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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus [Blu-ray]

 

(Terry Gilliam, 2009)

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Infinity Features, Poo Poo Pictures & Davis Films

Blu-ray: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:02:50.404

Disc Size: 45,486,894,113 bytes

Feature Size: 30,754,480,128 bytes

Video Bitrate: 20.91 Mbps

Chapters: 16

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: April 27th, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 3960 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3960 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
DTS-HD Master Audio Portuguese 2139 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2139 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)
DTS-HD Master Audio Spanish 2084 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2084 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio Catalan 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), English, Catalan, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, none

 

Extras:

• Audio Commentary by Writer/Director Terry Gilliam

• Deleted Scene in HD (4:21)

• Behind the Mirror – in HD (3:25)

• The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – in HD (6:30)

• Building the Monastery – in HD (7:10)

• "The Drunk" Multi Angle Progression – 2:10

• Artwork of Dr. Parnassus – in HD (4:20)

• Heath Ledger & Friends – in HD (5:40)

• Heath Ledger Wardrobe Test – in HD (2:00)

• Interview with Heath Ledger – in HD (3:05)

• Dr. Parnassus Around the World - in HD (5:50)

• Presentation of Cast & Crew – in HD (8:20)

 

 

The Film:  8
To say that Terry Gilliam is the most imaginative writer/director of the past four decades is as like saying Ingmar Bergman is the most important Swedish director. Gilliam had his share of less than successful adventures (The Brothers Grimm, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) but he also directed and wrote or co-wrote Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Brazil - along with Blade Runner, the darkest and most provocative science fiction film of our generation - and re-imagined Chris Marker's La Jetée in the person of Twelve Monkeys.

It's hard to separate out the effect of Heath Ledger's death from the final cut. I think it's fair to say, however, that Gilliam's solution to having his star die midway thorough filming is, if nothing else, ingenious – up to a point. I'll come back to this presently, but first a few words about the plot: For all its fantastical diversions, the story is a version of the Faust tale: Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is a thousand year old monk who long ago made his pact with the Devil (Tom Waits). Parnassus gets immortality and the Devil waits his turn, which comes in time in the form of the Doctor's daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole). As our story opens in more or less the modern era, Valentina is only a few days from her 16th birthday, and Mr. Nick (aka, the Devil) appears to remind "Parny" of his agreement.

Parnassus has, for some while, been reduced to putting on a traveling carnival act with his daughter, a sarcastic but loyal dwarf (Verne Troyer) and a barely grown up former street urchin named Anton (Andrew Garfield). Anton hawks customers (of whom there are precious few) to walk through the Doctor's magic mirror for a voyage into a unique imagination - "Only one Imagination per customer, please" – where one's inmost self, for good or evil – their choice - is manifest.

Into the carnival act's subsistence existence drops Tony (Ledger), by a rope, hanging from a bridge. Val and Anton rescue the man who claims to have lost his memory, and perhaps he has. Tony joins the troupe and helps them find ways to becoming more successful. Anton, who secretly pines for Valentina, doesn't much like this interloper and is gratified to learn that Tony has a questionable past to say the least. But Tony is by far the more charismatic suitor while all Anton can do is act surly. And as Val's birthday nears, Mr. Nick closes in.

The question of choice is central to the story, and each character in turn is challenged with life-changing choices. Gilliam, too, had to make his: what to do about Tony once his actor passed on to another plane. His solution is a clever one, and might have worked if . . . There are two prominent "realities": one on each side of the mirror. Nearly all of Ledger's work on one side was filmed before he died and since the other side was "imagined" anyhow, why not substitute another actor for the scenes inside the Imaginarium? Better yet, and to avoid the impression that this wasn't as originally scripted, why not three substitute Tonys! Thus: Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, who, each in turn, does a subtle double take as they realize they are not Ledger. Farrell is the least impressed by the change in his appearance, but then his manifestation is the most willful, and the most dangerous.

