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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
12A
Cast
Christopher Plummer
Heath Ledger
Lily Cole
Verne Troyer
Tom Waits

Johnny Depp
Colin Farrell
Jude Law.
Directors
Terry Gilliam.
Screenwriters
Charles McKeown.
Running Time
123 minutes

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The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
All hail the film we thought we’d never see


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Plot
Doctor Parnassus (Plummer) leads a travelling theatre troupe with a difference: they transport audiences into a realm of strange wonders. But he risks losing the soul of his daughter in a bet with the devil that newcomer Tony (Ledger) might help or hinder.


Review
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
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Terry Gilliam’s latest carries an unfair burden. Where once it could have been remembered simply for being the director’s most imaginative and engaging film for some time, it has now, given that it features the final performance of Heath Ledger (or at least what was captured of his last performance, before he sadly died midway through production), come to be looked on with more serious eyes. It has been saddled with a pressure to be Something Special.

One feels almost duty-bound to say that Ledger’s performance is extraordinary, a final snatched glimpse of a future great hitting his confident stride, but that would be disingenuous. It’s not a criticism of Ledger to say it’s not extraordinary, because this isn’t an extraordinary role. It’s part of an ensemble, no more or less interesting than any other around it. As Tony, a shady young man who experiences amnesia after being rescued from suicide by Parnassus’ strange but kind players, Ledger is very good — all Jack Sparrow eye-aerobics and Chuck Jones-ish japing. But it would be wrong to compare it to his superlative work in Brokeback Mountain or The Dark Knight. It’s those roles that will serve as his epitaph; this is the full stop. There are, however, two other parts of this troupe worthy of singling out.

Relative newcomers Lily Cole and Andrew Garfield give attention-catching performances as, respectively, the ancient showman’s daughter who is made the prize in a bargain with the devil, and the actor who loves her. We’ve previously seen Garfield shine dramatically in Lions For Lambs and the Red Riding trilogy, but here he shows something new: an ability to be simultaneously bizarre and believable as the herald into Parnassus’ strange world. Anyone looking for Britain’s next best actor should look no further. Cole, equally, defies every rule of the model-turned-actress rulebook by being not just quite-good-considering but a genuinely intriguing new screen presence, turning from sweet to sultry on a sixpence. In a film where sense
is deliberately not at a premium, they give something real and heartfelt to believe in.

However, the real star here is Gilliam. Parnassus isn’t a total success — a storm of imagination turns into a bit of a disappointing drizzle at the end — but it’s a directing achievement to be applauded. To lose one of your leads partway through shooting and then have the creative intelligence to retool the movie in a way that still makes sense — at least within its surreal terms — shows the kind of weirdo tenacity that made Gilliam so interesting before years of bad luck and bad studios seemed to wear him down. It’s to his distinct credit that it’s hard to see how this would have worked differently if Ledger had played the entirety of the role. It’s possible it may even have been a lesser film. Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell each briefly play Tony when he steps inside the ever-changing wonderland of the Imaginarium, enhancing its anything-goes otherworldliness while also suggesting that Tony is a man who is not all he seems. It’s a stylistic trick born out of tragedy, but it’s one of the story’s strongest points.

And if Gilliam’s drive to finish Parnassus was due to a desire to pay tribute to his star, then he has done his friend proud, not by putting the spotlight on Ledger, but by caring so much about the story as a whole that he’s awoken something within himself and produced his most interesting work in over a decade.


Verdict
There are thrilling flashes of Gilliam getting back to top form here. A scrappy movie with more ideas than it can control, but one born out of a passion and determination that are wholly infectious.


