Review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (12A) ****

by Peter Sherlock Four Stars Anyone who has seen Lost in La Mancha will appreciate director Terry Gilliam s notorious bad luck when making movies. The documentary chart

by Peter Sherlock

Four Stars

Anyone who has seen Lost in La Mancha will appreciate director Terry Gilliam's notorious bad luck when making movies.

The documentary charts the director's ill-feted attempts to film the story of Don Quixote with Johnny Depp, whilst flash floods and injuries to cast and crew wreak havoc.

During the making of his latest movie, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the immensely talented Heath Ledger died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.

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It is testament to Gilliam's strength of vision and self-belief that the film finally arrives in cinemas this weekend, with the heavyweight trio of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell seamlessly filling in.

Ledger's last celluloid appearance may have hogged the column inches, but is Gilliam's long-awaited fantasy adventure a return to form?

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Well, Parnassus is a gloriously rich celebration of the power of the imagination, which serves as a two-finger salute to critics.

It may be over-long and a tad self-indulgent, but it revels in its striking sweeps of fancy, lush imagery, bold colours and sense of adventure.

At the heart of the film is Gilliam's alter-ego, the world-weary Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), who holds the belief that the world of dreams, make-believe and art trumps all.

We see the doctor dragging his travelling circus show around the grim streets of contemporary London, assisted by his lifelong companion Percy (Vern Troyer), his teen daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), a lovestruck assistant Anton (Andrew Garfield) and a mysterious, amnesiac stranger, Tony (Heath Ledger).

Whilst the doctor can grant people a life-changing journey into their own imagination through a mysterious on-stage mirror, the makeshift act is simply met with derision and disinterest by the public.

The doctor's gifts are no longer relevant in this shabby, rain-soaked capital city, populated by drunks and egotists. (Gilliam certainly does no favours to the London tourist board in this movie.)

We soon learn that the doctor has been involved in a feud with the devil, Mr Nick, played by a suitably gravel-voiced Tom Waits.

Years ago, Parnassus was granted the gift of eternal life in exchange for handing over his daughter on her 16th birthday.

Suffice to say, the plot becomes even more convoluted as Tony's secret dark past catches up with him.

If you are rolling your eyes at this plot summary, Parnassus is not for you. Gilliam's peculiar brand of disorganised chaos is like supping on a delicious but sickly cocktail thrown together by a maverick barman.

Yet there is something mesmerising about watching this motley crew bring faded glamour to the deserted, windswept car-parks, dull shopping malls and beery nightclubs of the capital.

Amid the squalor and ignorance of this landscape, Gilliam, through his alter-ego, offers redemption.

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