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TIDELAND

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jodelle Ferland, Brendan Fletcher, Janet McTeer, Jennifer Tilly, Jeff Bridges
Director:  Terry Gilliam
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  ThinkFilm
Features:  See Review
Length:  121 Minutes
Release Date:  February 27, 2007

“Are you still on vacation, Daddy?”

Film ***1/2

Tideland is fantastic and frustrating, beautiful and frightening, sweet and unsettling…in other words, just about what we’ve come to expect from a Terry Gilliam film.

It’s also his best work since Twelve Monkeys, which may be the single most controversial sentence I’ve uttered on this website in awhile.  In a move I haven’t seen since Cecil B. DeMille, Gilliam appears on screen at the beginning of the picture to warn that many viewers are going to hate the movie.  How’s that for starting off?

He’s right…my inbox is already awaiting the barrage of angry emails from readers who found this movie to be one of the most repulsive spectacles they’ve seen in quite some time.  And I won’t try to argue them out of it.  Gilliam is a deliberately polarizing artist; he makes the movies he wants to see and understands and accepts that some will love them and some will hate them. 

Tideland, based on the novel by Mitch Cullin, is a tale seen entirely through the eyes of a child.  And a child’s imagination can be a wondrous thing…it helps filter out the horrors of life, lifts them to better places, and frankly, helps them cope with things better than adults sometimes can.  Our heroine, Jeliza Rose (an astonishing Ferland), has such an imagination…her closest friends are dolls’ heads that she puts on her fingers like puppets and gives each a distinctive voice and personality…but she also lives in a world that is more than up to the challenge.

Her parents are both junkies, and Jeliza Rose is seen early on preparing her father’s needle as she might a plate of buttered toast.  That scene may be the early litmus test for many viewers…if you can’t get your sensibilities around that, there’s no hope for you the rest of the way.

When her mother, known as Queen Gunhilda (Tilly) dies from her habit, her father Noah (Bridges, in what turns out to be his most low-key performance to date), takes Jeliza Rose on a trek to the country, to an abandoned old house that belonged to his mother.  And it’s there that events turn curiouser and curiouser.

I don’t want to give away many of the story points, but I will say Jeliza Rose meets a witch-like figure Dell (McTeer) and her slow-witted younger brother Dickens (Fletcher), figures that will seem far from right to a grown-up mind, but is all part of the adventure for our young heroine. 

There are moments that will positively disturb you…scenes that will push your boundaries of what is innocent and what isn’t.  You will squirm more than once, but if you’re astute, you’ll think back to Gilliam’s introduction and remember, we are not watching events through our own eyes and experiences, but those of Jeliza-Rose.

Gilliam was actually making this picture alongside a larger studio production, The Brothers Grimm.  His heart wasn’t in that one, and you could tell while watching it.  His heart, however, WAS in Tideland, and again, you can tell the difference.  One enjoyed moderate success because of its cast of stars, the other barely found distribution.  That’s par for the course for Gilliam, who won a battle for artists against the studios with Brazil before nearly collapsing under his own excesses with Baron Munchausen.  He must mull over his career from time to time with a great sense of bemusement.

Yes, many will and do hate this picture.  Others will find it an unsettling masterpiece of imagination and focus.  I’m firmly in the latter camp, but I won’t begrudge anyone who disagrees.  I will say this much:  love it or hate it, Tideland is definitely a movie nobody but Terry Gilliam could have made. 

Oh, yes…and you’ll never forget the very final shot.

Video ***

The anamorphic transfer is quite good, with many darker scenes that sometimes lose a little definition and show a little more grain, but nothing distracting.  Colors are deliberately more muted from time to time, but the overall effect is pleasing.

Audio ***

Jeliza Rose’s  imagination comes across well in 5.1, and the presentation is fairly dynamic, with limited but expressive uses of the rear channels and subwoofer.

Features ****

This two disc special edition is pretty well loaded.  Disc One contains a trailer gallery and a commentary with Gilliam and writer Toni Grisoni.  It’s a good listen in case you end up wondering at a few places just what in the hell they were thinking when they made this.

The second disc has interviews with Giliam and producer Jeremy Thomas, deleted scenes with Gilliam commentary, a making-of featurette, a green screen featurette with Gilliam commentary, and the documentary  “Getting Gilliam”, plus the theatrical trailer.

Summary:

Tideland is Terry Gilliam at his finest and most unrestrained; a picture that will startle, unsettle, and defy your sensibilities, but if you’re one of the lucky ones, it will also give you a magical ride through a world of imagination and wonder. 

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