Release Date(s)2005 (August 14, 2018)
Studio(s)Revolver Entertainment/Capri Films/THINKFilm (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
To say that Tideland is one of Terry Gilliam’s most challenging films, if not the most challenging of his entire career, would be a bit of an understatement. The days of Brazil and its controversial alteration by its distributor were a thing of the past when Tideland began premiering at film festivals in 2005; and judging by the various reactions that it received (not to mention the lack of immediate distribution offers), it was clear that he had, by many accounts, confronted audiences with something they were not expecting: a simple story about a young girl who must face the adversity in her life by allowing her imagination to take over in order to deal with it emotionally. Misunderstood at first, it’s now seen by a select few as his masterpiece.
Tideland stars Jodelle Ferland as Jeliza-Rose, a prepubescent girl who essentially takes care of herself and her heroine-addicted parents, but after finding her mother (Jennifer Tilly) dead from an apparent overdose, she and her father (Jeff Bridges) hit the road and soon take up residence in an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. There, Jeliza-Rose deals with her mother’s death and subsequent hardship by talking to the dismembered heads of dolls: Mystique, Sateen Lips, Baby Blonde, and Glitter Gal. She also discovers that her and her father are not the only people nearby as there are also two others: a partially blind and religious woman named Dell (Janet McTeer) and her mentally-retarded ward Dickens (Brendan Fletcher). However, it isn’t long before more macabre and disturbing events occur in her life, and she continues to lose herself by escaping reality and inventing more fantastical notions about her and her family.
To be succinct about how I feel about Tideland: I kind of love it. I don’t love it outright because it’s not a film that I want to revisit on a regular basis, but I do think it’s Terry Gilliam’s most underappreciated work as a director. It’s not an easy film to grasp, which is why it’s so polarizing. Without getting into spoilers, you have certain viewers who only see the surface level of the story and judge the film based solely on that, disregarding anything beyond it. To be fair though, subtext isn’t many audiences’ strong point. I would argue though that we’ve seen analogous stories over the years since Tideland about people dealing with truly awful things by losing their grip on reality, and for the most part, those have been better-received.
Be that as it may, I don’t fully understand the outright hate that Tideland received initially. It’s as if taking part in the experiences and the emotions of an unstable but innocent little girl is some sort of taboo thing that adults just couldn’t handle. Tonally, the film is both silly and frank, almost exclusively at the same time, which for anybody at that age, is correct. One really has to be in touch with their inner child to get Tideland in the first place, which in Terry Gilliam’s mind, is the entire reason for the film’s existence. There may be disconcerting qualities to it, but at its core, its an unsullied look at someone dealing with trauma in the only the way that they know how.
Arrow Video’s Blu-ray presentation of Tideland has been sourced from a high definition master directly from Universal Pictures. It’s presented in an aspect ratio of 2.34:1, which anybody who has seen the original U.S. DVD release will note is a major improvement over the previously incorrectly-framed 1.78:1 transfer. Everything has been improved by the boost in quality as well. Grain isn’t entirely even, but it’s so mild that most casual viewers won’t even notice a difference. Detail is remarkably high, although I suspect that it’s a bit too sharp and some mild edge enhancement has been applied. Images appear crystal clear and stable without any major debris leftover other than a very thin line running through the frame when Jeliza-Rose meets Dickens for the first time. The color palette, though highly-stylized, is potent all the way through, with aggressive uses of yellow, brown, red, and blue. Black levels are deep with extreme shadow detail and contrast levels, while a bit too high for my taste, aren’t that distracting. Because of the heavy-handedness of its look, it doesn’t appear like an entirely natural presentation, but it’s difficult to fault it too much as there’s so much good to be had. For the audio, an English 5.1 LPCM track is included with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a modest surround presentation that’s only assertive in certain areas, such as when Jeliza-Rose falls down a rabbit hole, or during Jeff Bridges’ rock concert opening. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout while sound effects and score have plenty of placement all around without unintentionally overlapping each other. There are no dropouts or distortion issues to speak of either.
The extras selection carries over everything from the previous DVD release, which includes an optional introduction to the film by Terry Gilliam; an audio commentary by Gilliam and co-writer Tony Grisoni, which is both hilarious and informative as the two really enjoy themselves while watching the film; Getting Gilliam, an uber-excellent 45-minute documentary from 2005 about the making of the film and Gilliam’s approach to making it, which was directed by Vincenzo Natali of Cube and Splice; The Making of Tideland, a brief 6-minute featurette, which is more of a promotional piece; Filming Green Screen, a 3-minute breakdown of some of the film’s visual effects sequences with non-optional commentary by Gilliam; a set of 5 deleted and extended scenes, also with non-optional commentary by Gilliam; separate interviews with Gilliam (15 minutes), producer Jeremy Thomas (10 minutes), and actors Jeff Bridges, Jodelle Ferland, and Jennifer Tilly (5 minutes); 21 minutes of behind-the-scenes b-roll footage; an animated still gallery with 36 on-set photos; and the original theatrical trailer.
In the world of Tideland, everything is far from ordinary. It’s a complicated film, and there are those who avidly hate it, but there are also those who love it and what it’s attempting to do. If you’re one of those people, this is a swell upgrade of a film that divided many, but entertained a few. Arrow Video’s presentation of the film is commendable and the extras, although offering nothing new, round out this new release well. Assuming you can keep an open mind while watching it, I highly recommend it.
- Tim Salmons