Well, at least it thinks it is. The brainchild of writers/directors Dave Mazzoni and Tom Mattera--who developed the original concept while film students at Temple University--The 4th Dimension is an arty effort that may remind you of early David Lynch in it's visual style and story complexity. Shot in black and white, the story unfolds in two arcs--a young Jack is tended to at home by his sick mother Amanda (Karen Peakes), and likes to confound his school teacher with intellectual musings. "There's no such thing as a true straight line...that is if you were dealing with space and time," he says. ""We live in a three-dimensional world, that not only has height and width, but also depth...everything is curved."
In the other story, an older Jack spends his time working at an antique shop, and shows signs of obsessive compulsive disorder with frequent hand washing--and a habit of collecting things. He soon gets a mysterious broken clock that consumes his thoughts--and contains journal entries from Albert Einstein about his unfinished Unified Field Theory: "The unification of electromagnetics and gravitation brings the possible explanation for many unexplainable questions that have haunted individuals throughout the duration of time."
The two worlds--which take place in intentionally abstract eras in time--seem to intersect when old Jack sits on a train that rides past a school house with young Jack looking out the window. Are these dreams, or do two parallel worlds exist at the same time? Is the "line of time" in fact a series of dots, with the spaces in between traps that people can fall into, leading them to a potential new path and different life? "Time is measured from nothing but an imaginary clock," notes Jack. "You live in whatever time you want."
More mysteries arrive: What the heck is with that (initially unseen) woman who keeps asking Jack if he's going to "fix it"? "You know why I'm here," she warns. "You know I could get you into a lot of trouble...why aren't you working on it?" There's also a shady figure in a top hat that may be a nightmare--or an evil specter overlooking Jack. The entire plot gets a tad more frustrating as the story unfolds, and try as hard as you might to unravel it, you get the sense that easy answers aren't coming.
But you'd be wrong...because just when you've lost interest, there comes the conclusion, which spells things out for you. Literally. The directors hold your hand and write it out, then wrap it up with a pretty bow. All of that brain twisting, all the pretense, all of that promise of higher meaning was a complete sham, a waste of your time. You'll get mad at yourself for even attempting to think it through.
The conclusion is a huge disappointment, a copout you've seen before. It's an ending you might have considered but dismissed, thinking it couldn't possibly be that simple. And it's not like the mystery you had to work with was all that great--there are far too many sequences where nothing happens: you're just staring at people staring at each other...or the wall (you get frustrated, and then you just get bored).
This might have worked as a 30-minute short with more focus, some elements ditched and others explored more. It's clear that Mazzoni, Mattera and the crew have talent. I loved the look here--director of photography Daniel Watchulonis and production designer Nathan Kalushner have done a fantastic job (on a very small budget) of creating a cold, bleak, lonely landscape with images and settings that beautifully create a haunting mood. There's promise here, but this is ultimately too frustrating an experience to sit through.
Next up is "The Making of The 4th Dimension" behind the scenes featurette (17:00), with a lot of the cast and crew. It goes over the evolution of the work, and spends a lot of time talking about an inspiration for the story--one that surfaces in the conclusion. It's actually very interesting, a mini-documentary on an interesting subject. Maybe it should have been a bigger focus in the actual film.
You also get five deleted scenes (9:27) with optional commentary. None of them are too interesting--although one used an image I wish was explored more. Rounding out the set is the theatrical trailer.