Reviewed by Olly Richards

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
Empire Star Rating

The More imagination the merrier

Loved it. Fantastic weird hilarious innocent fun. When the devil offers the Nun an apple just comedic GOLD. Ledger's performance wasn't amazing because as stated it was a small part in an ensemble piece but you still missed him when he wasn't on screen. I think this movie suits British audiences better than American. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Fallen Giant at 03:00, 14 August 2012 | Report This Post


Fair. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by reminn at 10:36, 14 December 2010 | Report This Post


i think the main reason i liked the film so much was just mainly because of Heath Ledger ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by stephim at 18:21, 06 July 2010 | Report This Post


i think the main reason i liked the film so much was just mainly because of Heath Ledger ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by stephim at 18:21, 06 July 2010 | Report This Post


I love this film. It's to bad that Heath died, but I like how they continued filming with other actors. The storie is just great. In first I didn't really get the story but now I do. I really like how it is directed, but I do think that there is a lot of green screen although. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by EmilyCarmen at 15:15, 27 June 2010 | Report This Post


Strange, psychedelic and fun. This is a cool ride. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 04:56, 15 April 2010 | Report This Post


Average

Didn't like it, didn't hate it. A highly average film. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by fraser1978 at 15:40, 12 April 2010 | Report This Post


A Strange Beautiful Journey

This film has to be one of the strangest, yet beautiful journey to see. It's one of those movies that you just jump in and let the story unfold before your eyes. The pefomances were very good especially Heath Ledger who sadly passed away during filming this. It was very clever how he changed to Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. It won't appeal to everyone but something I highly recommend to see. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joanna likes films at 10:25, 05 April 2010 | Report This Post


A Strange Beautiful Journey

This film has to be one of the strangest, yet beautiful journey to see. It's one of those movies that you just jump in and let the story unfold before your eyes. The pefomances were very good especially Heath Ledger who sadly passed away during filming this. It was very clever how he changed to Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. It won't appeal to everyone but something I highly recommend to see. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joanna likes films at 10:25, 05 April 2010 | Report This Post


Almost....

Intro: Blah blah blah lifelong Gilliam fan blah blah blah loss of Heath Ledger blah blah blah etc. You know by now. Final verdict: better than Grimm and Tideland, less than his trio of 90s films, WAY less than his trio of 80s films. Gilliam's biggest weakness is his squeezing tons of imagination into the picture frame, then let the actors run loose a la Keystone Cops. It is there in all of his films, but usually his focus and some sharp editing kept it all under control. This time the fi... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by knutwolf2002 at 08:58, 13 January 2010 | Report This Post


The Imaginarium of Dr. Gilliam is fantastic. Dazzling, mesmerizing and thrilling. Really recommendable movie. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 20:58, 05 January 2010 | Report This Post


RE: The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus

A visual treat that missed the mark for me. I have always loved Gilliam's films ('Brazil' and 'Twelve Monkeys'), however, although this is a fitting tribute to the fantastic Heath Ledger, the film is crowded with too many ideas. An ambitious attempt, that went through some production troubles due to the death of Ledger, deserves a nice round mark of... 7/10 (Caution: You will only really enjoy this if you are a fan of Gilliam and the surreal) ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by robwillphill at 19:38, 04 November 2009 | Report This Post


Doctor Parnassus

Terry Gilliam dosent seem to have the best of luck with previous films having troublesome shoots. Doctor Parnassus was hit hard by the death of Heath Ledger but Gilliam was able to rework the script. I think its fair to say that Gilliam has a great imagination but his ideas never seem to quite come together. Doctor Parnassus has scenes of beauty but its tangled narrative leaves it looking just a bit of a mess. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Soprano168 at 17:31, 01 November 2009 | Report This Post


A Mind-Boggling Masterpiece

As a Gilliam Junkie, this may be slightly biased, but Gilliam has not made as good a film as this since 'Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas'. This film was magical, whimsical and Gilliam all over. The popcorn masses may not comprehend this tale, but those in search of a wonderous and imaginative story need look no further. The performances are mostly incredibly strong in the film. Dr. Parnassus himself, as played by the marvellous Christopher Plummer on top form, more than over-rules the potential ... More

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Posted by Doctor Batman at 01:09, 01 November 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Surreal Rollercoaster

... More

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Posted by evil bill at 14:38, 23 October 2009 | Report This Post


Surreal Rollercoaster

I spent large parts of the film with my jaw hanging open, apart from when I had a huge grin. Surreal, bizarre, whimsical, deeply strange - you just have to throw yourself in with it and emerge, just like Parnassus' customers, bedazzled and puzzled and altogether not sure what just happened. I adored it. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by babylion at 17:21, 22 October 2009 | Report This Post


