ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Tideland (2005) dir: Terry Gilliam Blu Ray (Arrow)
A young girl loses her parents
This fantasy adventure, directed in a typically surreal style by Terry Gilliam, features Jodelle Ferland as Jeliza-Rose, a young girl who lives with her drug-addicted parents Noah (Jeff Bridges) and Queen Gunhilda (Jennifer Tilly). Her father is a rock musician who dreams of travelling to Denmark - but the only real vacations that he is likely to take are via the heroin injections prepared by his daughter. Her mother, meanwhile, is attempting to supplant one addiction with another: chocolate. When the latter is suddenly killed one night by a seizure caused by going cold turkey, Noah takes Jeliza-Rose to her grandmother’s old house in the Texan countryside. While they settle in, Noah himself passes away due to a heroin overdose, leaving Jeliza-Rose in the presence his slowly putrefying corpse.
The young girl increasingly retreats into a world of her imagination populated by the talking doll heads which she wears on her fingers. She also encounters various real-life locals including a talking squirrel, a rabbit, a cranky bereaved taxidermist named Dell (Janet McTeer) who wears a black beekeeper costume, and the latter’s brain-damaged brother Dickens (Brendan Fletcher).
During her time in this strange and beautiful rural environment she becomes particularly close to Dickens, who believes that the expansive fields of yellow corn are an ocean and that the train which regularly passes through it is a “monster shark”.
Watch a trailer:
Gilliam at his most divisive
Tideland is, by far, the most controversial film in resume of the idiosyncratic director Terry Gilliam. He opted to work on a limited budget, outside of Hollywood studio constraints, by obtaining funding from a mixture of British and Canadian companies. However, the result was overwhelmingly panned by critics; its Metacritic rating is just 26 out of 100, based on 23 reviews. On the other hand, it was nominated for six 2007 Genie Awards (at that time, the Genies were the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars) and, like most of the director’s other films, has won a fervent cult following over the years.
To be fair, while it’s extremely difficult to rate objectively, the critical slating which it received is understandable. While some people clearly love it to bits, it’s hard to know exactly whom you could recommend it to. After all, it takes an escapist fantasy approach to some subject matter that nobody, excepting perhaps Jimmy Saville and his unsavoury ilk, would be at all at ease with. Drug-addicted parents who are tended to in some entirely inappropriate ways by their 9-year-old daughter. We hear the mother calling her child a bitch when she attempts to eat some of her chocolate. Both parents die suddenly, leaving her an orphan. Her father’s corpse sits decaying in the house before her very eyes. Later on, there are suggestions of paedophilia and necrophilia. The ending also leaves a rather icky taste in the mouth as it puts a happily-ever-after spin on a horrific incident which involves many innocent people being injured and killed.
The way in which mentally troubled characters are treated as quirky, colourfully endearing eccentrics is also a somewhat contentious aspect common to a number of Gilliam’s films and it’s even more uncomfortable here, considering that one of the characters in question carries out an act which kills many people. I don’t think Gilliam is some kind of sick, monstrous individual by any means, just somewhat misguided at worst.
At the same time, though, there’s that unmistakably dreamlike, wide-angle cinematic beauty and sense of wonder which is his directorial stock and trade. While he throws in references to Alice in Wonderland and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, they feel like a natural and unforced part and parcel of the fanciful onscreen world which he has weaved. There’s a true feeling of a child’s innocence and tendency towards the sort of unfettered flights of fancy which are inevitably tempered by the crush of reality once we enter adulthood. Animals become delightful and magical, sunny rural landscapes become wondrous worlds begging to be explored and strange older women become ominous figures of terror. Old houses become warrens of nooks and crannies, filled with all manner of curiosities. The simplest of toys (even the broken ones, such as Jeliza-Rose’s collection of doll heads, led by the blonde Barbie-like Mystique) take on a life and character of their own.
There is a brief optional introduction by the director on this disc, where he admits that this film is a “love it or hate it” proposition and that he intended it as a testament to a child’s resilience in the face of whatever real life throws their way. The main issue from my point of view, however, is that the ugly real world aspects end up becoming trivialised because they aren’t rendered with much believability or critical perspective. Where are the police and social services here? After all, we have situations where two junkies live with a child and a retarded man lives with an older sister who is frankly rather unhinged herself. If Dickens puts bullets on the train track in an attempt to stop “the monster shark”, why does nobody notice when they noisily go off as it passes over them? The way in which Jeliza-Rose takes everything in her stride (including the deaths of both parents) is also far from convincing.
