The Navigator | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

The virtues as well as the limitations of this bizarre fantasy from New Zealand, winner of half a dozen Australian Oscars, stem from its literary conception. Though the story is an original (by director Vincent Ward), and Ward's use of both black and white and color gives it a very distinctive look, it feels like an idea translated into cinematic terms rather than a cinematic conception. In a remote English mining village threatened by the Black Death in 1348, a visionary boy (Hamish McFarlane) has a troubled dream that spells out possible salvation, which involves digging through the center of the earth to a celestial city and placing across on the spire of a cathedral. He sets out with four miners to fulfill this mission, and they eventually wind up in a modern (i.e., 1988) metropolis. Rather than play this conceit for satire, Ward and his cowriters Kely Lyons and Geoff Chapple stick pretty close to the funereal rhythm and doom-ridden mood that they establish at the outset. What emerges is not entirely successful; the switches between black and white and color often seem more mechanical than integral, and the hallucinatory atmosphere is occasionally diluted rather than enhanced by the blocky narrative continuity. But the originality of the whole conception and its gradual unfolding still make this a compelling and novel experience. With Bruce Lyons and Chris Haywood. (Fine Arts)

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