SDCC '09: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus


The presence of Heath Ledger was certainly felt in Comic-Con International: San Diego’s Hall H early Thursday evening, when footage from his final movie was unveiled.

Director Terry Gilliam was on hand to preview footage from The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.  After a video presentation documenting his entire film career and (wisely) helped set up the premise for Dr. Parnassus, Gilliam walked onstage to a boisterous ovation from the packed Hall.

Gilliam went right into a rant about how the best scenes in a movie are almost always in a trailer. So to change things up, he said he was going to show the boring parts of his movie. Before he could do that, SDCC’s Eddie Ibrahim walked out and awarded the director the Con’s Inkpot Award.

Give Gilliam credit for not ducking the obvious. He knew it would be next-to-impossible to overcome the curiousity people would have to see Ledger’s final work, but stressed that this is really a movie about Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) so he wanted to showcase that character at SDCC.

The first scene shows Dr. Parnassus explaining how he met the devil, who is played by Tom Waits. As Waits himself explained in the setup video at the start of the panel, he doesn’t play “a devil. He plays THE devil.”

It leads to a Faustian bargain in which the price far outweights the prize.

Ledger plays a character that’s part carnival barker, part MC…and apparently based on former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Dr. Parnassus’s Imaginarium is a sort of traveling carnival show.

Gilliam showed only one scene with Ledger, one where he’s wearing a bizarre mask that covers the top half of his face. But his voice, his presence, is apparent.

In the preview clip that ran at the start, we saw a bit more of Ledger, as well as Colin Farrell, Jude Law and Johnny Depp stepping in to complete the performance. It was not as disconcerting as you would think, probably because of the quick editing and the fact that there was so much going on in each clip.

The final scene Gilliam rolled shows a drunken buffoon getting much more than he bargained for when he stepped through the mirror at the Imaginarium, into a world that’s almost too bizarre for words. Deep, impenetrable forests. Jellyfish in space. Seriously. Jellyfish in space.

Parnassus co-star Verne Troyer joined Gilliam onstage and talked about the honor of being able to be in this movie.

The floor was opened to fan Q&A and the inevitable question about Ledger was asked.

Gilliam described Ledger as behaving much older than he actually was. He also talked about what a brilliant talent he was, and that he was convinced he would become the greatest actor of his generation.

The director also reiterated he’s a glutton for punishment and that he’s regained the rights to Don Quixote.

‘I’m now on the hunt for actors and money,” Gilliam said.

The Q&A was such a fawn-fest, Gilliam at one point joked he wants to hear from people who didn’t like him.

The panel ended with a special SDCC exclusive trailer of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, with a helpful narrator setting up the very basic premise of the film. It sent the audience out happy, and despite Gilliam’s best efforts, most definitely not bored.

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