Gilliam’s fellow ex-Monty Python colleague Michael Palin reportedly told him that it was either the best thing he had ever done, or the worst - but he couldn’t make up his mind which. He pretty much hits the nail on the head.
Runtime: 120 mins
Dir: Terry Gilliam
Script: Tony Grisoni and Terry Gilliam, based on a novel by Mitch Cullin
Starring: Jodelle Ferland, Brendan Fletcher, Janet McTeer, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Tilly
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
With this being a relatively recent film, the images and sounds are, for the most part, quite striking in the HD format. However, there is a little colour bleed in the darker interior scenes.
Commentary by Terry Gilliam and Tony Grisoni
The director and his writing partner contribute this semi-jokey gab track. When they’re not making comedic remarks, they try hard to defend the more unsavoury aspects of the film as well as talking about their experiences working on a low-budget production. The shooting schedule was so tight that, when actress Jodelle Ferland’s lip swelled up due to an insect bite, there was something of a panic because they couldn’t afford the resultant delay. In the end, they rescheduled a few shots to be filmed while she recovered. They also discuss some of the changes between book and film.
Director and self-confessed Terry Gilliam fan Vincenzo Natali (of Cube and Splice fame) made this documentary during the filming of Tideland. It features plenty of interview and behind-the-scenes footage with its unashamedly eccentric subject. Natali also touches upon his perpetual battles in getting his visions put up on screen, his patented 12 mm wide angle shots (taken via a camera appropriately named “The Gilliam”) and his complex feelings towards religion. At one point, he even tries (somewhat jokingly) to get inside the director’s head by… well… taping a miniature camera to his forehead.
We also get a glimpse at some of the challenges which the production faced, including some stills of Jodelle Ferland immediately after she got bitten on her top lip by an insect (Gilliam remarks that “she looks like Daffy Duck”), the revelation that the processing lab destroyed half a day’s footage and the techniques used for filming an underwater scene in a so-called “dry-for-wet” style.
It’s a hugely entertaining and revelatory 45 minutes.
The Making of Tideland
This brief (5 minute) featurette contains interview footage with Mitch Cullin, Jeff Bridges, Janet McTeer, Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni, Jeremy Thomas and Jennifer Tilly who talk about the film’s plot and dark tone. There are also a few snippets of behind-the-scenes footage. Frankly, it’s something of a minnow in comparison to the shark of a doc that is Getting Gilliam.
Filming Green Screen
As the name suggests, this featurette looks at the film’s use of green screen effects in two key scenes. Running just over 3 minutes, it’s even more concise than The Making of Tideland, but of some interest to SFX fans.
There are a total of five scenes here with commentary by Gilliam himself. They are actually quite fascinate and it’s almost a shame that they didn’t make the final cut. The first one involves Jeliza-Rose killing ants on her leg’s after her father’s death and then being persuaded by Mystique to abandon the other doll heads. The second features a flashback to the origin of Jeliza-Rose’s imaginary dolls head friends. The third is a hilarious sequence involving a squirrel scurrying around on the floor covered by a blonde wig. Gilliam mentions that this effect was achieved by rigging a remote control car and was a nightmare to shoot. The other two scenes involve Dell planting plastic flowers and the appearance of the so-called “bog man” during a dream sequence.
The director discusses his rationale behind the film, the modern paedophile hysteria, his memories of a childhood dream of flying, a doll’s head casting session and much more besides.
The film’s producer talks about major vs. independent studios, about how digital filmmaking is putting the art within reach of more people and about how films which embrace “the shock of the new” are often castigated by critics during release but gain appreciation with time.
Jeff Bridges, Jodelle Ferland and Jennifer Tilly
A few minutes’ worth of interview footage expanded from The Making of Tideland featurette.
Some behind-the-scenes footage from the Saskatchewan location.
A trailer, image gallery, enclosed booklet and the aforementioned Terry Gilliam introduction round out the extras.
This is one of those films which you will either love, hate, or quite possibly a bit of both. If you haven’t seen it before, then you are strongly advised to give it a preliminary viewing before considering splashing out on this Blu Ray. On the other hand, if you are a fan, then the extras here (especially Vincenzo Natali’s fantastic documentary) make it an essential purchase.