The only difficulty in this scenario is that, given the strength of his character, we expect Ledger as Tony to reappear somewhere, and he doesn't. He just disappears. It's not something we can fail to notice. The final film, then, is a re-imagining of Gilliam's original vision, and - as in the case of the attempts to complete Mahler's Tenth Symphony – I am grateful for the effort, however flawed. . .

. . . which brings me to my one reservation about the movie that very likely wouldn't have changed if Hedger were able to complete his assignment: it's the character of Anton who proclaims his love for Valentina to us alone, but for nearly the entire length of the film he only embarrasses himself with his churlish behavior, which is not limited to Tony. It's not that his character is in any significant way inconsistent or improbable, only that he gets on my nerves and, being the only alternative to Tony, it's hard for me to root for his success as a lover.

With Ledger gone, this leaves Christopher Plummer as the leading actor in front of the camera in this melodrama. Plummer, at 79, ages but never tires. Parnassus is tired, exhausted, drunk most of the time, and yet Plummer invests him with a spark of life, of hope. The then 20 year-old Lily Cole, who bears a startling resemblance to Lucille Bremer, turns in a charged performance as a modern day Rapunzel, full of suppressed erotic desires, with a face and body to match. Verne Troyer is the go-to man for characters under three feet. His Percy and the good Doctor exchange a charming recurring bit about midgets. Tom Waits is perhaps an unexpected, yet perfect, choice for the Devil. His trademark raspy voice is imbued with a touch of mink oil to best seduce even the most righteous man.

Of course, failed movie or no, the real star of the film is Gilliam, and if you want to get lost in a phantasmagoria of eye candy and mystical symbolism, look no further than The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.


 

Image: 8/9   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Sony's Blu-ray of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus just might join the ranks of Home Theatre pluge test discs. There are scenes in or out of the Imaginarium that will tell you if your projector and screen can do what is required in terms of contrast. Black and nearly black could simply merge into one yukky murk (admittedly, there can be a lack of exquisite shadow detail); while at the other end of the spectrum, high values might be devoid of detail. But it's close to all there on the disc, just daring your system to manifest. Color is well saturated when called for and flesh tones true. Sharpness and resolution is eye-popping at times, while glossed over at others. The print source is free of defects and the transfer is without issues: no noise, nor, conversely, DNR. No apparent edge enhancement either.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 8/8
As we would expect, once inside the Imaginarium, the sound field opens up dramatically in every direction: dynamics, space, frequency response, and occasional serious LFE. The surround's locational cues can seem a little contrived, but then it's an Imaginarium after all. In the "real world" things are more subdued, with just enough ambiance to set the various stages. Dialogue is not always clear and I felt the need for subtitle cues at times.

 

Operations: 7
A Play All would have been nice for the making of production segments and another for those bits about Ledger. But no problems anywhere.

 

 

Extras: 8
A host of Extras, all rendered in high definition (even if two of them seemed to start life in lesser forms) round off this Blu-ray disc. Rather than detail each of them, just a few words about some you don't want to pass up. My favorite is the Heath Ledger's Wardrobe Test: a two-minute low-impact comedy routine where Ledger pretty much just stands there while trying on a ridiculous costume. Another is a brief audio interview Ledger recorded in 2007 played over some tasteful and nicely rendered behind the scenes footage and stills. "Building the Monastery" is one of the better making-of segments – it's hosted by Visual Effects Supervisor John Paul Docherty. "Heath Ledger and Friends" is a tribute to Ledger that moves on to the challenges of completing the film without him. Gilliam's audio commentary rambles, shall we say, imaginatively, from Ledger, to the film's critical response, to its Faustian mystique, and many other bits. It should not be missed.

 

 

Bottom line: 8
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, its faults notwithstanding, is a fascinating experience that I expect to enjoy all the more the second time around. Image quality is very good, though challenging to one's equipment and theatre environment. Extra Features are extensive and worthwhile. Warmly Recommended.

Leonard Norwitz
May 2nd, 2010

 

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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