Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The (Blu-ray) (2009)

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Released 17-May-2010

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Fantasy Introduction-Terry Gilliam Film Introduction
Audio Commentary-by director Terry Gilliam
Deleted Scenes-with optional commentary by Terry Gilliam
Featurette-Heath Ledger Wardrobe Test with optional commentary
Featurette-Behind the Monastery
Featurette-Behind the Mirror
Featurette-UK Premiere Featurette
Featurette-Heath Ledger & Friends
Interviews-Cast-Heath Ledger Interview
Featurette-The Imaginarium of Terry Gilliam
Multiple Angles-"The Drunk" Multi Angle Feature
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2009
Running Time 122:50
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Terry Gilliam

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Terry Gilliam
Charles McKeown
Johnny Depp
Heath Ledger
Jude Law
Lily Cole
Christopher Plummer
Case Amaray Variant
RPI $39.95 Music Jeff Danna
Mychael Danna

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 (4608Kb/s)
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Stanley Kubrick died in 1999, aged 70 having made 11 feature films (not including his first two minor independent features). He moved to England in 1962 and lived there permanently until his death in 1999. All his films made from 1962 (i.e Lolita) onwards retained his final cut privilege. His children grew up in England, they speak today with English accents, in contrast to their father who always maintained his broad New Yorker accent. Kubrick spent many years trying to make an epic film on the life of Napoleon, something he was unable to achieve. What does Kubrick's life have to do with Terry Gilliam? Well, in preparing my research for this film I was dumbstruck at the similarities in their background, although I would argue that their films are thematically different, they still have directorial trademarks that make them standout as auteuristic works. Terry Gilliam is currently 69 years old. He has made 11 feature films. He moved to England in the late 1960s to work with the Monty Python comedy team as an animator. He has lived in England to this day and is currently holding British citizenship, having renounced his American citizenship a few years ago. His daughter, Amy Gilliam was a producer on The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and she does not share Gilliam's West Coast American accent, rather she has a definite English accent. In 2001, Gilliam had to famously abandon his dream project The Man Who Killed Don Quixote after the lead actor became ill. He is currently trying to get that project restarted with Johnny Depp starring with the hope of a 2011 release. Finally, like Stanley Kubrick, Terry Gilliam has been infamous for demanding final cut privilege on his films, just ask Sid Sheinberg and the Weinstein Brothers.

    In the audio commentary for this film Gilliam states that most of his films have received negative critical reviews after release, only to be re-appraised later on with multiple viewings. In fact, he states that The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus will need to be viewed a few times to be appreciated. Gilliam believes the reason his films are not appreciated critically is because they are not structured like a traditional Hollywood-style film, rather they twist and turn in their own peculiar way. For example, in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the script was deliberately written to not focus on one particular character. Usually mainstream films do this to guarantee audience connection with a lead character's viewpoint and thus the film is more likely to succeed, in this film it is the story itself that is the centre of the show.

    What exactly, therefore, is the synopsis to the main story of the film? If you have viewed the film prior to watching this film, what did you just see? I would say that you wouldn't know, in fact, you would need to watch the film again. Terry Gilliam's audio commentary on this Blu-ray is not much help either, he tends to discuss a lot of the production details rather than the meaning of the plot. At a basic level, the script that Gilliam and Charles McKeown (who worked previously on Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen with Gilliam) prepared looks at an old man, Doctor Parnassus (played by veteran actor Christopher Plummer) who has made a deal with the devil, whose alias here is Mr. Nick, (played by Tom Waits) for immortality in return for the soul of his daughter Valentina (played by model Lily Cole) when she turns sixteen. Doctor Parnassus runs a travelling troupe that offers the public the opportunity to explore their imagination behind a mirror. Anton (Andrew Garfield) spies a man hanging from a bridge and together with Valentina they rescue him. The man, who claims amnesia, goes by the name of Tony. He agrees to join the troupe as a barker. This is the role that was famously re-cast after Heath Ledger died in January, 2008. Is Tony who he says he is? Will Doctor Parnassus win his daughter back? If not, who will? If you watch the film and are left bewildered, please remember that even the great Roger Ebert watched this at Cannes was left baffled, but liked it anyway.

