There are storytellers, and then there is Scheherazade, the savvy bride who in “One Thousand and One Nights” entertains her husband, the king of Persia, by telling him stories. The king has a nasty habit of killing his wives, so to keep her head Scheherazade practices narrative interruptus: Each night, she relates wondrous tales without finishing them, keeping him hooked on her cliffhangers so that she can live another day. For her, storytelling is life.

The stakes are far lower for Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton) in George Miller’s “Three Thousand Years of Longing.” A self-described narratologist, Alithea has meaningful work, reputational standing, a movieland dream house and a potential new chapter in a mysterious being (Idris Elba). She is also a storyteller. But unlike Scheherazade, Alithea risks nothing meaningful when she spins this yarn, a problem for a movie that insists on the importance of storytelling. Despite Miller’s talent and feverish enthusiasm, and the gravitational pull of his stars, the movie’s colorful parts just whir and stop, a pinwheel in unsteady wind.

The movie begins with a promising, characteristically energetic Miller-esque whoosh of swooping cameras, brisk editing, pops of colors and a sense of urgency. Things are about to happen! Except — as Alithea explains — everything to come has already occurred. “My story is true,” she says, adding: “You’re more likely to believe me, however, if I tell it as a fairy tale.” And so, with a melodious once-upon-a-time voice, she revs up an elaborate story about a loquacious genie called, well, Djinn (Elba). Soon enough, the story skips back in time, she frees him from a bottle, he offers her three wishes and she reacts warily until she doesn’t.

Any movie with Elba and Swinton has its appeal, and the same holds true of “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” which pulls you in every time they’re together onscreen. It takes flight with Alithea en route to a conference in Istanbul. Things quickly get weird, and a certain je ne sais what perfumes the air when she meets a peculiar fellow at the airport and encounters an even odder, ominous-looking stranger at the conference. During a lecture on storytelling, Alithea sits before huge images of modern gods like Batman and Superman, a display that gestures toward the continuity between new myths and those of the ancient world. And then she faints.

Certainly, Miller — whose fables include the Mad Max series — is keenly interested in the power of stories. But in “Years of Longing,” he has tethered himself to hopeless, uninvolving source material. That would be a self-reflexive, tediously long story by A.S. Byatt titled “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye,” which also centers on a single, middle-aged British academic who (eventually) travels to Turkey, meets a genie, is offered three wishes and experiences several life-altering changes. Filled with literary allusions and deep thoughts, it is serious stuff, no doubt, but it’s also about a white woman getting laid by an exotic Other.

Race doesn’t factor into the original story, or maybe it does; I was so bored I admittedly resorted to skimming chunks of it. Whatever the case, the casting in the movie adds complications because of the way that cinema concretizes ideas. Actors don’t only play parts; they give those ideas flesh, histories, social and cultural meanings. Djinn is a captive to whoever releases him from the bottle; he’s a fictional creation, and this is a fairy tale. Yet it’s also a story in which a sexualized Black man is, at least initially, held captive to the desires of a lonely white woman who wants what he’s got — provocative terrain the movie ignores.

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” — it was written by Miller and his daughter, Augusta Gore — has more life than the original story, but it still drags. After Alithea unbottles Djinn, the two face off in her hotel room, where after some awkwardness and silliness (enter a wee Albert Einstein), they settle into matching hotel bathrobes, and he recounts the stories that shaped his previous 3,000 years. As the movie’s title announces, these are suffused with longing. The first involves the Queen of Sheba (Aamito Lagum), another turns on an enslaved girl (Ece Yuksel) and yet another on an unhappy wife (Burcu Golgedar).

All the stories have their appeal, and Miller, working with a predictably stellar crew, seems to have an enjoyable time playing with his digital tool kit. Yet his exuberance and delight are most evident — and most infectious — at the granular level. Although several of the tales are heavily populated, teeming with intrigues and swarming with minions, the movie charms most successfully with the beauty and wit of its filigreed details: the gleam of its polished surfaces, the hues of its variegated palette and the inventiveness of its smaller delights, like the bewitching musical instrument that plays itself with its own nimble hands.

Despite these flashes of playfulness, the stories blur rather than build. They’re overlong, for one, and because Djinn often narrates their characters’ words, thoughts and deeds, they rarely come alive. Much like the figurines in old-fashioned automaton clocks, they enter at the appointed time, execute clever bits of business and exit, leaving no impression other than admiration for clockmaker’s skill. Worse, they take you away from Alithea and Djinn. And while the last half-hour is lovely — it’s here that you see the movie, and feel the tenderness, that Miller himself clearly yearns to convey — by then, alas, the clock has almost run out.