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Tideland is a disturbing, and mostly unwatchable effort from Terry Gilliam.
Tideland is a disturbing, and mostly unwatchable effort from Terry Gilliam.
All Critics (78)
| Top Critics (25)
| Fresh (24)
| Rotten (54)
| DVD (7)
Honest, unflinching and worthy of reappraisal.
Pointless and an excruciating bore.
The movie itself feels like an overstuffed burrito: Nicola Pecorini's cinematography has verve but no visual sense, and the film's self-important pace turns deadening over the long haul.
Becomes an excruciating exercise in gothic excess and progressively more disgusting imagery.
A triumph of costuming and production design over plot, theme and main characters.
The film drags in the middle and feels excruciatingly slow and repetitive in the final stretch.
Gilliam's plan to make a small budget film of limited scope that would leave him free to display his unfettered creative genius sounds good on paper. However, his melodramatic, Alice In Wonderland variety fairy tale is sadly near-incomprehensible.
It works best when Gilliam allows Jeliza-Rose to disappear inside her own mind, revelling in unrestricted solitude.
It is true that Gilliam makes his movies through fire and brimstone just by examining his extraordinary filmography, and there is no denying that Tideland is a film that was borne out of that.
Surreal, inspired cinema from Gilliam that refuses to sugar-coat the dark imagination of children.
...in the midst of all the perverse chaos, a story emerges that is easily the most tender and even sentimental in all of Gilliam's work.
It seems, from the flat-out filmic disaster of "Tideland," that director Terry Gilliam is intent on ensuring a decisive end to his checkered filmmaking career.
Such an odd and when deeply looked into, a very demented children's story. I don't think there's every going to be a movie again that uses a corpse like it was in this. Terry Gilliam's love for Alice in Wonderland type scenarios really comes through in this, probably the easiest to pick up on. It also reminded me of something by Steinbeck or Twain, mainly the setting and characters. Overall, if you're a fan of Terry Gilliam you'll probably love it. If not, you'll probably just watch it in awe of such madness.
Sometimes it is fun to criticise films: one gets a certain snobbish thrill from kicking seven bells out of the latest Hollywood dreck. But with Tideland, probably Terry Gilliamâ€™s least-seen film, such feelings do not come to the fore. This is the kind of film you want to embrace and adore, and you cannot help but admire its director. But it is still found wanting in so many ways; all attempts to justify its strengths ultimately come up short, and its failings are so prominent that they cannot be ignored.
With Tideland and The Brothers Grimm, we have the chalk and cheese of Gilliamâ€™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 Panâ€™s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toroâ€™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 Panâ€™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 Ofeliaâ€™s quest for her former self and Jeliza-Roseâ€™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 â€˜monster sharksâ€™. In Panâ€™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 Panâ€™s superiority lies in its thematic clarity. Although it is incredibly multi-layered, Panâ€™s Labyrinth is very clearly a film about innocence, identity and memory. Del Toro doesnâ€™t shove these themes down the audienceâ€™s throats, but every single movement and development is so bound up with such ideas that once you are immersed in the story, it doesnâ€™t take long to pick up on them.
Tideland, on the other hand, isnâ€™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 Jelizaâ€™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 dollâ€™s heads is fastened on the body of Jeliza-Roseâ€™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 oneâ€™s stomach.
The comparison with Alice (of which Gilliam is a huge fan) helps to illuminate Tidelandâ€™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 Carrollâ€™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 Aliceâ€™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 Ledgerâ€™s work in both The Brothers Grimm and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
To this end, we understand Dickensâ€™ mental instability very early on, but there is far too little character development beyond a fleeting â€˜romanceâ€™ (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 clichÃ©d nonsense. Finally, too little effort is made over different aspects of Jeliza-Roseâ€™s personality being represented by the dollâ€™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.
Terry Gilliam hasn't exactly dazzled us with either the quantity or the quality of his work in recent years though this is still easily the best thing he has done since Twelve Monkeys, certainly much better than its 27% critics' rating would suggest. The story centres on Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland, remarkably assured), a damaged little girl who escapes into her imagination to pass the time that her junkie parents (Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Tilley) spend 'on vacation', the euphemism by which they refer to their interminable, drug-induced stupors. After Jeliza-Rose's mother fatally overdoses, she and her father flee to rural Texas and that staple refuge of the fairy tale, Grandmother's house... I must admit, I wasn't sure what to make of this for the first half hour; it wasn't until Bridges embarked on his final vacation, leaving Jeliza-Rose and her doll's-head friends to explore the house, that the movie really started working for me. Though the overall tone is dark and unsettling, there are some leavening moments of black comedy along the way, and the lonely girl's attempts to befriend her eccentric neighbours are sweet and touching. Monty Python fans will enjoy an animation set inside Jeff Bridges chest cavity (don't ask!) that recalls Gilliam's early work on the Flying Circus.
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