Saturday, July 28, 2007



It is the year 2054. Mega-corporation Avalon, whose primary products promise "youth and beauty", has permeated themselves into most aspects of modern life. When one of their star researchers, Ilona, is kidnapped, Karas is put on the case to find her. His rough and gruff means of data extraction and detective skills are both a contrast to the beauty that the city of Paris wants to show, and a mirror reflection the city's underbelly. As Karas interviews those that are associated with Ilona, and the hidden truths that her very worried older sister Bislane finally reveal to Karas, he comes to the suspicion that Avalon may in fact be behind Ilona's kidnapping, or even one of her closest friends. He also becomes acutely aware of just what Ilona was researching, and what it could mean for civilization's future.

From debut director Christian Volckman, who spent seven years bringing his creation to the screen using rotoscoping animation (the process in which live actors and actions is animated; think the recent A SCANNER DARKLY or A-Ha's classic "Take On Me" music video), comes this highly-stylized black and white sci-fi noir. Taking many of its visual cues and technology inspirations from the reigning champion of sci-fi nor, BLADE RUNNER, as well as inspiration from Frank Miller's high-contrast artwork in his Sin City graphic novels, Volckman has set out to create an animated feature film for adults with a love of near future envisioning and speculation.

Volckman and his animation designers have set out to imagine what will happen to the visual appearance of Paris over the next fifty years. The result is a lovingly rendered vision of a sleek, clean, and beautiful cityscape, with walkways and entire rooms made completely of glass, giving the city and open and welcoming atmosphere, while still retaining a sense of history, as the Eiffel Tower is still a center piece of the city . Technology gets a huge bump in this vision of the future as well, as computers, cars, police equipment, and medical instruments get a very realistic advancement from today. We can see the technology that they are using as a distant descendant of what is in use in our modern world. Surveillance and video recording also gets a massive future imagining here. Taking cues from the already Big Brother-esque camera installations all over many major around the world, in Volckman's future Paris, cameras and microphones are everywhere, with huge control rooms overseeing all of the information being taken in.

This is one of the truest examples of a "black and white" film, in that there is absolutely no grey scale in use to bring the vision of the future to life. White rain falls against a black sky, characters disappear within the inky abyss of shadows, pure white light cuts through otherwise pitch black dance clubs in throbbing blasts. Extraordinary attention is given to the human characters, and though the expressions were originally made by a real person, you forget on multiple occasions that you are watching an animated version of those emotions. The artistic talent that is backing up Volckman's world here is breathtaking, and at many times the movie almost does appear to still retain its live action origins. Backing up the visualization is an equally impressive audio accompaniment.

The soundtrack assists most of the scenes quite well, enhancing the mood and atmosphere. The blips of the technology, as well as the ambient background hum of the city, provide a layered dull hive buzzing of a very real and living city. Also along for the ride in the English language dub of the film are several prominent names. Daniel Craig provides the lead voice of Karas. Jonathan Pryce and Ian Holm are also on hand in smaller supporting roles. And unlike some celebrity-voiced films that have been seeping into the theatres recently, these actors take a cue from real voice actors, and create characters with their voices. Their names are there for a bit of publicity, but if you didn't know it was them, you wouldn't be able to guess who was speaking.

The story narrative itself takes a backseat to the visual flair rocketing across the screen, and at many times Karas' investigations seems to exist solely to bring the viewer into the multi-layered social spectrum of this future Paris. There has been a lot of time and effort put into creating a very realistic and operating city, and Volckman intends to show it off. His "camera" swoops and sways through the city as it follows Karas, pulling off otherwise impossible angles, zooms, and crane shots, and bleeding through solid objects in continuous motion. An exhilarating car chase, which zips through most of the city over the course of a few minutes, is a highlight of the movie. The story is nothing groundbreaking, with many aspects of the classic detective motif merely updated and adapted to reflect the future world, but it is at least engaging, and seems quite plausible given the future setting, and has just enough mystery and subtle clues that will have any armchair sleuth trying to keep up or figure out the riddle.

Once again, an animator has taken a bold step is bringing down the concrete wall that separates animation as a genre (read "kids entertainment") and as a medium to tell a story. And here it is used perfectly as a medium to tell the story and bring a future Paris to life. Japan has long known the full range and potential that animation holds as a medium to bring compelling and entertaining cinema to the screen. And with recent works such as RENNAISSANCE and the ever advancing CGI getting closer and closer to photo realistic rendering, that wall is slowly chipping away both here in America and Europe. There will be a day, sooner than later, where these films will be seen not in festivals, art houses, and home theatres but in a multiplex. And that will be a day worth going to the movies.


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