Directed by Christian Volckman and featuring the vocal talents of Daniel Craig (Tomb Raider, Casino Royale), Ian Holm (Lord of the Rings), Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest), Romola Garai (Scoop) and Catherine McCormack this experimental piece of animation with its film noir imagery and futuristic plot is so intrinsically European that it’s only getting a limited release in the US.
The setting is Paris in 2054 and beautiful researcher Ilona (Garai) has been kidnapped. The case is assigned to world-weary and rule breaking cop Karas (Craig) who quickly teams up with the victim’s sister Bislaine (McCormack) to unravel the mystery. Everything points towards Ilona’s research for the Avalon organisation with her boss Dellenbach (Pryce) and mentor with a secret Muller (Holm). It doesn’t take long to become evident that her research related to the secret of immortality. The lines between good and evil begin to blur and is Ilona really the innocent victim, or has she been abducted to save humanity?
The visuals themselves are stunning. The entire film is entirely in high-contrast black and white imagery albeit of the very heavily shadowed variety which works perfectly for the sorrowful tone of the storyline. The futuristic setting provides ample opportunity for all sorts of innovations, elevating buildings, holographic adverts and artwork, glass floored pedestrian areas, invisibility suits etc etc. The characters themselves are based on motion capture footage rather than straight forward animation adding an extra layer of realism to their movement and interaction with the surroundings.
Unfortunately there are a few problems caused by the overall style of the production. Due to the complete elimination of any shades of grey the faces, despite the effort made with the mouths and eyes, come across as impassive masks. The voices try to provide the moodiness and emotion but this creates a snowball effect with the problem. The dialogue is deep and reflective, often verging on the philosophical, meaning you find it hard to find any real personality within the characters. People base their assessments as much on a person’s facial expression as they do on their dialogue. You remove one source and you’re in danger of ending up with a character that the audience cannot connect with.
This is exactly what happens. In the early stages it can be difficult to work out which of the characters is which simply because of the shadowing, and there are too many minor ones that should have been dispensed with. By the time you reach the over-long dnouement and the inevitable twist, which you saw coming anyway, you really don’t care enough about the characters to be interested in whether Ilona is saint or sinner or even if she survives, never mind whether Karas and Bislaine make amends and fall into each others arms. You’re also left with the distinct impression that, with all the unfinished business, there’s probably a sequel in the offing
The graphics and design are this film’s saving grace and many people will consider it well worth seeing for these alone, although anyone expecting a Japanese style manga offering is in for a shock. Even so, given the advances in CGI technology, you can’t help but wonder whether this would have worked better as an actual film. The Fifth Element pulled the futuristic city look off perfectly, and that was 1997. It’s such a shame, you’ll really want to like this film, but the chances are that you won’t.