The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus

I hear this description a lot for regarding this film as, ‘Definately one for the Gilliam fans.’ However, not being exposed to some of his previous work apart from the exceptional Brazil, Fisher King and (dare I say it) Baron Munchausen, I found this a really enjoyable experience which recaptures the early films from Gilliam before the studios deflated some of his enthusiasm. I was apprehensive to say the least before seeing this, never has a Gilliam film attracted so much pr... More

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Posted by Rivetto84 at 14:00, 22 October 2009 | Report This Post


RE: The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus

Once again,Terry Gilliam makes a film for himself and his fans,rather than mass audiences and the critics,in fact this may be his most purely Gilliiam-esque film since The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen. The basic premise is a perfect springboard for Gilliam to explore his favoured 'imagination as an escape' theme and to indulge in his wild flights of fancy,which have perhaps been a little subdued of late. Here,CG s the creation of some amazing sequne inside the 'Imaginariam],with giant heads... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dr Lenera at 21:01, 20 October 2009 | Report This Post


RE: The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus

*POSS SPOILERS* I'm part way between 'in the middle' and 'exhilirated'... for most of the film it swept me away on a wonderous adventure that had a reality-grounding due to the way it jumps from fantasy to mudane normal life.... the cast were great, Plummer and Waits obviously old pros at this sort of thing, whilst Lily Cole was outstanding and Andrew Garfield was a strong character but at the same time he came off as both charming at points but annoying in his advances towards Lily and hi... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by DJ Rob C: Mark II! at 23:55, 19 October 2009 | Report This Post


RE: The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus

Saw this today and had really mixed feelings. I'm a fan of Gilliam's work (I even quite liked The Brother's Grimm) but this left me sort of underwhelmed. I didn't like the ending, it was a bit of a let-down after the rest of the film, and felt somewhat throw-away, but that could just be me. It did drag in parts, and for some reason it made me feel quite chlaustrophobic watching it, rather than feeling the rampant escapism the film itself promotes, whether or not this was intentional I woul... More

Posted by hiptobesquare_x at 22:14, 19 October 2009 | Report This Post


RE: The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus

Director: Terry Gilliam Screenwriters: Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown Starring: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Verne Troyer, Lily Cole, Andrew Garfield, Tom Waits, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Jude Law Synopsis Centuries after making his deal with the Devil (Waits) for immortality, Doctor Parnassus (Plummer) must save the soul of his daughter (Cole) by leading a traveling theatre troupe where customers have the chance to enter their imaginations, with the help of a mysterious outs... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by R W at 23:50, 18 October 2009 | Report This Post


Visually engaging but weightless

Double post. Annoying. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Davechoc at 16:41, 18 October 2009 | Report This Post


Visually engaging but weightless

The basic concept behind the Imaginarium is that people can step into the world of their wildest dreams, made real through some sort of meditation process engaged in by Dr Parnassus, who also battles the devil for souls within this realm due to his own weakness for a wager. It's visually arresting and engaging enough to watch but feels completely groundless, and the sense of being drawn into the world of the Imaginarium evaporates the moment the credits roll; the flights of fancy Gilliam enga... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Davechoc at 16:41, 18 October 2009 | Report This Post


The Imaginarium of hallucinogenic agents

Leftfield would be a word I would use if asked to sum this up in one word. This is a film brimming with imagination that one feels may be best appreciated by those on LSD or a cannabis high. Contrast is everywhere in the film, often with jarring opposites side by side. A victorian-era carnival carriage (containing the imaginarium and its stage) wandering through contemporary 21st century London with modern office blocks and urban dereliction and wasteland sitting together, One cant help noticing... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by filmsunlimited at 23:55, 17 October 2009 | Report This Post


IMAGINATION REQUIRED....

Saw this today......hmmmmm.....it's certainly one of Gilliam's more ambitious efforts. There are parts of this film which are absolutely brilliant and other parts less so. And some of the ideas herein are quite philosophical and certainly make you think - and yet - as a whole, it doesn't quite work when compared to something like Time Bandits which was a crowd pleaser. Kudos to the director for having the balls to go with his vision and actually make the blinking thing - when you consider that h... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ROTGUT at 18:10, 17 October 2009 | Report This Post


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