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 oneof those works guaranteed to split audiences down the middle: anyone with anaversion to woolly pop-Buddhist philosophising or whohas a well-honed sense of the ridiculous is likely to pass the point of noreturn and lose patience with the whole exercise well before the end. Warner,which releases the film in the US on Nov 22, is likely to face something of astruggle (certainly if the chorus of boos from some critics that the film receivedat its Venice press premiere is anything to go by). Fox, which distributes The Fountain overseas (Nov 8 in France, Jan 18 in Germany and Feb 16 in UK among others), may similarly find reachingaudiences tough going, not least because this has the look of a DVDshelf-sitter.

In Hollywood script terms, The Fountain is not so much a three-act film as a film of threefinal acts. In the contemporary timeline, Hugh Jackmanplays Tommy Creo ("I create" in Latin), a cancerresearch scientist whose struggle to find a miracle cure has become all themore urgent because his wife Izzie (Rachel Weisz) is dying of a brain tumour.

Jackman is also Tomas, a Spanish conquistadordevoted to Isabella, his queen - also played by Weisz,in ethereal, front-lit, Cate-Blanchett-in-Lord Of The Rings style - who sends him on a mission to the Mayanheartlands of Central America to discover the mythical Fountain of Youth.

Finally, Jackman is also Tom, a bald 26th-century astronaut-hermit,who spends a lot of time in the lotus position and has his very own Tree OfLife on his raft-like spaceship.

Aronofsky has a prodigious visual imagination, andwe are initially dazzled by the sheer look of the thing while trying to workout the connection between the three stories, which dip in and out of oneanother in a way that sometimes illuminates but more often than not frustrates.

The pared-backpalette created 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 and production design help build a dream-like fantasy world that,particularly in the future scenes, is somewhat reminiscent of What Dreams May Come, but here CG tricksare kept to a minimum (the list of carpenters and sculptors in the final creditsfills two whole screens). Images of distant nebulae, what appears to be cellsunder the microscope and womb-like tunnels are spliced into the action in a more mellow version of the jagged editing which was thedirector's trademark in his first two features.

But technicalbravado is not enough to save a film that goes dramatically mushy well beforethe 60-minute-point before finally tipping over into absurdity. Though Jackman's intense performance, and his character's despairat his wife's imminent end, is always believable and often affecting, emotionalengagement is squeezed out of us by Aronofsky'spo-faced insistence on the big cosmic, symbolic messages he wants the audience totake 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-time Aronofsky collaborator Clint Mansell, is a long, atmospheric cosmic elegy, much of itplayed by modern classical group the Kronos Quartet.

Protozoa Pictures
New Regency Production
Warner Bros Pictures
Regency Enterprises

US distribution
Warner Bros

20th Century Fox International (most)

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