With Tideland and The Brothers Grimm, we have the chalk and cheese of Gilliam‚??s career, in terms of what they represent and the reactions they produce. The Brothers Grimm is the product of endless in-fighting and uneasy compromise; it is the clash of a gifted auteur with heavy-handed producers, resulting in a ham-fasted, third-rate, pedestrian fantasy which barely hangs together. Tideland, meanwhile, is the product of an unlimited imagination, with no test screenings or product deals to worry about. Hence it is confusing, rambling, and at times very tedious, but you are at least satisfied by the presence of rough, artistic edges. Watching The Brothers Grimm produces anger; watching Tideland produces a different feeling, one of admiring disappointment.
Tideland shares a number of features with Pan‚??s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro‚??s masterpiece of fantasy horror. Both are essentially dark fairy tales with young female protagonists. Both start in positions of extreme darkness (the Spanish Civil War and a family of smack-heads) and then get steadily darker. And both are visually stunning, combining grim realism with stunning special effects and dreamy surrealism to create something truly unique. But Pan‚??s Labyrinth is by far the superior film, for two clear reasons.
The first reason surrounds the relationship between the audience and the central character. Both Ofelia‚??s quest for her former self and Jeliza-Rose‚??s bid for survival require us to completely relate to the central character before we start to accept the existence of fairies or demons, or ‚??monster sharks‚??. In Pan‚??s Labyrinth, we identify with Ofelia because there is so little background to either the fauns she meets or the soldiers with whom she lives. She is the only reliable witness we have, so we quickly accept her view and thereby begin to believe that what we are seeing is real.
Gilliam, on the other hand, seems unsure as to how much we should care about Jeliza-Rose, played superbly by Jodelle Ferland. By having both parents OD in the first half hour, we have little choice over whom we focus on, but the circumstances in which we find her are so repulsive and uncomfortable that we struggle to stay the course. The problem is not, as some have suggested, that films involving children should not be this dark. The problem is that Gilliam does not know how to marshal this darkness so that the true emotions of the character come across. Much of the film feels like Jeliza-Rose just play-acting, as if there is no threat or danger; when the real dangers arrive it is like being awoken from an increasingly irritating dream with no real beginning or end.
The second reason for Pan‚??s superiority lies in its thematic clarity. Although it is incredibly multi-layered, Pan‚??s Labyrinth is very clearly a film about innocence, identity and memory. Del Toro doesn‚??t shove these themes down the audience‚??s throats, but every single movement and development is so bound up with such ideas that once you are immersed in the story, it doesn‚??t take long to pick up on them.
Tideland, on the other hand, isn‚??t sure exactly what its themes are beyond the resilience of children. As a thesis about innocence struggling through darkness, it does partially succeed: the final scene with the train wreck is quite breathtaking, with Jeliza‚??s fantasy being finally ruptured with the arrival of more people. Her tears in this scene at leaving her childhood fantasy behind are beautifully handled, and this scene as a whole almost redeems the entire film.
Outside of this, however, the film is incoherent and extremely rambling. It seems so content to play out as a series of childlike fantasies between Jeliza-Rose and Dickens that it forgets to have anything else resembling a plot. After the departure of Jeff Bridges the film drags terribly, with many sections feeling repetitive and the dialogue becoming increasingly tiresome. There are some genuinely shocking moments, such as Jeff Bridges being embalmed or the Frankenstein-like dream sequence where one of the doll‚??s heads is fastened on the body of Jeliza-Rose‚??s dead mother, played by Jennifer Tilly. But none of these sequences feel like continuations of any kind of plot; like aspects of Alice in Wonderland, on which Tideland is based, they come out of nowhere with seemingly little purpose other than to turn one‚??s stomach.
