Danna brothers take a trip in Gilliam's 'Imaginarium'

As if scoring one of Terry Gilliam’s phantasmagoric features wasn’t challenge enough, brothers Jeff and Mychael Danna suddenly found themselves working on a picture whose star — Heath Ledger — had met an untimely death. Yet they maintain Ledger’s passing didn’t really hinder “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” musically.

“What happened is that the scenes in the imaginarium became a bigger part of the film,” says Jeff Danna, “and the three Tonys (the actors who replaced Ledger: Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell) were featured more. So musically there were more tentpoles in the score.”

Gilliam proved a rock under especially trying circumstances, and his solidity gave the brothers the freedom to create. “Even at the most harried of times or the darkest moment, Terry never lost his sense of humor,” Mychael Danna says. “Horrible as it was — he kept his positive spirit. And you lift up your own game. ”

The brothers certainly did, providing a whimsical score tinted by darker elements that tapped into a range of genres befitting their broad interests and abilities. In some ways, the score was subconsciously autobiographical, reflecting childhoods infused with music. “All the things you absorb as a young musician add up to something later,” Jeff Danna says.

That notion found its truest expression in the recurring theme representing the film’s eponymous protagonist, Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer). “It had to have a timeless and archaic sound,” Jeff Danna says. “It had to sound comfortable in both the distant past and the quirky present.”

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