Imaginaerum_teaser

Imaginaerum

Director: Stobe Harju

I was pretty excited to watch Imaginaerum coming into Fantasia, as I will be any movie that features creepy, steam punk snowmen in aviator caps. I had expectations that this film would be the next “Never Ending Story“, a fantasy tale that wouldn’t be afraid to cross over to the dark side and would allow itself to be scary. Visually, the film plays with light and darkness quite well, and the contrast help to orient yourself between the real and fantasy worlds.

The imagery is quite slick, but at times it almost seems a little too slick, and that sort of hints at one of the problems I had with the film, in at times, it seems like it wants to be a music video rather than a fantasy movie. Sadly, it seems as if this was completely intentional. Director Stobe Harju’s previous experience comes in the world of music video direction, and he pulls out a lot of tricks from that toolbox to good effect, though at times he probably should have held back a little bit. Some restraint in the use of sharp angles and the ever-present blue cooling lens filter could have helped. The visual effects were often very cool looking, but they could have used a little more… grime. Something to help separate the actors from the sound stage, and make it seem a little more like they were actually interacting with the world they were supposed to be in.

The full title of the movie is “Imagineaerum by Nightwish“, with Nightwish being a symphonic heavy metal band from Finland who both provide most of the music for the movie as well as appearing extensively in the film. Look for lyrics like this from the song “Storytime” (from the soundtrack):

I am the voice of Never-Never-Land
The innocence, the dreams of every man
I am the empty crib of Peter Pan

So dark, and yet so obvious. It’s very telling.

The plot of the movie involves an old man, Tom, on his deathbed, struggling with his dementia and trying to hold onto his mind long enough to make peace with his estranged daughter before he dies. His battles are symbolized by his retreat into his childhood memories to fight a malevolent force determined to claim his mind for its own. Yet as Tom explores the dark recesses of his memories, every now and again an Evanescence-esque music video breaks out, and the band plays some music while acting creepy at the ten-year-old Tom. It’s really out of place, and it is a jarring experience for the viewer. The band is then shoe-horned into the plot (well after they perform on screen) and show up every twenty minutes or so to rock out and glower at the camera with all the black nail polish and eyeliner they can muster.

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I want to take a step back from slagging this movie too much. It wasn’t awful, and at times it was actually good. The acting of Marianne Farley as Gem, the estranged daughter dealing with her father’s impending death is well crafted, balancing resentment and a desire to believe that her relationship can be salvaged. It’s emotional, but it’s also kept completely separate from the fantasy aspect of the film.

But the film was born as a concept metal album, and it never really was given the chance to develop beyond that. The plot stays overly literal, and any strange element is explained quickly and matter of fact-ly so as there is no chance of interpreting the story elements in any other way. Young Tom is brought to a circus (where the band plays in creepy circus costumes) because Tom’s father never took him to the circus, and when he was older, he took his daughter to the circus. It’s all very neat and tidy, but it doesn’t take any time to make use of metaphor or really allow the fantasy world to become truly strange or fantastic.

I came in looking for a Never Ending Story, but the visuals and the soundtrack ate up too much of the story, and what I ended up with was closer to “Sucker Punch“. I was disappointed and I really wanted to like the movie, but it just didn’t take me all the way there. I give it two-and-a-half Daredevil soundtracks.

Here’s the trailer:

Imaginaerum is playing August 4 at 2:15PM at the Imperial Theatre in Montreal.

 

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