From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Tideland (2005) is a film co-written and directed by Terry Gilliam, an adaptation of Mitch Cullin's novel Tideland. The world premier was at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival, where the film was met with mixed response from both viewers and critics. After little interest from U.S. distributors, THINKFilm picked the film up for a U.S. release date in October 2006.
Tideland is a macabre, darkly surreal film about an abandoned child named Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland). The story centers on Jeliza-Rose's solitary adventures during one summer in rural Texas while staying at a rundown farmhouse called What Rocks, and focuses on the increasingly dark, imaginative fantasy life the girl creates with the aid of dismembered Barbie doll heads that she often wears on her fingertips. With names such as Mystique, Sateen Lips, Baby Blonde, and Glitter Gal, the doll heads not only engage in long conversations with Jeliza-Rose, reflecting different aspects of the girl's psyche, but also act as her companions while she explores the barren Texas landscape.
After her mother (Jennifer Tilly) dies from a drug overdose, Jeliza-Rose and her father, Noah (Jeff Bridges), flee to Noah's mother's home, a remote Texas farmhouse. They find the home abandoned, but they settle in anyway. Their first night there, Noah dies from a heroin overdose. For much of the rest of the film, Noah's corpse remains seated upright in a living room chair with sunglasses covering his eyes. As her father slowly begins to rot, Jeliza-Rose doesn't readily acknowledge his death because she has grown accustomed to him being unconscious for long periods at a time. Instead, she retreats deeper and deeper into her own mind, exploring the tall grass around the farmhouse, relying on her doll heads for friendship as an unconscious way of keeping herself from feeling too lonely and afraid.
During Jeliza-Rose's wanderings, she eventually encounters and befriends her neighbors, a mentally challenged young man called Dickens (Brendan Fletcher) and Dickens's older sister Dell (Janet McTeer) who is blind in one eye from a bee sting. At this point the story begins to unfold, revealing a past connection between Dell and Jeliza-Rose's deceased father. The eccentric neighbors take the girl under their wing, going so far as to preserve Noah's body via the taxidermy process (something both Dell and Dickens have done to their own dead mother). Events take on an even darker tone when amorous feelings, initiated mostly by the much younger Jeliza-Rose, begin to creep into the child-like relationship between her and Dickens, and it is revealed that the deeply troubled Dickens, a boy-man who once drove a school bus in front of an oncoming train, keeps a stash of dynamite in his bedroom that he intends to use against the Monster Shark he believes is roaming the countryside. The Monster Shark being, in reality, the nightly passenger train that travels past the farmhouse where Jeliza-Rose and her dead father reside.
What follows is literally an explosive conclusion to the film, one which not only frees Jeliza-Rose from her painful isolation but jolts her from the coping-mechanisms of her own imagination, pulling her back into the less fanciful yet equally disturbing real world. Among the wreckage of the passenger train that has crashed near the farmhouse, Jeliza-Rose is rescued by a surviving passenger who assumes the little girl is also a victim of the train wreck.
Critical and public reception
At Spain's 2005 San Sebastian Festival,Tideland was awarded the esteemed FIPRESCI Prize, selected by an international jury of critics that, in their award statement, said: "Our jury focused on the international competition and found Terry Gilliam's Tideland to be the best film of the selection — a decision which provoked controversial reactions." The jury consisted of Andrei Plakhov, Russia, President (Kommersant), Julio Feo Zarandieta, France (Radio France Internationale), Wolfgang Martin Hamdorf, Germany (filmdienst), Massimo Causo, Italy (Corriere Del Giorno), Sergi Sanchez, Spain (La Razon).
However, most mainstream reviews of Tideland have been largely mixed and often negative, with Japan being the only country where it was both a critical and box office success. After almost a year without any US distribution, the film was picked up for American release by ThinkFilm and subsequently opened in the US earning just $7,276 from one theater during its first week run. The film's release was then expanded to only nine theatres for a total domestic gross of $66,453. Since then, several independent cinemas and art museums went on to present the film as a special event, including IFC Center and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
Director Terry Gilliam has openly criticized ThinkFilm for the manner in which the company mishandled both the American theatrical release of the film and the their unauthorized tampering with the aspect ratio of the film for its US DVD release. He has also gone on record as saying that the initial reviews of nearly all his films have usually garnered mixed reactions from critics, and in at least one interview, as well as in the DVD introduction to Tideland, he has stated that he believes many moviegoers will hate Tideland, others will love it, and some just won't know what to think about it.
Rotten Tomatoes "Critics" consensus gave it a 29% rating - with their "Cream of the Crop" at 5% - calling it "disturbing and unwatchable", although Rotten Tomatoes registered "Users" rank the film 30% higher than the Critics at 58%. This divide between critics and moviegoers has been mirrored on many individual blog sites.
Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman--who had previously scored Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm a C+, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas a D+ , The Fisher King a C--gave Tideland an F, calling it "gruesomely awful." In the subsequent DVD review of the film, the Entertainment Weekly score was revised to a B by critic Clark Collis, who countered Gleiberman by writing: "Terry Gilliam's grim fairy tale is another fantastic(al) showcase for his visual talents." The film received "two thumbs way down" from Richard Roeper and guest critic A.O. Scott on Ebert & Roeper. Scott said that toward the end, the film was "creepy, exploitive, and self-indulgent", while Roeper said "I hated this film" and "I came very close to walking out of the screening room. And I never do that.".
Chicago Tribune critic Michael Wilmington, however, praised the film, and Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News wrote, "TIDELAND, for me, is a masterpiece," a blurb featured on the DVD release. Filmmaker David Cronenberg described the movie as a "poetic horror film," a quote which was used in the advertising campaign for the theatrical release.
Awards and recognition
- 2007, nominated for the Saturn Award: Best Performance by a Young Actor (Jodelle Ferland).
- 2007, nominated in six categories for the 27th Genie Awards: Best actress (Jodelle Ferland), Art direction/production design (Jasna Stefanovic), Cinematography (Nicola Pecorini), Costume design (Mario Davignon), Editing (Lesley Walker), and Overall sound.
- 2006, nominated as "Most Original Foreign Trailer" at the Golden Trailer awards.
- 2005, winner of the FIPRESCI Prize at the 2005 San Sebastian Festival.
The DVD of Tideland was released on February 27, 2007. It is a 2 Disc Collector's Edition, with a commentary track, many interviews, deleted scenes (only with a forced commentary over the original audio), and a making-of documentary. There has been some controversy among fans over the aspect ratio presented on the Region 1 DVD released by ThinkFilm for the United States; the film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.77:1 instead of the aspect ratio prepared and approved by Terry Gilliam and the director of photography (in theaters, it was shown in 2.35:1, but Gilliam wanted to open up the image slightly; somewhere between 2.10:1 and 2.25:1). However, the image is not pan and scan. Instead, the Region 1 transfer opens up the matte slightly on the top and bottom of the frame, thus offering consumers more image than what was shown theatrically. There were early reports that other regions, and Canada (region 1), had the theatrical aspect ratio, but these have proven false, although the region 2 UK disc is slightly closer to Gilliam's intended aspect ratio.
Movie cast overview
- Jodelle Ferland as Jeliza-Rose
- Brendan Fletcher as Dickens
- Jeff Bridges as Noah
- Jennifer Tilly as Queen Gunhilda
- Janet McTeer as Dell
- Sally Crooks as Dell's Mother