There is no doubt that this movie is unlike any other around just now. The effects and unusual story line take control of the movie and it's these things that keep you watching, along with the able performance of the lead girl. Unfortunately I found that there was too much of the effects and quirkiness obscuring the actual story, one which is an extremely simple one and was almost identical to that of one of my favourite novels, The Talisman by Stephen King.
So already it was up against a difficult task, but did it take me anywhere I'd like to have gone?
Quite frankly no. It's a children's story, and a very simple one at that, and the movie concentrates on the effects and creating scenes that will keep your eyes occupied without necessarily engaging your brain that much.
Try as I might, I couldn't shake the amazing similarity with The Talisman. A story where a young boy goes on a journey through another world to find a talisman that will save his mothers life from cancer and also save the strange world in which he finds himself. Substitute the words girl for boy, talisman for charm and cancer for tumour (possibly, we're never really told).
What the story boils down to is that of a girl whose parents don't pay her enough attention for working too hard, and her mothers illness pulls the family back together. In the meantime she has some bizarre dreams that may be connected to her actually trying to save her mother during her operation. There wasn't a real attempt at character or relationship development, other than a few short scenes, so you're pretty much limited to that initial storyline.
That said, the effects are really good, and there are some clever images and ideas. It's pretty off the wall stuff but extremely interesting to watch. Also the performances from Stephanie Leonidas as the young girl Helen, Gina McKee as Helen's mother, and Jason Barry as Valentine are all very good, and despite the weak story, very engaging.
Good as the effects and images are, there is the feeling that they are a series of scenes put together to show off the most bizarre and visually engaging effects that the team could create. For instance the woman and the cats, or the orbiting giants, there seemed to be no rhyme nor reason for them other than showing the creativity. This feeling did subside a little when Helen is in the dark palace.
It's with the, pardon the expression, dark side and the other world twin of Helen (another huge concept from The Talisman) where the real interest lurks in this story. There are some clever ideas for both these areas, and yet you feel they just weren't exploited enough and story wise they were presented with a light gloss rather than delving into them and expanding on them to make a rich storyline.
Ultimately, I feel that the weak story makes this a visually engaging, effects driven movie which will suit younger children more than anyone. A definite disappointment considering the rich rewards we'd been led to expect from the creative teams involved and the trailers.