Comic-Con 2009 Update #14 – Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

Making his Comic-Con debut in 2009 was accomplished writer and director, Terry Gilliam.  Not familiar with his work?  I’d bet the farm that you are so let me connect the dots.  Gilliam has worked on such films as Life of Brian, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and what will go down in film history as one of the most popular comedies of all time, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  The Minnesota native was in San Diego to talk about the release of his latest work, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.

So, what exactly is this film about, you may ask?  Dr. Parnassus is played by the great Christopher Plummer, whose character is centuries old.  As you will come to find out, he made a pact with the devil himself, years ago; eternal life in exchange for a 16-year old daughter.  While the offer seemed enticing at the time of proposal, the doctor seems to deeply regret his decision when it comes time to ante up. 

We were able to watch a good handful of scenes from the film, of which Gilliam mentioned that all too often in the trailers of today’s films that, ” They show all the best bits, so that when you finally get to the cinema, you’ve seen all of the best bits of the film.  So what we’re going to do here today, is show you all of the boring bits…so that when you do spend your money, you’ll get your money’s worth,” upon which the audience broke into a simultaneous chuckle.  If the so-called boring bits were shown that day, then sign me up for advance tickets because this film appears to be nothing short of intrigue woven through a well-developed story.    

One of the supporting cast members is the late, great Heath Ledger.  On how Ledger landed the role in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Gilliam said, “We didn’t write it with Heath in mind.  Heath was working on the Joker at the time.”  In eventually meeting with Ledger on the Parnassus set in London, Terry Gilliam went on to say, “There was one day, I was showing my storyboards to these effects guys.  Heath was sitting there working and in the middle of this he says, ‘Can I play Tony?’ and I said Yesssss!”  The discussion of Ledger’s passing was inevitable and Terry Gilliam addressed it as both a friend and professional.  The writer/director billed Heath Ledger as “a very special person” and “the greatest actor of his and a couple other generations.”

Actor Verne Troyer made an appearance on the discussion panel, sharing the stage with Gilliam.  We learned that Troyer plays the role of Percy, a part that was written with Troyer in mind.  Though we do not know yet how Percy plays into the grand scheme of things, we do know that he is part of the horse-drawn-carriage-based ‘show’ that Dr. Parnassus takes on the road.  Within this touring event is a mirror of sorts that is actually a portal, leading to an alternate reality; almost a very psychological dream world if you will. 

To conclude production on the film after Heath Ledger’s untimely passing, his friends decided to offer their acting abilities in Ledger’s place.  Though not originally intended, the role of Tony is often replaced by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell.  Since passing through the mirror changed the appearance of things on the other side, this provided an explanation for why Tony is Heath Ledger before going into the mirror and comes out as Depp, Law or Farrell on the other side.  I couldn’t end this article without mentioning a very honorable act (or three honorable acts, actually).  Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell all donated their fees to two-year old Matilda Ledger, Heath’s daughter.  Now that is the act of a gentleman. 

Expect The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus to enter movie theaters on October 16, 2009. 


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Images courtesy of Scott T. Morrison/Discovery Photo





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