than makes up for the rougher edges in his movies.
Like the film's central character, Gilliam is a bold and original storyteller who will overcome any tragedy – even the death of his star – so that his imagination will live on in our hearts and minds. For that alone, "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" deserves to be seen. Make this film a hit and help restore the reputation of one of cinema's true visionaries.
"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" opens on Christmas Day.