If someone had asked me to write an imaginary-exercise review of Terry Gilliam‘s The Imaginariam of Dr. Parnassus, which was obviously thrown into serious jeopardy 16 months ago by the death of its star, Heath Ledger, I might have started with a lead that reads something like this, having heard what I’ve heard and presuming the worst:

“Marred by shoddy special effects and half-formed fantastical conceits, Gilliam’s film has the feeling of a comic fantasia desperately seeking to find its rhythm. Nearly abandoned after the sudden death of leading man Heath Ledger prior to completing production in January of last year, the final result reflects the frantic cobbling together of missing pieces.”

This, in fact, is what Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn has posted from Cannes about two hours ago.

“Ledger’s posthumous status haunts his scenes, as it does in the moments in which various actors replace him. Compounding that problem, the cartoonish CGI and inconsistent storytelling yield a seriously disjointed experience. Still, Parnassus deserves to be seen, probed and evaluated as an interesting misfire in Gilliam’s delectably quizzical canon.”

Which begs the question, when was Gilliam’s last straight-shooting, no-excuses, on-target film? The Brothers Grimm? The Fisher King? Time Bandits? My most positive Gilliam association, frankly, isn’t one of his films but Lost in La Mancha, that doc about the collapse of his Don Quixote film.