R Dir: Terry Gilliam | Arrow Video | 2h 0min
Plot: What’s it about?
A young girl named Jeliza Rose (Joelle Ferland) lives with her junkie parents. Her father Noah (Jeff Bridges) is a rock singer who shoots up heroin to take “vacations.” Her mother (Jennifer Tilly) goes between loving to the point of tears and scolding her daughter for wanting to eat her chocolate. When the mom dies from taking methadone, in a panic Noah loads Jeliza on a bus to go to a decrepit house in the country. Arriving at the house he takes a vacation that ends up being permanent. With her father dead, Jeliza wanders her country estate with her five dolly heads on her fingers and her imagination – talking to squirrels, talking to her father’s body, and listening to the voices she gives her doll heads. While living on the property she also meets some incredibly strange characters – a woman named Dell (Janet McTeer) blind in one eye who seeks vengeance upon bees for killing her mother, and a mentally challenged young man who lives with her named Dickens (Brendan Fletcher.) Dickens had an operation to keep from having epileptic seizures but is left with the mental capacity of a child. The film gets stranger and stranger as it goes on and becomes more morbid at every turn. I don’t want to ruin it, but let’s just say that it gets absolutely weird as hell and incredibly uncomfortable to watch.
When watching this film it is imperative that you imagine the whole film is from the perspective of the young protagonist. This film can be exhausting to watch due to its plot revolving around a kid talking to herself as she deals with an insane situation. It is the type of film that makes you want to take shower as you watch it. The only way to make it through the two hour running time is to keep in mind that you are hearing and seeing things through the eyes of a child.
The visual style of the film is excellent. Nobody could have done justice to this script better than Terry Gilliam – one of the great surrealists of our time. If you have seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, it should come as no surprise that he would be a great fit to direct this film. This film also finds Gilliam blending his style occasionally with touches of Terrence Mallick’s visual style. The film is visually compelling and at times very beautiful.
Joelle Ferland, the child actress that plays Jeliza Rose, is excellent in the film. Jeff Bridges also does a solid job, even if most of the film he plays a dead body. Brendan Fletcher is incredibly convincing in his role. The acting is generally strong.
This film was maligned by critics at the time of its release for how exhausting the film is. So, here I am again, twelve years older. I am having the same debate with myself that I had then. This film is not what I would call enjoyable. Then again, it is well made, the performances are strong, and it is unlike anything you are likely to see again. It is a film that I have now watched twice, but I can not imagine watching it again. Like many have pointed out, the film is two hours long and you will probably have had your fill by about an hour into the film. At the end of the day, this is one of the hardest films to rate objectively. I will just put it this way – rent It before you commit to a purchase. If it sounds too strange for you, don’t touch it with a ten foot pole. One of the most difficult films by a master filmmaker. It is not without merit, but it is not very enjoyable either. Overall, this film will only appeal to people that are willing to take one of the strangest cinematic journeys ever offered.
Video: How’s it look?
Whether or not the film has merit is debatable. What is not debatable is that Arrow Video’s 1080p transfer if the film is excellent. This is a huge upgrade over the DVD and makes the viewing experience much greater. The amount of detail on display here is as good as anything put on Blu-ray this year. Fans of the film are going to be blown away by how much this transfer impacts the viewing experience. This is one of the best transfers that Arrow has provided and gets highest marks from me.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Similar to the video, Arrow’s audio transfer of the film in DTS-HD MA 5.1 sounds wonderful. The film alternates between somewhat quiet surround effects in the field and the imaginative scenes that can use surrounds very effectively. It is apparent from the first time the train passes by the car that Jeliza is in that sound has been given very close attention on this release. Fans will be very pleased.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Commentary by Terry Gilliam and Tony Grisoni – Gilliam talks with screenwriter Grisoni and jokingly walks through the film.
- Introduction by Terry Gilliam – This introduction finds Gilliam explaining the film will not be liked by all or possibly by many and imploring the audience to see the film through the viewpoint of the little girl. This intro is necessary prior to viewing the film.
- Getting Gilliam – is a 2005 documentary on Gilliam that takes place during the making of Vincent Natali (director of Cube and Splice) directs and narrates. This is a great look into how Gilliam works and almost worth the purchase price alone.
- The Making of Tideland – a quick EPK.
- Filming Green Screen – this feature is short but looks at the neat aquarium style effect created in one of the best sequences in the film..
- Deleted Scenes – Six minutes’ worth.
- Terry Gilliam – this archival interview with Gilliam has the director discussing his love of fairy tales and their influence on his films. He also talks about some of the harder elements of the picture for audiences to take.
- Jeremy Thomas – in this archival interview the producer of the film discusses the film and working with Gilliam.
- Jeff Bridges, Jodelle Ferland and Jennifer Tilly – these archival interviews are pretty loose and fun.
- B Roll Footage
- Theatrical Trailer
The Bottom Line
At times enchanting and beautiful and at times just plain exhausting, Tidelands is Terry Gilliam’s most difficult film. I have had no desire to revisit the film in the last twelve years since I first saw it, but now I have revisited it thanks to this new Arrow Blu-ray. I will say, this film has never looked or sounded better. I am proud to report that Arrow have done an absolutely incredible job here on everything and have included a fascinating documentary on the making of the film that is almost worth the purchase price. Therefore, if you are a fan of the film – purchase this disk immediately and throw out your old DVD. If you are curious – rent this film before a purchase. If you are weirded out by the review above – stay far away from this one. The release would get perfect marks but I have a lot of trepidation recommending that anyone but the most adventurous filmgoer watch it. If Arrow Video can treat 12 Monkeys with the same live and care they have provided this film, I will be ecstatic.