[BD Review] ‘Imaginaerum’ Is A Beautiful, Ultimately Empty Film

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When I was a child, I saved up the lunch money my parents gave me for a week so that I could order a book through the Scholastic Book Program (remember that?). That book was Clive Barker’s The Thief Of Always, which, to this day, remains one of my favorite books. It’s a cautionary tale of being careful what you wish for because the consequences may be far more costly than the benefits.

So why am I bringing it up in a review for Imaginaerum, the film based upon the Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish album of the same name? Because the stories share a lot of parallels. Both follow the story of a boy (Harvey Swick vs. Tom Whitman) who, seduced by the promises of a wonderful adventure by a charming yet creepy individual (Rictus vs. The Snowman), enters into a magical, fantastical world (Holiday House vs. Tom’s mind) where he ultimately decides that he has to strike out on his own in order to take back that which is most precious to him (Time vs. Memories).

Now obviously this is a tried and true formula that has been utilized across books, short stories, films, and more. I just found it to be an interesting comparison, one that upon entering my head refused to leave. However, where The Thief Of Always is a classic story that flows from one chapter to the next with almost effortless grace, remaining tense and exciting throughout, Imaginaerum is a film that ends up suffering under its own weight and creativity.

The story of Imaginaerum follows Tom Whitman, an elderly composer who has slipped into a coma and, in the depths of dementia, journeys through his wild, inventive imagination, trying to piece together the puzzle of his memories.

Let’s start with the good, shall we? The film is beautiful. There are some glorious shots and the set design can be stunning, especially the greenscreen landscapes, which include gigantic roller coasters in the middle of nowhere, film noir-esque cities, circuses, and much more. For those of you who enjoy rich, wildly creative visuals, this movie is definitely something you’ll want to check out.

But there is a bit of bad with that good. While the huge landscapes can be beautiful, the indoor scenes however, ones where actual sets are fully realized, can be rather claustrophobic, almost feeling like the camera is taking up too much room and the actors have can’t move and express themselves fully.

Nightwish’s music is wonderfully incorporated, altered slightly so as to be more cinematic. The appearance of the band in the movie works well the first time. However, further appearances feel forced, leaving me wondering if the band really needed to be characters within the film.

While the first half of the film is engaging and exciting, the film begins to slow down and pacing issues arise in the second half. The movie edits scenes around the music rather than the other way around, creating scenes that are twice if not three times longer than they should be. Because of this I can’t help but feel that it would’ve worked far better as an extended short film, one that lasted an hour, maybe a tad more.

The other issue with the movie being overly long is that the story begins to suffer. What could’ve been a poignant, touching story quickly came to a point where I found myself saying, “Just get on it with already.”

Imaginaerum, Nightwish’s film experiment, is neither a hit nor miss. It’s a beautiful movie that is too long, a wonderful story that overstays its welcome. It’s definitely something I’d recommend to fans of the band but for others it is best put on as background material.

Official Score