Anyone who's read what I've written, or who knows me, knows that I'm a big Nightwish fan. I play their music frequently, I have albums and other memorabilia (some of it provided courtesy of my ex-wife in Finland), I've seen them in concert twice, including the well-known "replacement vocalists" concert here in Denver. But only now have I managed to see the magnum opus of the band, and its creative genius Tuomas Holopainen: the film Imaginaerum. Sadly, that first experience was not in a theater, but, instead, on our own TV and stereo system, as the DVD and Blu-ray of the movie arrived here before a theatrical release did (and then, only by direct shipment from Finland).
The movie is a cooperation between Holopainen and Stobe Harju, the director who'd previously directed the wonderfully surrealistic video for "The Islander" off the Dark Passion Play album. Originally, the plan was to do videos for each song on the Imaginaerum album, but, as they looked at it, they saw that the whole told a coherent story, so they brought in additional screnwriters Mikko Rautalahti and Richard Jackson to turn the story into a film. They also brought in composer Petri Alanko (most notably, composer of the music for the video game Alan Wake) to take Nightwish's music from the album and build a full film score around it. The film relies heavily on visual effects and computer-generated imagery, most notably for the character of "The Snowman," a major antagonist.
The story revolves around composer and musician Thomas Whitman, played by Quinn Lord at age 10, Francis-Xavier McCarthy at age 70 (present time), and Holopainen himself at age 47 (making it obvious this is Holopainen's alter ego). In the real world, he suffers from dementia and is close to death, and his only living relative, daughter Gem (Marianne Farley) is estranged from him and has no trouble coolly authorizing a DNR order. In his dreamworld, he's regressed to childhood, where the Snowman (voiced by Elias Toufexis) finds him at the orphanage of his youth and takes him on a ride (a reference to the animated short film The Snowman, which featured the song "Walking in The Air," a song later covered by Nightwish). From there, the plotline follows two separate journeys. Inwardly, Tom must follow a twisted path through his own memories to recover that which he's lost. In the outside world, Gem, staying at her father's house, must attempt to reconcile herself with her father and piece together clues to his life. In this, Gem finds help from the 73-year-old Ann (Joanna Noyes), who was the singer in Tom's band (and is played, at a younger age, by now-departed Nightwish lead vocalist Anette Olzon).
The full band appears in two major sequences of the movie: a jazz-club scene performing "Slow, Love, Slow," and a demented circus scene, performing "Scaretale." In the latter, note the band's bass player Marcus (Marco Hietala, of course) acting as ringmaster, and a cameo appearance by Troy Donockley, the band's guest piper on their last two albums, as a stage magician. But those familiar with the Imaginaerum album will note themes from the entire album throughout the score. The section derived from "The Crow, The Owl, and The Dove," for instance, has been noted as one that Olzon particularly likes. (The album's title track, an orchestral "overture" of the entire album, is played over the end credits, much as I figured it would be.) When you see the visuals for certain parts of the movie--"Slow, Love, Slow" and "Arabesque" in particular--you'll understand why those pieces are where they are on the album and why they're arranged in the manner they are.
The accessibility of the film is not limited to Nightwish fans, however; my fiancee Sabrina saw it with me and was genuinely touched by the story and its ultimate resolution, to the point of shedding a few tears. Gem undergoes a complete transformation of her character even as we see Tom go through the transformation from young boy (masterfully played by Lord, who was nominated for an award for his performance, and rightly so) to old man in his dreams. I believe that, with this movie, I have now seen, as much as anyone can see, into Tuomas Holopainen's soul. It's a powerful experience, and not to be forgotten--or missed.
One final thought: A key plot point in the movie turns on Ann's earlier "betrayal" of Tom by attempting suicide. Did we see life imitate art, in a similar "betrayal" of Tuomas by Anette, as she left Nightwish to have her baby? I fervently hope that Nightwish, unlike Whitman's band in the movie, will carry on after this, as they seem to have done.
To my knowledge, the only way one may obtain Imaginaerum in the United States is via the Nightwish Shop.