Well over a decade after the release of Terry Gilliam's Tideland (2005), it's still not an easy film to talk about; not because it's particularly hard to follow, but extremely difficult to process. This off-center drama serves up a hard-to-swallow cocktail of childhood innocence, emotional abandonment, and nightmarish imagery not far removed from Alice in Wonderland, transporting viewers to a cold, macabre environment peppered with peculiar characters. It's far removed from Gilliam's slightly more mainstream efforts like 12 Monkeys and The Fisher King, though fans of the director's work will notice many of his dynamic and arresting visual flourishes on display.
Even by today's standards, Tideland has maintained quite a reputation for its dark and disturbing content, especially since our protagonist is a young girl who's seemingly being driven to madness. Her name is Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland), and she's the product of quite an unusual environment. Her mother (Jennifer Tilly) dies early on from a drug overdose, while her heroin-addicted father Noah (Jeff Bridges) routinely asks the young girl for help shooting up. Sensitive viewers may easily dismiss Tideland for such an unsavory depiction of home life, but those able to look past it will see a necessary part of the story: for Jeliza-Rose, preparing her father's needle is just as ordinary as fetching him a cold drink. She's become accustomed to her dad "going on vacation", so she uses her imagination to stay busy. Jeliza-Rose best friends are a collection of doll heads, whom she agrees and argues with in dramatically different voices.
Shortly after the mother's death, the father and daughter move to a dilapidated Texas farmhouse, ensuring their near-complete isolation. It's more of the same for now: Jeliza-Rose flits about, exploring the house and surrounding area while Noah takes frequent "vacations". His body finally gives up, but Jeliza-Rose doesn't seem to notice. After several days, Noah's corpse begins to decompose, while his daughter simply talks to him and plays dress-up. While exploring her new world, Jeliza-Rose is surprised by the mentally handicapped Dickens (Brendan Fletcher) and his older sister Dell (Janet McTeer) on separate occasions. We soon learn that Dell and Noah were once involved in a relationship, so the eccentric woman decides to preserve his body via taxidermy. Still, it's Dickens and Jeliza-Rose that seem to have the deepest connection; both think like children and are products of a highly unorthodox family life. They soon feel a closer link with one another, though it's cut short when Jeliza-Rose's unusual summer literally comes to a screeching halt.
It's true that portions of Tideland will make even the most open-minded viewers squirm, yet it's not always as jarring as it sounds through simple description. Based on Mitch Cullin's novel of the same name, Gilliam has created a visual tour-de-force with a strange but steady pulse. The performances are uniformly excellent; anchored strongly by young Jodelle Ferland, the cast maintains Tideland's dark illusion perfectly. But it's not a film that many will enjoy: even if you're able to see past the film's dark exterior, the visually rich environment occasionally rings hollow. This story is perhaps a bit too unconventional, even by Gilliam's standards, and will likely turn off a lot of viewers completely off within the first 15 minutes. Things only gets darker and stranger as it unfolds.
Tideland was originally released on DVD by Thinkfilm in 2007 -- less than a year after the debut of Blu-ray and HD DVD -- but wasn't offered on either high definition format, at least in Region A. Arrow's long-overdue but (possibly) welcome Blu-ray edition gives the film a courtesy bump to 1080p, but it's probably not the fully-upgraded package than established fans may be expecting.
Arrow's Blu-ray edition of Tideland features a solid A/V upgrade over Thinkfilm's 2007 DVD, but not in the expected areas. What's different here is the film's aspect ratio: whereas the DVD was presented in 1.85:1 "16x9 anamorphic full frame", this Blu-ray is framed closer to the film's original aspect ratio at 2.35:1. Despite my reservations about the story, this is unquestionably a solid-looking film with all the expected visual flair of your typical Gilliam production: colors and image detail range from razor-sharp to distorted, with a suitably strangle color palette and all the Dutch angles you'd expect. Unfortunately, this is not a new master or scan -- according to the A/V liner notes, you can blame Universal Studios for that -- and, while obviously a competent and "pleasing" presentation, it lacks the depth and detail of most new catalog releases. Still, if your only previous frame of reference was the DVD, this is still an improvement.
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Though it's less of an improvement in comparison, Tideland's lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is full of intriguing effects and fits the story well. Dialogue is clean and crisp with plenty of separation, music and other background noise ventures freely into the rear channels, and occasional bursts of LFE give your subwoofer something to do as well. Overall, the DVD sounded just fine and this represents a natural progression in the expected areas. Optional English (SDH) subtitles are included during the main feature only.
Arrow's no-nonsense menu is smooth and functional, with clips and music from the film plus access to subtitle setup and bonus features (no chapter selection, but there are 13). This one-disc release is packaged in the studio's standard stocky keepcase with reversible cover artwork; also tucked inside is a nice Booklet with a recent essay by film critic Neil Mitchell and a few promotional photos.
Thinkfilm's well-rounded 2007 DVD offered a full second disc of bonus features, as well as an audio commentary. Almost everything from Arrow's Blu-ray is recycled from that release: a short Introduction by director Terry Gilliam (1:08), the feature-length Audio Commentary with Gilliam and screenwriter Tony Grisoni, the Vincenzo Natali documentary "Getting Gilliam" (44:43), shorter featurette "The Making of Tideland" (5:27), a few Deleted Scenes (5 clips, 5:58 total) with forced director commentary, two Interviews with Gilliam (14:32) and producer Jeremy Thomas (9:35), and the film's Theatrical Trailer (2:05). A few odds and ends, reportedly from a German Blu-ray, are also here and include a condensed Interview with Jeff Bridges, Jodelle Ferland, and Jennifer Tilly (5:06), a collection of B-Roll Footage (21:30), and a self-playing Photo Gallery (2:17). I'll give Arrow points for trying, but none of these "new" extras are very enticing.
If you've seen Terry Gilliam's Tideland at some point since its 2006 theatrical debut (most likely via Thinkfilm's well-rounded 2007 DVD), you've probably made up your mind about it already. This is certainly not a film for all tastes; it's extremely dark, surreal, and tough to digest, drifting towards its open-ended conclusion while keeping viewers off-balance along the way. But while a second viewing probably won't change your mind, established fans will appreciate Arrow's new Blu-ray package: it at least offers a courtesy bump to 1080p, finally presenting the film in its correct aspect ratio to boot. That said, the German Blu-ray -- which is more or less identical to this disc -- has been available for over a decade, so die-hand fans are probably ahead of the curve. Combine that with the film's limited appeal and replay value, and there's not much to recommend about this one. Rent It, unless importing has never been an option.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work and runs a website or two. In his free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.