    It has been said that the film is autobiographical. Terry Gilliam has not dismissed this view, stating that the story does contain his frustrations. So what is the film about? (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) . (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) I believe strongly that The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is the culmination of Gilliam's film career summarised in his feelings about filmmaking, telling stories and the choices required to tell those stories. Doctor Parnassus is Terry Gilliam himself, the man who has many stories to tell as a filmmaker, and his ultimate desire is to share his imagination with others. Mr. Nick represents the film industry whose motivation is to corrupt the story of the filmmaker for their own means, in this case the battle for telling a story involves selling out your own soul. Parnassus' daughter represents the story in its purest form, unadulterated from the influence of those outside the storyteller's vision. Valentina's life has two directions in which it can go. Either she falls in love with Tony, who represents the story's audience from a mainstream point of view and that viewpoint looks good but it is not, or she can fall in love with Anton, who is similarly pure but does not look as enticing as Tony. Anton therefore is the independent audience, the lone voice of the film who wants the story told in its pure form, without corruption. Verne Troyer's character Percy is Doctor Parnassus' confidant in the film. Notice that he is small physically, yet his contribution to Parnassus' eternal story is immense. Percy represents Gilliam's collaborators, who although in Hollywood terms appear meagre and without much star-power to draw funds for each of Gilliam's projects, nevertheless Gilliam is loyal to his collaborators who he feels share in his vision. Notice the ending of the film how Valentina falls in love with Anton. Doctor Parnassus is tempted to introduce himself to them. However, after talking to Percy he doesn't as doing so will influence the story from its pure course, Parnassus in this sense would then be no different to Mr. Nick, the unimaginative storyteller.

    Heath Ledger was able to film all his real-world scenes in London prior to flying to Vancouver, Canada to film his scenes inside the imaginarium. He died in New York City before being able to do so, however Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell each took turns to play the character of Tony in Ledger's place. Johnny Depp's performance is remarkable, especially as he was only available for 1 and 1/2 days as he was contractually committed to Michael Mann's Public Enemies at the time. Heath Ledger's performance as Tony shows the range he was developing as an actor, willing to take on a variety of roles to develop his craft. Gilliam has no doubt, in an interview on this Blu-ray disc, that Heath would have become one of the best actors of his generation, and I would concur that his role as Tony here and as the Joker in The Dark Knight, where he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, confirms that he was well on the way to fulfilling this view. It's a tragic loss.

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Transfer Quality


    In terms of video transfer, Sony has done another marvellous job in their presentation on this Blu-ray disc.

    The aspect ratio of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is 1:85:1, 16x9 enhanced for widescreen televisions.

    The video transfer uses the 1080p AVC codec and it contains a lot of fine detail, both in the ethereal world of the imaginarium and the dark world of Mr. Nick. There are no compression issues, either film grain or low level noise evident here. Nicola Pecorini, Gilliam's cinematographer since 1998's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas lights each scene distinctly, sometimes we see characters in full light, other times they are in the dark.

    There is wide range of bold, saturated colours throughout the film, not just in the imaginarium, but in the choice of costume from the lead actors. Christopher Plummer remarked that he has never had to do so many costume changes in a film, no wonder it was nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction.

    There are no film artefacts whatsoever.

    Subtitles are present in English for the hearing impaired.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio transfer benefits greatly from the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track included here.

    The main soundtrack is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Also included on this Blu-ray disc is an English audio descriptive track encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1 and an audio commentary encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0.

    The mix of the soundtrack balances surround channel effects and dialogue well. Dialogue is always audible and synchronised.

    The music by Jeff and Mychael Danna is successful at creating the feel of another world, especially with their use of the Budapest Film Orchestra to give a classical tone to the score. The main theme, from the time it starts playing when you load the disc in your Blu-ray player and access the menu, will stay in your memory. It is particularly evocative.

    Surround channel usage caters equally well for ambient noise as well as explosions. It is more dominant in the imaginarium world, especially in conjunction with the film score.

    The subwoofer is free from distortion, with clean bass effects.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Introduction by Terry Gilliam (2:56)

Gilliam discusses the tone behind the film, it represents his latter-day Fellini or Bergman picture which was made for his own enjoyment. He also discusses the legacy of Heath Ledger's death upon the film.

