Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Tideland DVD Review - Part One

At the time of writing, I haven't yet received a finally-finished-final copy of the 2-Disc Tideland set, but have been viewing the screener copy with almost all of the special features in place and, for now, will be basing any comments only on this preliminary disc. As a result, I can't comment on the quality of the transfer - it won't compare between the timecoded copy I have and the release version.

As regards the supplements most notably missing is the commentary track for the feature, with Terry Gilliam and screenwriter Tony Grisoni, but I'll certainly be reviewing that in it's own right when a copy of the finished set comes my way. If you're a fan of chat-tracks, I'd imagine this one is on your want list. It's been heading mine since it was confirmed by Revolver before Christmas.

The main supplement that is present would be Vincenzo Natali's documentary Getting Gilliam. Natali is the director Cube, Cypher and Nothing but this is his first released non-fiction film, I believe.

Getting Gilliam
was filmed during the making of Tideland and as such, does focus on the making of this one film in particular though it's obvious that Natali's scope and ambitions are bigger. He's interested not only in the construction of one work but in Gilliam's underlying artistic temperment and in the director's approach to making movies generally. While this would be enough subject matter for a very long film, Natali unfortunately has only some forty-odd minutes (despite the film being listed as 60 minutes long on the DVD's print ads and press release) and it's very disappointing when everything comes to such an early end.

Not unlike The Hamster Factor and Lost in La Mancha before hand, Getting Gilliam does feature a number of pseduo-Python animations to link sections, accompany bursts of voice over and illustrate ideas. It's a technique that's already getting a little tired, unfortunately, but at least they're fairly good animations in this instance. Hopefully, however, the cardboard cut-out albatross can now be slipped from around Gilliam's neck and documentarians might seek to characterise him in a new way.

As is always the case in his behind-the-scenes appearances, Gilliam is incredibly candid, not only allowing the filmmakers full access but virtually upending the litter cans so they might have something better and more revealing to snout through. There always comes a time in a Gilliam documentary when you are made to feel like a snoop, perhaps - and the first time that occurs here is right off of the bat. I don't want to spoil it, but if you're an armchair stalker, there's a little sprinkling of suff here you will really enjoy.

Gilliam, of course, has nothing to hide - well, as a filmmaker, at least - and it's no surprise that his best tactic in the handful of dirty fights he's been embroiled in (see Brazil and The Brothers Grimm in particular) has been to pull the sheet right back and show everybody the filthy bed he's been asked to lie in. Either fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your interest, Tideland was not subject to any bitter power struggles, art-versus-commerce wars or rationality-challenging sequences of disaster, so Getting Gilliam might seem a little light on scandal by comparison to Gilliam's reputation...

..but, of course, that's the very best thing about it. Gilliam's widely held reputation is absurd, ridiculous and unfounded. This is no loose cannon lunatic driving movies, crews and millions of dollars recklessly into the ground:
any overspend on Munchausen was not of his making; there is nothing overblown or impenetrable about Brazil; most of Gilliam's films have come in either on budget and schedule, or frequently, under budget and ahead of schedule. No, this is a truly great filmmaker, always inspired, inventive and, above all else, responsible.

Gilliam is responsible to the investors, to the audience, to himself - and most of all, to the film, and what the film means.

So Natali does well just to show another (more real) side of Gilliam, and to hint at his creative processes which many, apparently, find inscrutable. There's not a minute in this film that you won't enjoy, even if you do find it only partly lives up to it's own potential. All the same, for a Gilliam fan - or a Natali fan, of which I hope there are may reading (there's certainly one writing) - this documentary alone makes the disc an essential purchase.

Outside of Getting Gilliam, there are numerous interview snippets on the disc too, with Grisoni, Jeff Bridges, Brendan Flecther, Janet McTeer and Jodelle Ferland. While they all have something to say, it's rarely earth-shaking stuff, and a few of the stop-off points on the menu will only be visited once. A few surplus glimpses at Gilliam, cast and crew on set are in one short featurette, but alonsgide Getting Gilliam, it seems particularly slight.

Better, though, is a Q&A from the Hay literary festival in 2006. This is where Mitch Cullin, the author of the original Tideland novel, makes his big appearance. Cullin has always been a vocal supporter of Gilliam's film, Gilliam always speaking out about the novel and why he loved it so much - but thankfully, this Q&A does not descend into a mutual appreciation session. Like most things Gilliam it's often irreverent, just a little unpredictable and easily quotable. Again, a rather short feature, but ceratinyl enjoyable and, for many viewers (that is, anybody with a more casual and less rabid interest in the film than us at film ick) informative.

Gilliam appears in a stand alone interview too, seemingly filmed at the same time as his notorious introduction to the film. Outside of the commentary, this is probably the best place to get the official line on Tideland, on how and why it came to be, and came to be the way it is. As ever, Gilliam gives good interview but that virtually goes without saying.

In essence, the disc's special features are only icing, the cake's the thing - and what a rich cake it is. Once you have Tideland at home to watch anytime, I defy you not to gorge yourself upon it, virtually make yourself sick, feel terrible in the morning but then soon enough come crawling back for more. And as soon as I have the full, finished discs in my hands, it's becoming a staple on the menu in my classroom. My students might feel a little uncomfortable at first (generally preferring not so controversial, ire-inducing or challenging material) but I promise, they'll all thank me eventually.

Revolver's 2-Disc R2 UK release of Tideland is in the shops next Monday, 29th January 2007. Hopefully, before then, I'll be able to tell you about the commentary track and a other features not on my early disc - so keep an eye out.

Here's the official run down of contents:

Introduction to film by Terry Gilliam
2.0 Stereo and 5.1 Dolby Sound
Commentary with Terry Gilliam and Tony Grisoni
Interview with Terry Gilliam
Getting Gilliam, the making of Tideland, a film by Vincenzo Natali

Behind-the-Scenes Featurette

Green Screen

Deleted Scenes

Interview with Jeremy Thomas

Q&A with Terry Gilliam and Mitch Cullin at the Hay Festival, 2006

Theatrical Trailer

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