Director: Terry Gilliam Release date: 16 October Review by Richard Morgan You know, there's a lot I could talk about when it comes to The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, I could talk about the problems the film has gone through getting a distribution deal, I could talk about the $30 million budget, which frankly is quite modest for your standard Gilliam venture, hell I could even bring up the tragic demise of a certain ill fated leading man. But I wont, because, as I'm sure Gilliam himself would agree, I wouldn't want any of these details to affect how one might view the film. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is the story of a 1000 year old Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) who scrapes a living in a travelling group, offering passers by a trip inside his Imaginarium, a journey through a magic mirror into a world controlled by the users imagination. Parnassus has become jaded with his immortal life which he won through a wager with the devil (Tom Waits) , but finds new purpose when he realises that his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole) will be taken by the devil on her sixteenth birthday. The only way to beat the devil is to make another wager with him. With two days to save Valentina , they come across a mysterious amnesia-stricken stranger later to be named Tony (Heath Ledger), who has some ideas on how to rejuvinate the Imaginarium. For the average Gilliam fan, Parnassus is quite an exciting event, it's his first script collaboration with Charles Mckeown since The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. It's classic Gilliam too, colourful fantasy characters set to the backdrop of a grimy modern world - the idea of escaping a pessimistic modern life through imagination. It's what he's done several times before yet it's something he does exceptionally well, a colourful underworld to the muddy grey view of normal life, like some kind of anti-David Lynch. Parnassus is no different in this respect, even in a modern CGI-driven digital setting, Gilliam still manages a visual style that is very... him. The film is notable in it's casting choices, newcomer to acting Lily Cole really looks the part as bohemian Valentina, who secretly yearns for a normal Ikea-furnished life. Christopher Plummer excels as always. But the absolute highlight has to be Tom Waits as the Devil, his grouchy yet dulcet voice fits the part incredibly well, he's despicable, yet kind of loveable. Of course you can't really talk about casting without talking about the Heath Ledger situation. As I'm sure all of you know, Mr Ledger sadly passed shortly after the on location shooting was completed, what some of you may not know is that his role was not reshot, but rather ingeniously completed by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. Without going into too much detail about how this is achieved plot wise, it should be said that it works within the context of the story amazingly. Had the role been refilled with one other actor, it probably wouldn't have worked quite so well, the fact of the status of the three names used also helped avoid any kind of cheapening of the film. In a way however, the tragedy lies in the fact that we never saw Ledgers interpretation of Tony inside the Imaginarium, this is where we learn about him the most As it stands Ledger's final performance probably wasn't all it could have been. While Parnassus is a return to the Gilliam style we know and love, it is let down in a few areas. The pacing and structure is a little dodgy, this is not the Gilliam film you will be showing your children, not through any kind of adult content, just a lengthy second act that seems to be short on action. It also feels that several areas of the story could have used a little more development, with multiple threads that seem to lead to quite sub par conclusions, the most notable being the reveal of Tony's true identity, the character is introduced to us in an intriguing, mysterious way and for him to react to the Imaginarium in the unique way that he does, his rather mundane reveal is a bit of a let down. Despite its flaws, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is still an anarchic breath of fresh air among most of the titles passing through our cinemas. It's good to know that after all that has been thrown at him over the last ten years, Gilliam is still being allowed to do his own thing. But Parnassus may be “one for the fans”, while there's definitely something for the average Gilliam devotee to enjoy, those expecting a light fantasy tale to show their kids on a Saturday afternoon should probably look elsewhere. Rating: 7/10