Dir. Terry Gilliam. Prod. William Vince. Perf. Charles McKeown, Christopher Plummer, Heath Ledger, Jude Law, Verne Troyer, Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp, and Tom Waits. E1 Entertainment, 2009. Film.
Watching the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus feels like hearing somebody recount their dream. Both bore you for the same reason: because anything can happen at any moment, there exists no suspense. We feel no anxiety when thugs chase the hero, since at any moment the sky may spit asunder and disgorge platoons of patchwork pharaohs or motorcycle-riding crayfish to rescue him. The ground beneath the pursuers’ feet may turn to treacle. The wind may blow in an opaline mist of bumblebees in frockcoats that halts everybody in their tracks. Even as they herd him to the edge of a precipice, we know that a flying teacup may appear to whisk him out of their reach.
Many of the backgrounds look terrific. They stun us with their detail and originality. The wide angle distortion makes them look like the landscape of a dream. As backgrounds, they spellbind us. But the cavalcade of tedious characters carping in front of them robs them of their mystery. If Gilliam had published them in a book of images, instead of jumbling them together into a film, he would’ve produced a fascinating book.