Audio Commentary by Terry Gilliam

The commentary is extremely thorough in detailing the production, both in producing the screenplay and in shooting the film. I found it similar in its tone to Gillam's commentary on the Criterion Collection's release of Brazil or his commentary for Twelve Monkeys. Gilliam also discusses his reaction to Ledger's death and the changes required to shooting the film in Vancouver after shooting was completed in London.

Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Terry Gilliam (4:24)

This is basically a 4-minute cut from the scene that was included at the beginning of the film when the young boy runs through the mirror into the imaginarium. It is shown here without competed CGI effects. I recommend you play it with Gilliam's commentary.

Heath Ledger Wardrobe Test with Optional Commentary by Terry Gilliam (2:02)

A short feature showing the many costumes that Heath Ledger tested for his role as Tony. Again, I recommend Gilliam's voiceover comments.

Behind the Monastery (7:15)

Visual Effects Supervisor John Paul Docherty discusses bringing Terry Gilliam's storyboards to life with computer graphics.

Behind the Mirror (3:27)

The cast describe their roles while the crew discuss the design of the film and the story behind it.

UK Premiere Featurette (12:32)

This is really two featurettes combined into one. For three and a half minutes we see the cast arrive at the London premiere of the film. This is shown with a filtered visual effect to parody footage from a personal Digital Video Camera. The second half of the feature goes for eight and a half minutes. Terry Gilliam introduces the cast at the theatre to the premiere audience.

Heath Ledger & Friends (5:45)

This extra looks at how Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell stepped into the role of Tony after Heath Ledger's death.

Heath Ledger Interview (3:08)

Heath, in an excerpt of a longer radio interview, discusses his feelings of admiration for Terry Gilliam after the loyalty he was shown by Gilliam for casting him in his 2005 film, The Brothers Grimm. This featurette is played over a montage of images from the film.

The Imaginarium of Terry Gilliam (6:32)

This extra looks at the ideas behind the film and its design and visual effects. Various members of the crew discuss their role behind-the-scenes.

"The Drunk" Multi-angle feature (2:12)

This is a clever look at the first scene in the film where the young drunk man goes through the mirror into the imaginarium. The scene is presented in four stages, it's pre-visualisation stage, it's blue screen stage, it's draft fx stage and in it's final feature stage.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus has been released on Blu-ray in the United States and United Kingdom. The United Kingdom release is identical to the Australian Blu-ray release. Both feature the Lionsgate UK logo prior to the menu being loaded and both are coded for Region B.

    The United States Blu-ray release is coded for Region A and B. It contains more language audio (Portuguese, Spanish and Catalan) and subtitle (Catalan, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish) options. Extras are identical except for the addition of 'The Artwork of Doctor Parnassus' which is a 4-minute feature where Terry Gilliam discusses his storyboards that he prepared for the film. The Region B United Kingdom and Australian release has a single UK premiere feature which is separated as two features on the United States release as 'Doctor Parnassus Around the World' (extra footage is shown from the Rome and Tokyo premieres) and 'Cast and Crew Presentation on Stage'. Finally, The United States release exclusively includes BD-Live, MovieIQ and trailers for The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Dear John, Not the Messiah, The Young Victoria, Nine, Extraordinary Measures, Hachi: A Dog's Tale, An Education, It Might Get Loud, Whatever Works, Coco Before Chanel, Soul Power, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, A Single Man, The Road, and Chloe.


    Terry Gilliam considers The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus one of the best films he has ever made. The mood of this film evokes the other-worldliness theme of his dream trilogy films, 1981's Time Bandits, 1985's Brazil and 1989's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

    The death of Heath Ledger does not diminish his performance in this film, he is a significant presence from his introduction until his final scene 15 minutes from the end. It is a miracle that this film did not go under like the disastrous The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.

    The video and audio quality of this Blu-ray is excellent, although the extras are short, they are still good. Maybe Terry Gilliam fans have been spoilt in the past with extras on his DVD releases, which have tended to be stacked (especially compare the Criterion Collection releases of Brazil and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). The plot of the film will probably leave you needing to give it a repeat viewing. I recommend you do so.

Ratings (out of 5)


© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 020), using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

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