Heath Ledger's final swansong is awash with the fantastical, writes PIERCE HUNT
IN JANUARY2008, the film world was mourning the tragic passing of Heath Ledger. His sudden death also left Terry Gilliam's latest production, The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus - in which Ledger played the main character - suspended indefinitely.
But rather than shelving the ambitious fantasy tale, The Monty Python star first thought about using CGI to change Ledger's appearance, but what he did instead was recruit replacements for the role of Tony. Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude
Law were all cast as the character, and all footage of Ledger was still to be used. The extraordinary series of events surrounding the film has propelled it firmly into the media spotlight, but all of the
attention is well deserved. The final film may not be quite as Gilliam had envisaged, but, luckily for all involved, the production is a full-on epic trip.
The fantasy adventure follows Dr Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) and his bizarre 'imaginarium' - a travelling sideshow where selected audience members experience some of the most fantastical scenarios. The immortal Dr Parnassus guides the imaginations of the participants from everything through euphoria to paranoia.
After securing immortality from the devil, Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), by winning a bet thousands of years ago, Parnassus made another deal some time later, swapping immortality for youth, on the basis that he would hand over his daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole), to the devil on her 16th birthday.
With his daughter's impending coming of age, once again, Dr. Parnassus renegotiates the terms of the wager with Mr Nick, so that whoever collects five souls first will win his daughter.
The film initially feels a little sluggish, as the eccentric travelling showcase sets up shop next to some of London's iconic locations in a modern-day Britain. But it's only with the spooky discovery of Tony (Heath Ledger), hanging from a bridge over the Thames, that the story begins to get off the ground.
The Dr Parnassus troupe find him and take him under their wing, and Ledger's portrayal of a man in a fragile state suffering from memory loss works well.
The real excitement begins when Tony ventures into the imaginarium - this is where he morphs into his replacements. First of all, Johnny Depp makes the briefest appearance of the three, but his curtailed time on screen is met with plenty of laughs.
It's now difficult to see how the film could have worked with Ledger playing the roles taken up by his three counterparts. In reality, the awful predicament Gilliam found himself in hasn't affected the wonderment of the production.
Lily Cole is a surprising hit as the streetwise teen that is tired of dealing with the aftermath of her drunken father's antics.
With so much going on in such a short space of time, it was a massive ask for the whole cascading plot to be placed into a neat two-hour package. But
Gilliam takes a decent stab at it, with some truly memorable scenes that far outweigh the lesser ones.