If you’ve seen any of Terry Gilliam’s other films, you can probably guess that this one is pretty bizarre. Based on the novel of the same name by Mitch Cullen, Tideland is an eccentric, grotesque and imaginative tale of a child’s resilience.
I’m going to say right off the top, I wanted to like Tideland, and for two reasons. One, Gilliam has made some incredible films in his career, from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to Twelve Monkeys and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Other than the flawed Brothers Grimm, it’s been seven years since a Gilliam-helmed film was released. So I wanted to like this one. I really did. Unfortunately, while I admired the creativity in Tideland, and was at times intrigued and repulsed, I ultimately found the film extremely unsatisfying.
It’s a story about Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland, Silent Hill), a little girl living a horrible life. After her mother dies of a drug overdose, Jeliza-Rose’s drug-addicted, probably insane father (Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski) takes her to his long-dead mother’s country house, leaving mommy’s corpse behind in their apartment. At the house, Jeliza-Rose is basically on her own, spending much of her time conversing with a handful of disembodied doll’s heads, her only friends. That is, until she meets the neighbors, Dickens (Brendan Fletcher, RV), a young, mentally challenged man who’s as imaginative as Jeliza-Rose, and Dell (Janet McTeer, As You Like It), a frightening woman with a twisted mind and a dark secret. From then on, the story is essentially about Jeliza-Rose’s attempt to survive her situation.
By far the film’s strongest point is the performance by Jodell Ferland as Jeliza-Rose. The film relies entirely on Ferland, and she carries it well. I don’t know what Gilliam told her to get this performance, scene after grotesque scene, but it’s worth sitting through the film just to see Ferland playing Jeliza-Rose, a child surviving a nightmare by imagination alone. Add to that the fact that Ferland also voices the doll’s heads she calls her friends, and it’s even more impressive. Many times during the film, Jeliza-Rose has entire conversations with her doll-heads, switching back and forth between herself and those tiny characters.
It’s just too bad for Ferland that the film doesn’t work nearly as well as she did. There’s no real plot at work, as Jeliza-Rose flits around in her nightmare that progresses nowhere and then abruptly ends. The grotesque scenes don’t seem to serve much purpose, other than to make viewers squirm, and I suppose to show how through the eyes of a child, even the most terrible situations can be unmanned. It’s an interesting message, but in the end we’re left guessing as to just how intact the little girl’s mind is, whether she has truly survived, and why we were subjected to the dark, twisted events of the story.
I suppose this film does have an audience, but believe me, it’s not your average movie-goer. I highly recommend caution before wading into the nightmare that is Tideland.
So, how’s the DVD?
Tideland: Collector’s Edition is presented on two discs, with the feature film on the first and most of the bonus material on disc two. The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen format, and it looks beautiful. The rich cinematography is a contrast to the grotesque visuals, and it’s very well-presented here, with gorgeous colours and fine detail. I have no complaints about this transfer.
The main menu is animated and scored.
The main audio presentation is Dolby Digital 5.1, and it sounds good. While there isn’t a lot going on effects-wise, the surround channels do get some play for atmospheric effect, and everything presented, from dialogue and score to the odd explosion, sounds clear and well-defined.
English audio is also available in Dolby Digital 2.0.
Major studio releases could learn a thing or two from Tideland: Collector’s Edition, at least in the bonus material department. The 2-disc set packs in a lot of a interesting content, including:
- An introduction from Terry Gilliam: straight up, Gilliam warns viewers that they may well dislike his film, while others may love it. He explains a bit about his intent, and finishes with a hope that – at the very least – it will make viewers think.
- Audio commentary: by director Gilliam and writer Tony Grisoni. The pair offers up some good insight on the production, and pokes fun at the film’s critics (myself included, I suppose). It’s interesting, but probably unsatisfying for those who didn’t like the film.
- Theatrical Trailer: the trailer for Tideland.
- Trailer gallery: see what else ThinkFilm is up to these days.
- Getting Gilliam – A Film by Vincenzo Natali: an excellent making-of documentary, following Gilliam at work on Tideland. Well worth watching, perhaps even more so than the film itself. Don’t bother with the optional commentary.
- Making of Tideland: your usual puff piece, this featurette pales in comparison to the previous documentary.
- Deleted scenes: with commentary by Gilliam. These are rare examples of deleted scenes that actually would have added to the film, but Gilliam explains they were mostly cut for time.
- Filming Green Screen: with optional commentary by Gilliam. A behind-the-scenes look at some of the effects sequences in the film.
- Interview with Terry Gilliam: learn about the challenge of finding a child actor who could pull off this film, and other interesting stuff.
Tideland is not for everyone, and it wasn’t for me. This DVD, on the other hand, makes me wish I enjoyed the film. Kudos to ThinkFilm for putting together a top-notch release.