One advantage of recent advances in special effects technology is that films can take you to places you've never seen before, and couldn't even imagine. What Dreams May Come takes you somewhere you may not want to experience quite yet.
Chris Nielsen (Williams), a doctor whose happy marriage has already been blighted by the deaths of his kids, is killed in an accident and wakes up in a private universe which takes the shape of his wife's semi-Impressionist paintings. Death isn't so bad, especially with guide Albert (Gooding Jr.) around to give tips and reunite him with his put-down dog and lost little girl. However, Chris' wife Annie (Sciorra) can't take another bereavement and commits suicide. Since this condemns her to the Hell section of this afterworld, Chris strives - guided by Max Von Sydow - to haul her out of the slough of despair and bring her to the happy lands, even though everyone says this is futile.
Adapted from a cranky mystic novel by Richard Matheson and directed with visual genius by Vincent Ward, this is one of those failures that has so many near-great things that it almost gets by on guts. Few films have the nerve or the imagination to create a world beyond, and the settings - perhaps influenced by Terry Gilliam in Munchausen mode - are consistently incredible, whether in the idyllic heaven or the paved-with-agonised-faces hell.
The problem is that, despite mostly strong performances, there's something not right about the central perfect relationship so you get distracted arguing with all the religious guff. It feels like what you'd get if you took the legend of Orpheus and previewed it in Pasadena, then rewrote the classical tragedy as a feelgood Hollywood hug-fest. After the underrated excellence of Map Of The Human Heart, Vincent Ward is entitled to a misstep and we probably ought to be grateful that this one is as interesting as it is.