On Blu-ray Mon 13 Aug 2018

Terry Gilliam has always danced to his own tune. Whether it’s the sci-fi Twelve Monkeys, drug-comedy cult-classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or the decades-long stop/start production of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, the solo American member of Monty Python has had a career that is wonderfully outrageous. His tenth directorial feature film – Tideland from 2005 – is similarly and frustratingly bizarre.

Described by Gilliam (in an smugly obvious fashion) as “Alice in Wonderland meets Psycho through the eyes of Amélie,” Tideland focuses on the adventures of young Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland) as she escapes from the drug-addicted world of her parents.  It sure sounds dark, with a minefield of ideas to explore, but in reality it’s all a bit of a damp squib and a massive misfire for such an experienced filmmaker.

Regardless of (or almost in spite of) his surrealist reputation, Gilliam explores Jeliza-Rose’s flights of fantasy in an incredibly grounded & restrained fashion; the most outlandish periods of the film occurring in the earlier stages with Jennifer Tilly as Queen Gunhilda (a horrible mother) and Jeff Bridges’ Noah (complete with a swinging jaw, looser than Donald Trump’s definition of ‘truth’). Following their departure from the narrative at large, the plot begins to plod, the imagination fails to ignite and time ticks by ever slower, turning the movie into an endurance test rather than an entertainment piece.

Young Ferland is comfortable in a role which demands she spends large portions talking to herself, and is very believable as a child who has failed to grasp the significance of what has transpired. Sadly, the film itself similarly fails to portray this by making sure that all other characters that we are introduced to – the brother-sister duo of Dell and Dickens (Janet McTeer and Brendan Fletcher respectively) – are overly cartoonish, thus distracting from the severity and darkness that Gilliam is shooting for.  In other words: Pan’s Labyrinth this ain’t.

It takes Tideland little more than a few minutes to get the audience quizzing “what the hell is this?” and such attitude (with additional and increasingly harsh expletives) will only continue throughout the two-hour run time.  Gilliam – whether his project ultimately be a success or a bomb – has shown time and again that he can juggle even the most farcical concept into a unique and fascinating vision. However on this occasion, living and working as an elderly man, he struggles tediously to get inside the head of a lonely, young girl and audiences everywhere will struggle just as much to watch.