The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus DVD Review

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus DVD Review
Imagination & Immortality
Updated: 04-03-2010
A Terry Gilliam film all the way, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus features striking, well-drawn characters, a fluid, complex story imbued with metaphor and trickery, plus his always absolutely breath-stealing visuals. I saw it twice on the big screen and chose it as my favorite film of 2009 — so obviously, you know I'm going to wholeheartedly recommend the DVD. In fact, in some ways it is even better on the small screen (for instance, one actor I thought was the weak link both times I saw the movie before was much-less annoying this time around).
For a detailed review of the movie, please read the original rundown published here a few months back. The features on the DVD are many and so I'm keeping this piece exclusively about them…
Disc Cover Art:
Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law stepped in after Heath Ledger's death to play his character Tony in various fantasy ("imaginary") sequences and help Gilliam get it finished (hence, the movie is billed as "A Film by Heath Ledger & Friends"). I love what they did with the new artwork for the U.S. version of the DVD.
Optional Film Intro by Terry Gilliam (2:56):
Short, heartfelt, informative and somewhat snarky, this bit is well done considering the inherently extraneous quality of this 'extra'. I liked what Gilliam had to say about Fellini's Amarcord and Bergman's Fanny & Alexander here in relation to this film, and this stage of the director's life.
Deleted Scene [with optional commentary by Gilliam] (4:24):
The cutting of this scene has nothing to do with Ledger's demise, as it takes place before the Tony character is introduced. It's about what happens to the little boy who goes behind the magic mirror and while it's cool, it would have definitely slowed the pacing down at a time when the story is just gaining momentum.
Heath Ledger Wardrobe Test [with optional commentary with Gilliam] (2:02):
This bit is quite magical. Wordless, it shows Ledger much more lighthearted than we are used to seeing him in his roles or at press events. In fact, as someone who interviewed him in 2001, and again throughout the years, I have to say I never saw this side of Ledger. It's heartwarming and insightful, giving a different dimension to an already complex young man. Gilliam's commentary doesn't offer much in the way of illumination (not his fault — what can really be said about footage that speaks so well for itself already?).
Building the Monastery (7:15):
A standard "behind the scenes" featurette showing how the massive monastery set piece went from Gilliam's mind, to the page, to manmade model, and to CGI-enhanced finished scene. The parts showing Tim Waits (as The Devil) riding a horse in a partially practical set and against blue screen is kind of interesting.
Behind the Mirror (3:27):
Short soundbitey interviews with the cast (sans Ledger or any of the 'Tonys') as they were filming, plus comments from Gilliam and a couple of producers. Nothing special, but at under 4 minutes it's definitely worth a look.
Dr. Parnassus Around the World (12:32):
One of the longest featurettes, this one is also the most tedious. Set to music, it's just a montage of Gilliam and cast walking red carpets from Cannes to London as they introduce the film around the globe.
Heath Ledger Interview (3:08): Bits from a November 2007 radio interview (I'm assuming this was probably during the press tour for I'm Not There, as that's the same month and year that I myself last interviewed Ledger) in which he talks poignantly and candidly about his passion for acting and reveals perhaps prophetically that he only feels "alive" in the moments on set between the calls of action and cut. His steadfast loyalty to Gilliam is also remarkable and a testament to his character.
Optional commentary by Gilliam (feature-length):
Gilliam's commentaries are always excellent, honest and informative and this one is no exception. He talks enough about Ledger to satisfy the actor's fans (going into not only the issues with the insurance company after the untimely death, but also about the unusual acting choices Ledger made which turned out to be lucky after the ensuing unfortunate circumstances). But Gilliam also gives the other actors their due (I found his insights on Waits as both an actor and a musician especially enlightening), and talks about the rampant homages and symbolism in which the film is veritably embroiled  (everything from Monty Python, to the significance of the pipe that Tony character swallows, to the meaning behind Parnassus' name). He even goes into details about the smaller roles (the bit about Depp and Maggie Steed, who plays "Louis Vuitton Woman", is priceless - and it also reveals a fascinating tidbit about the scripted dialogue there), what it was like shooting in the streets of London with a horse-drawn carriage, and so much more.
It's an especially nice touch that the captions option is extended to the commentary so that not a single word is missed (and it's also hearing-impaired friendly, which is unusual indeed for the director-commentary feature).
Heath Ledger & Friends (5:45)
The Imaginarium of Terry Gilliam (6:32)
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson
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