Talk about a one-for-them, one-for-me strategy: Following last year’s pedestrian Miramax studio washout The Brothers Grimm (reportedly marred by Weinstein interference), Terry Gilliam does an about-face with Tideland, the type of uninhibited, boldly idiosyncratic indie fantasy one might expect from the oddball director. Alas, such unrestrained inventiveness is both the blessing and the curse of Gilliam’s wack-job of a film, whose anti-conventionality (and anti-commercialism) is a breath of eccentric air even as its narrative and stylistic lack of self-control ultimately results in something of a catastrophe. Crashing and burning with brazen, headstrong recklessness, the former Pythonite’s latest (adapted from Mitch Cullin’s novel) is a gonzo riff on Alice in Wonderland drowning in drug abuse, talking squirrels, rotting corpses, pedophilia, and decapitated doll heads which are worn on the fingers of—and imaginatively engaged in conversation by—young Jeliza-Rose (Silent Hill‘s Jodelle Ferland). After the fatal overdose of her monstrous mother Queen Gunhilda (Jennifer Tilly, seemingly auditioning for the sequel to The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things), Jeliza-Rose is spirited away by her fading rock star father Noah (Jeff Bridges) to his remote childhood prairie home, where she continues to dutifully cook and administer Noah’s regular heroin injections until the old junkie croaks. With Dad decaying in the living room, Jeliza-Rose is left to her own inventive (read: insane) devices, concocting fanciful games to play with her quartet of talking toys as well as Dickens (Brendan Fletcher), a mentally unhinged, seizure-prone neighbor. Also factoring into the bizarre equation is Dickens’s one-eyed sister Dell (a great Janet McTeer), who may have once known Noah and now has taxidermy-related plans for his carcass, though it’s Ferland’s alternately magnificent and maddening off-the-wall lead performance that’s most in tune with Tideland‘s acid-enhanced nightmarishness. Yet employing a tsunami of askew camera angles and fish-eye lenses that are less inspired than simply insistent, Gilliam turns his film into a phantasmagoric funhouse bereft of rhythm, basic coherence, and, finally, much in the way of fun. Fittingly ending with a train wreck, Tideland careens about wildly to only slightly rewarding effect, its out-there excessiveness eventually conveying not the resilience of youthful imaginations but, rather, the limits of unchecked auteurism.
Inspired by the big skies and wide open fields of Andrew Wyeth paintings, the blues and browns of Tideland come in many rich hues, all reproduced to perfection here-with rich detail sustained in Gilliam's wide angle shots. The 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound is well mixed, finding a good balance between dialogue tracks, the vivid Mychael and Jeff Danna score, and sound effects. An early scene with a train flying past the little girl bouncing around inside an abandoned car is a good example of crystal-clear, layered sound work. Attention has clearly been paid all around. (Editor's Note: The film's original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 has been incorrectly cropped at 1.85:1.)
Though Tideland had more than its share of detractors, the DVD will be heaven for those individuals who were blown away by the strength of Gilliam's vision. This two-disc set comes packed with commentaries and interviews that, thankfully, aren't too repetitive-as anyone who's seen Lost in La Mancha can tell you, the filmmaker has a definite gift for the gab. An introduction from Gilliam precedes the feature, inviting audiences to view the movie from the child's point of view and the commentary track by Gilliam and co-screenwriter Tony Grisoni provide a useful CliffsNotes study guide that places the movie in the same context as, say, Brazil and The Fisher King: the use of daydreams and a fantasy life as a way of dealing with life's random miseries and harsh traumatic pains. Though Gilliam heavily implies that innocence is bliss, he also acknowledges that many of the scenes in Tideland play on the edge of darkness, connecting innocent bliss and imagination with lunacy. It's a smart and insightful bit of commentary, and helpful for all those who were scratching their heads and didn't know how to feel about the movie. The second disc features a documentary about the making-of ("Getting Gilliam") which is a happy variation on Lost in La Mancha-a portrait of a shoot that went pretty smooth! There's a commentary track with Gilliam and documentary filmmaker Vincenzo Natali that explains that the true horror was not making the movie, but getting the money and the agonies of distribution. A five-minute puff documentary, "The Making of Tideland," has some enjoyable quotes from Jeff Bridges, Janet McTeer, and more original thoughts from Gilliam. A deleted scenes track shows an extra Jennifer Tilly flashback scene from happier hippy times, and other sequences of young Jodelle Ferland diving down rabbit holes, accompanied by even more eager Gilliam commentary. Also featured is a documentary showing behind-the-scenes green-screen work on the fantasy sequences, with an eager Gilliam explaining how he pulled off his magic tricks on a low budget. It's a return to his old Monty Python methods of doing stuff from scratch. Finally, after all that, somehow Gilliam still is able to find original things to say in an 11-minute interview touching on God, death, and his inner child (a little girl), and a less compelling interview with virtuoso producer Jeremy Thomas, who has shown tremendous guts in his choice of material and directors (Bertolucci and Cronenberg among them) but isn't exactly a charismatic figure when placed in front of the camera. Rounded out with a theatrical trailer, it's a comprehensive package that ranks right up there with Criterion's Brazil and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Gilliam never seems to skimp on his DVD content, and this is no exception.
This two-disc set is sure to keep Gilliam's few Tideland fans buzzing for some time.