Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Stobe Harju
Written by: Stobe Harju, Mikko Rautalahti & Richard Jackson
Starring: Quinn Lord, Tuomas Holopainen, Francis-Xavier McCarthy, Ilkka Villi, Victoria Ann Jung, Anette Olzon, Joanna Noyes, Keyanna Fielding, Marianne Farley, Marco Hietala, Emppu Vuorinen, Jukka Nevalainen & Ron Lea
Based on and incorporating the album IMAGINAERUM by Nightwish, this film of the same name is an ambitious dark-fantasy. Seeing as it was created by a band, it shouldn’t come as a huge shock that music plays a massive role in this film. The main character is a composer. Many musical numbers come and go. The soundtrack is dreamlike and fits the story well. However, music and ideas alone are not enough to carry a feature-length production. Visuals must be taken into consideration, along with performances and characters. It is on the last couple of these merits that IMAGINAERUM struggles to find some solid footing.
Thomas Whitman is an elderly musician regressing into his childhood past. After a severe stroke, he lapses into a coma. His estranged daughter, Gem, is left with the decision of letting him pass away or having the doctors revive him upon another attack. Resentful of her distant father, Gem’s decision is an easy one. Meanwhile, her father (portrayed in different ages by Quinn Lord, Tuomas Holopainen, and Francis-Xavier McCarthy) is taken on a dangerous journey through his subconscious with a seemingly friendly snowman as his guide. It turns out that his companion may be a little more malevolent than he first let on and Thomas Whitman finds himself on a journey to escape his imaginary dream world and awaken from his coma, all while Gem finds out that there is far more to her strange father than she ever expected.
IMAGINAERUM seems like the kind of film that should delight Nightwish fans (of which I am only an occasional passerby) and lovers of movies like MIRRORMASK. The entire film deals with the constant themes of the legacy we leave, the consequences of our actions, and the tragedy of regressing in old age. There are enough trippy and weirdly beautiful scenes to entrance the viewer. Some questionable CGI makes its way into a few scenes, but for the most part, the film is a feast for the eyes.
The incorporation of the Nightwish’s songs isn’t distracting. However, the band was not content with playing mere characters in the film. They actually show up in a couple of scenes in the background (a night club and a macabre circus scene). It wouldn’t be a huge deal if there were regulated to the background playing the music. In fact, that might have been a neat little cameo. When we frequently cut between single shots of them playing and the chaos happening in an otherwise impressive scene, I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching an extended music video by Nightwish. This only happens in two scenes (still two too many), but it annoyed me to the point of being taken out of the film for a bit.
On the deeper emotional level, IMAGINAERUM fails to leave much of an impression. Thomas Whitman’s character development is good enough, but Gem comes off as a bit of a one-dimensional hate-filled daughter. It’s true that there is a shift in the character, but it comes so quickly that it seems like the plot was forced to change her attitude in a matter of seconds. The other characters are little more than a driving force for the story to continue on. I did appreciate that certain seemingly insignificant things came into play in the wonderland of Thomas Whitman’s subconscious, but the imaginative dream world is only half the story. The real world stuff should have wound up being far more compelling than it actually is. The corny ending feels phoned in and the sentimental conclusion is unearned.
IMAGINAERUM is mighty impressive in visuals. It’s amazing when it comes to the music. When it comes to what should matter most, the characters and deeper meanings that the film keeps hammering in, the film falters. It’s beautiful, but emotionally hollow. A true case of style over substance.