Blu-ray Review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

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Although he was familiar with the material and had acted for director Terry Gilliam previously alongside Matt Damon as part of The Brothers Grimm, it wasn't until he saw some of the storyboards and previsualization CGI that the late Heath Ledger slipped Gilliam a note asking if he could play the part of Tony in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

When Gilliam asked him if he was seriously interested, Ledger told him yes because it was the type of movie that he'd want to see and it's one of life's great tragedies that unfortunately, Ledger – who passed away just a few months into the shoot -- was never able to see the completed effort which marks one of the director's finest efforts since The Fisher King.

However, in the spirit of Ledger, actors Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell stepped up to play various incarnations of the character primarily personified by Ledger, thereby ensuring that audiences would be able to witness not just the actor's final filmed role but also the movie he'd desperately wanted to see.

To this end, not a single frame of Ledger's performance was altered and instead the trio of actors seem to be a natural extension of it, flowing wonderfully well as imaginary “dream” versions of the character in the land that exists behind the magical mirror of a traveling theatre troupe.

Ledger's Tony is a beguiling stranger who happens upon the oft-ignored troupe and discovers that his secrets are nothing compared to those kept by the troupe's clever leader Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer). We soon find that unbeknown to his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), Parnassus had promised The Devil (Tom Waits) that he would sacrifice his only child at the age of sixteen for the chance at youth which the immortal man used when he fell in love with her mother.

With Valentina's birthday just days away, The Devil returns to make good on the Faustian wager but ever the gambler, he's willing to offer another bet to give Parnassus chance to save his daughter through the use of his traveling theatre troupe.

Gorgeously executed, Gilliam's marvel of a fairytale movie is no doubt the type of sheer wonderment that the new version of Alice in Wonderland was hoping to achieve. And in fact, in sharing some of Tim Burton's crew mates in common who worked on Sweeney Todd, you're left with the unmistakable impression that it's the type of quintessentially Johnny Depp/Tim Burton style film to which their fans who may be unfamiliar with Gilliam will instinctively gravitate.

Deservedly Parnassus was nominated for two Academy Awards including one for Best Art Direction that every frame of this wholly original filmed storybook qualifies for throughout.

And although the movie is a bit confusing in the first go-round, it's well worth another spin to fully appreciate its capacity for dazzling wonder especially when it's as vividly captured as evidenced in this breathtakingly transferred Sony Blu-ray.

While nonetheless, it's initially a bit eerie to see Heath Ledger participate in a battle for souls in a tale of both morality and mortality, it's a beautiful ode to his creativity and imagination which you're able to witness from the smallest of details and ad-libs to the largest set-pieces.

And every nuance is made sparklingly clear here in addition to the Blu-ray exclusives and many featurettes celebrating Ledger and the behind-the-scenes techniques employed to make sure this Imaginarium would be worthy of the movie that Ledger had originally wanted to see all those years ago back in the storyboard room with Gilliam.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.