03/24/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Let me get this out of the way: go see this movie. It will not be around for long, and must be seen on a big screen for its visuals rival Avatar's.

And, one more example of my complete lack of bias in reviewing Imaginarium: Terry Gilliam is a genius.

Oh, and another to make sure I'm perceived to be as un-conflicted as Lady Justice with her blindfold on: Brazil is in my top five movies of all time. The first four Police Academy's and then Brazil.

Imaginarium is about all the important things that Terry Gilliam has told stories about in most of his films: the triumph of the imagination against all odds. Love. Unrequited love. The evil mindlessness of all government authority. The degrading nature of modern society. The power of dreams. Escape. The universal quest for happiness.

Big things. Big important things.

His movies soar and crash and burn and are inexplicable and are funny and sad. But, every now and then something happens on the screen that takes your breath away and you sit transfixed in wonderment.

Wonderment happens with some frequency in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

It's as if we exist on a flat earth (a visual Gilliam uses quite often) and he wants us to realize that the world is round. If we go no further than what is drummed into our minds day in and day out by advertising, pop culture, authority in all of its fell forms, and the mindless noise of 21st century culture we will live out our lives as flat earthers. Terry Gilliam uses Imaginarium to show that a much bigger world, a universe of possibility, exists beyond all of that.

A view that life can expand forever from the big bang of our birth.

In Imaginarium he uses the extended family of Doctor Parnassus traveling around modern day London on a ramshackle wagon to examine modern life. The Imaginarium stops here and there and invites people explore the good doctor's imagination. Not the sort of thing one encounters with Covent Garden's magicians and mimes. He contrasts the purity of a young woman, just coming of age, seeking, as all young women do, that one true love to give herself more Faustian bargains that intrude. Whenever the creaky old wagon stops, wherever the decrepit stage is unfurled, a few, victims of various modern Mephistopheles, step up to see what it is all about. Even fewer let themselves entertain the notion that there exists a world where they could be happy.

The troupe saves a young man hanging from a bridge and the reborn victim energizes their faded outreach to attract a modern audience. But, as with Dr. Parnassus and the bargain he made to gain the love of a beautiful woman, the bargain made to make the Imaginarium more relevant in a loutish modern world has its own consequences.

This morality tale plays out in fits and starts and digressions and asides and in artistic splendor. Where in Monty Python and previous movies Terry Gilliam's private imaginarium was constrained by technology, we now are Avatar-ed into a new world of his making. Where previously he had to use cartoon cutouts and stop motion photography, now he can literally let his freak flag fly.

Passing though Imaginarium's looking glass, we enter a brave new world. A fantastic world of image and color, where most would go if they could shrug off the mortal coil of cubicles, meetings, annual performance reviews, and the government pronouncement of the day.

Along the way familiar Gilliam-isms: affection for old technologies: crumpled newspapers flying about...contempt for loutism: drunks spilling out of a pub trashing the Imaginarium stage...distaste for authority: bullying policemen...and, poignantly, surprisingly, an ultimate, to a modern mind perhaps pedestrian, dream for the future: a happy family.

Imaginarium is the victim of the worst marketing campaign in movie history. Think about it: Gilliam fan or not, what springs to mind when the movie's title appears? I would guess some mess made messier by Heath Ledger's death. Shoehorning Jude Law and Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp into the emptiness caused by the tragedy. Some grotesque Gilliam fantasy that makes no sense. A movie easily skipped based on buzz, incomprehensible coming attractions, and this week's American Idol scheduling.

Jude Law, Johnny Depp, and Colin Farrell are a seamless part of the movie. They are great. Their cameos assisting the ironic examination of true identity in a world in which identities shift depending on the media's most recent spin. New technologies have given Terry Gilliam the equivalent of the Hubble telescope to create new visuals to show movie lovers a world that exists in all of us, no matter how covered with life's scar tissue.

It's a terrific movie. It's a wonderful movie. As in the lyrics to Brazil the Director has a 'million things to say' and when you walk out the day 'someday soon' when happiness triumphs and true love is found seems a bit closer.