The comparison with Alice (of which Gilliam is a huge fan) helps to illuminate Tideland‚??s problems with regard to characters. The characters in Alice are notably insane and off-the-wall, but with a couple of exceptions they are never tiresome or annoying. Whether in Lewis Carroll‚??s original novel or the numerous adaptations, they remain compelling and involving because their dialogue and personalities are well-constructed. They are never patronising or condescending towards Alice or by extension the reader, and their whimsy belies a twisted sense of darkness which makes Alice‚??s journey more compelling.
In contrast, most of the characters in Tideland struggle to remain compelling beyond their initial quirks. They are so exaggerated, so quirky and thereby so annoying, that it takes a huge amount of patience to put up with them, let alone unravel them. Gilliam is increasingly a director who is content to let actors play freely and go as far over-the-top as they like; an approach which frequently backfires, as seen from Heath Ledger‚??s work in both The Brothers Grimm and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
To this end, we understand Dickens‚?? mental instability very early on, but there is far too little character development beyond a fleeting ‚??romance‚?? (perhaps the wrong word) with Jeliza-Rose. Dell is scary in parts, like when she reveals her bad eye and talks about the bees, but her pious screaming at the dinner table tips over into clich√©d nonsense. Finally, too little effort is made over different aspects of Jeliza-Rose‚??s personality being represented by the doll‚??s heads. We get used to them talking without her lips moving, but when she begins to abandon them we are given little inclination as to what such gestures represent.
Tideland is, for better or worse, unlike any other film you have ever seen. Taken purely as an artistic exercise, it is a big improvement on The Brothers Grimm, because it is so uncompromising and so full-on. And you do have to admire Terry Gilliam for wanting to push the boundaries of what is both possible and acceptable with regard to children on screen. But in the end it is too long, too annoying and far too badly structured to compete with Brazil or 12 Monkeys. For all his best efforts and intentions, it remains an admirable failure, with moments of heartbreaking brilliance nestled among hours of uninvolving repetition.
Quite the opposite, the indie black comedy Tideland is a very personal project for 'Tez', an off-kilter story about a young girl forced to retreat into her imagination. To this end, she has talking doll heads and a retarded man for friends, encounters with a witch and adventures in a cardboard shelter as trains go by. Such is the scope of Jeliza-Rose's imagination (and Jodelle Ferland's performance) that the audience forgets that all the controlled madness is going on between two derelict houses for nearly the whole film.
Marrying black humour to childhood trauma is not something that every director could pull off, but Gilliam is in his element here, making light of addiction and death ("what died in here??") and hints at young sexuality. It all makes for a bracing watch with a torce-de-force of emotional pointers.
Bridges is ace as well.
EDIT: I've since watched Pan's Labyrinth and I think this is much better. So there.
She is friends with several dolls' heads, and the friends she makes in the country when she discovers an interesting realm.
The pure innocence and naivety of a child's wonder at the world.
Based on a book, too by Mitch Cullin apparently.
The whole film had a bit of that Big Fish charm by Burton...though it's definitely Gilliam behind the camera.
Jodelle Ferland seemed perfect for this part after always playing that eerie little girl. Jeff Bridges seemed to fit quite naturally and Brendan Fletcher was amazing as Dickens.
I should have known what I was getting myself into when Terry Gilliam had to apologize for the film before it started, but no, I frittered away two hours on this shit. Don't make the same mistake.
[font=Century Gothic]But she is not exactly alone...[/font]
[font=Century Gothic]Like Terry Gilliam said in his filmed introduction(a unique touch for a theatrical release), "Tideland" is a movie about the resiliency of children. And it is true up to a point that children are not as fragile as we are occasionally led to believe but this could be because their ties to reality are not as strong as an adult's, thus not giving them a full grasp of how much peril they may be in or how much they do rely on adults.[/font]
[font=Century Gothic]Terry Gilliam still has his flair for the visual but the movie soon grows tiresome, and does not really go anyplace interesting. The fantasy sequences are nice enough but the film relies too much on the grotesque to hammer its points home.[/font]