Alice in Flatland vs Dr. Parnassus

9 03 2010

Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam: two idiosyncratic fabulists, two consistently personal visions, two very different careers. One has the trust of the big studios and single-handedly launched the Goth subculture (see Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice). The other is always alienating somebody, either audiences or investors or both. You can probably tell by the title of this post which one I prefer.

Actually I’m fan of both directors. But, especially in light of their most recent films, I have to respect Gilliam’s uncompromising commitment more than Burton’s comfort with Hollywood formula. Alice in Wonderland was fun in parts, but basically it reduced Lewis Carroll’s enduring triumph of imagination and snarky humor to a desktop theme plastered onto a familiar tale of ragtag rebels and believing in yourself.

The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, by contrast, never settles into a familiar trajectory. You think it’s going to, but then it goes somewhere else. The unbalancing surprises keep coming until the very end, and then keep nudging you after the movie is over. Many of Gilliam’s signature themes are represented, reaching back even to his bizarre animations for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Some of the familiar Gilliam imagery looks strange as CGI, rather than models and sets, but are still fun to look at. When he modernizes his vision to take advantage of digital effects, the results are stunning. And, I have to mention, he pulled off the movie despite losing his star halfway through. (See, George Lucas? Adversity! Imperfection! Look into it!)

The cast was incredible. Heath Ledger, naturally, and Jude Law and Johnny Depp were great…but let us not forget Tom Waits, who earned a place high up in the ranks of all those who have played The Adversary.




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