Dir: Darren Aronofsky. US. 2006. 96mins.

Something of a feature-length New Age doodle, The Fountain will alienate many of thosewho were turned on to indie director Darren Aronfosky by his quirky debut Pi and its follow-up, the drug-fuelled cinematic opera Requiem For A Dream. Threading its epiclove story through three time zones - the years 1500, 2000 and 2500 - hislatest work is a visual and aural trip that lets its symbolic ambitions chokeand finally suffocate its dramatic impact.

As such it's one of those worksguaranteed to split audiences down the middle: anyone with an aversion to woollypop-Buddhist philosophising or who has a well-honedsense of the ridiculous is likely to pass the point of no return and losepatience with the whole exercise well before the end. Warner, which releasesthe film in the US on Nov22, is likely to face something of a struggle (certainly if the chorus of boosthat the film received at its Venicepress premiere is anything to go by). Fox, which distributes The Fountain overseas (Nov 8 in France, Jan 18 in Germanyand Feb 16 in UKamong others), may similarly find reaching audiences tough going, not leastbecause this has the look of a DVD shelf-sitter.

In Hollywoodscript terms, The Fountain is not somuch a three-act film as a film of three final acts. In the contemporarytimeline, Hugh Jackman plays Tommy Creo ("I create" in Latin), a cancer research scientistwhose struggle to find a miracle cure has become all the more urgent becausehis wife Izzie (Rachel Weisz)is dying of a brain tumour.

Jackman is also Tomas, a Spanish conquistador devoted toIsabella, his queen - also played by Weisz, inethereal, front-lit, Cate-Blanchett-in-Lord Of The Ringsstyle - who sends him on a mission to the Mayan heartlands of Central Americato discover the mythical Fountain of Youth.

Finally, Jackmanis also Tom, a bald 26th-century astronaut-hermit, who spends a lot of time inthe lotus position and has his very own Tree Of Life on his raft-likespaceship.

Aronofsky has a prodigious visual imagination, and we areinitially dazzled by the sheer look of the thing while trying to work out theconnection between the three stories, which dip in and out of one another in away that sometimes illuminates but more often than not frustrates.

The pared-back palettecreated by Aronofsky and faithful cinematographerMatthew Libatique stress earth colours,golds and yellows and greens; and textures of skin,leather, metal and bark are captured in ravishing shallow-focus detail.

Camerawork, lighting andproduction design help build a dream-like fantasy world that, particularly inthe future scenes, is somewhat reminiscent of What Dreams May Come, but here CG tricks are kept to a minimum (thelist of carpenters and sculptors in the final credits fills two whole screens).Images of distant nebulae, what appears to be cells under the microscope andwomb-like tunnels are spliced into the action in a moremellow version of the jagged editing which was the director's trademarkin his first two features.

But technical bravado is notenough to save a film that goes dramatically mushy well before the 60-minute-pointbefore finally tipping over into absurdity. Though Jackman'sintense performance, and his character's despair at his wife's imminent end, isalways believable and often affecting, emotional engagement is squeezed out ofus by Aronofsky's po-faced insistence on the bigcosmic, symbolic messages he wants the audience to take home.

Comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey will undoubtedlybe made but are way off the mark: for all its symbolic apparatus, Stanley Kubrick's future vision was a film of great emotionalsubtlety - and The Fountain is not.

The soundtrack, by long-timeAronofsky collaborator Clint Mansell,is a long, atmospheric cosmic elegy, much of it played by modern classicalgroup the Kronos Quartet.

Production companies/backers
Protozoa Pictures
New Regency Production
Warner Bros Pictures
Regency Enterprises

US distribution
Warner Bros

International distribution
20th Century Fox International (most)

Executive producer
Nick Wechsler

Eric Watson
Arnon Milchan
Iain Smith

Darren Aronofsky, based on a story by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel

Matthew Libatique

Production design
James Chinlund

Jay Rabinowitz

Clint Mansell

Main cast
Hugh Jackman
Rachel Weisz
Ellen Burstyn
Alexander Bisping
Cliff Curtis
Sean Gullette
Mark Margolis
Donna Murphy
Ethan Suplee
Sean Patrick Thomas