The movie theatre grows suddenly dark and an ominous voice over fills the aural spaces of the lushly carpeted room:

(In the Optimus Prime guy voice:)


Why, when half the movie going public sits down for two plus hours and drools over a piece of absolute excrement such as transformers two and the other half argues the importance of plot over effects, why do most of these folks fail to see that the best of both worlds is possible?

What, you think I’m wrong? You think it’s not possible?

Terry Gilliam makes it possible. Well, so do others, but today’s soapbox is Gilliam-flavored. He makes clever, involving films with crazy effects. Yet picture after picture he gets ignored/lambasted for his work – event though it is light years ahead of most of the other stuff grouped in the ‘fantasy’ realm that filters out through the studio system every year.

Cases in point Brazil. Twelve Monkeys. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Time Bandits.

Need I continue?

Films highly influenced by Gilliam, i.e. Julie Tamor’s Titus or Tarsem Singh’s The Fall may not necessarily get huge box office outings but they do seem to garner immediate and rabid ‘indie cred’. Fine, they deserve it. But that’s like singing the praises of Kurt Cobain and insulting The Pixies.

Gilliam gets nothing. Except from his fans. Which judging by the difficulty Dr. Parnassus had getting an American distributor and it’s subsequent teeny tiny run now that it does have one, with next to no advertising* I’d say number considerably less now than just as far back as say Brothers Grimm in 2005.

Terry Gilliam is disappearing from the industry. Tim Burton retreads the same shallow ground over and over again** and Gilliam is lucky to be able to do anything.

Current case in point: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Now, yes, some of you are going to argue that Dr. Parnassus’ story is not as magnificent as I’m making it out to be. Fine, it’s not the most tightly written film of the year (or Mr. Gilliam’s career). But it’s not a bad story. It’s not ‘the same story’ we get with most fantasy/sci fi. It’s human failability (is that a word?) It’s love, and weakness, and death and the devil. It’s the magic of the Imagination, a concept present in nearly all of Gilliam’s films. It’s endearing.

Tell me there was anything endearing about the matrix? or transformers? Go on, I dare you.

And the effects – I can hear the old sods now singing the song I often sing myself, ‘fuck CGI! His shit was good before the computers took over the effects!’

Well, ah, yeah, that’s all well and good if we’re arguing about werewolves. Dog Soldiers is ALWAYS going to look better than some CG piece of shit like van helsing. But Werewolves are relatively easy to do. With Terry Gilliam’s films the effects are never easy. And yes, something like Munchausen wins out visually over Dr. P (to some degree) because all those crazy sets and contraptions and costumes were built by human hands. HOWEVER, and this is a big however, I do not begrudge Mr. Gilliam’s move into the realm of computer-generate FX because, simply stated, after a financial debacle like Munchausen NO STUDIO is going to give him the time or the money to do that kind of picture again. From here out if we want the epic fantasy lands of Mad Terry’s mind, it’s gonna have to be done like Dr. Parnassus – or it’s not gonna be done at all.

And really, even with my raging hatred of CGI (which is lessening as it gets better and better and filmmakers use it more and more wisely) I thought Parnassus was beautiful. And the whole time I was looking at the giant heads rising from the sand and the ladders to the clouds I couldn’t help thinking ‘If he’d been able to Terry Gilliam probably would have done this sans computers just to do it’.

Maybe not. Who knows?

The film is amazing and should certainly be up for effects awards, although we all know what is going to win this year. Haven’t seen it yet so I won’t comment, but again, Dr. Parnassus was visually amazing and the story was classic Gilliam ‘the power of the imagination’ kinda deal.

And Tom Waits plays the devil. Why would you need to know anything other than that, eh?


* As I’ve said here before I do not watch tv or listen to pop radio but I’ve asked around and no one even knew this was playing at the meager two theatres it is here in Hollywood.

** Oh! A new Tim Burton remake of a classic kids tale with a dark twist starring Johnny Depp and H.B. Carter? Wow, never saw that coming as Mr. Burton’s next flick. Who could have guessed. If Mr. Burton’s insistence to waste his considerable talent leaves you as frustrated as me here’s one of my old blogs bemoaning the announcement of said upcoming picture.