Thursday, January 31, 2008

Heath Ledger, another Gilliam film, RIP


Much has been made about the marketing dilemma facing Warner Brothers and the Christopher Nolan directed Batman sequel The Dark Knight, after Heath Ledger's death last week. HIs character, the Joker, was central to the marketing campaign developed around the film, and the studio are reportedly rethinking their strategy.

Filmmaker Terry Gilliam faces the more difficult problem of trying to finish his film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which not only starred Ledger, but was bankrolled on the strength of his name. The Canadian co-production was set to begin 40 days of shooting in British Columbia, after three weeks of shooting in London. In addition to Ledger, the film also starred Christopher Plummer (who worked with Gilliam on Twelve Monkeys, in 1995), Lily Cole and Tom Waits (who had an uncredited cameo in the director's The Fisher King, 1991) as the devil. Gilliam had also worked with Ledger before, on 2005's The Brothers Grimm, alongside Matt Damon.

Many of Gilliam's films have been plagued with production disasters, beginning with Brazil in 1985. The director had to battle the studio to release the film (including an infamous full page open letter in Variety) which went on to much acclaim but little box office success. His follow-up three years later, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, saw it's original budget of 23.5 million nearly double and then take in a mere 8 million at the box office. A decade later Gilliam attempted to film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, but the actor playing Quixote (Jean Rochefort) suffered a herniated disc a week into filming, and a flood severely damaged the set. The film, also starring box-office draw Johnny Depp, was cancelled outright. These fiascos are well documented, the first in the Jack Matthews book The Battle of Brazil, the second in the Andrew Yule book Losing the Light , and the last in the theatrically released documentary Lost in La Mancha.

Christopher Plummer says Gilliam may take advantage of the film's magic-based story to save the picture - perhaps by turning Ledger's character into other people, using stills or using computer-generated-imaging effects. But Greg Chambers, business manager for the craft union ACFC West, told the Vancouver Sun newspaper that The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was "currently listed as a force majeure", a clause which allows producers to end contracts in extraordinary circumstances.

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