French animation project 'Renaissance' took seven years to make on a shoestring budget and tonight I finally got to see it at a private screening for the International Film Festival in Stockholm. My spontaneous reaction is awe; my further reflection is 'huh, neat' and closer analysis regrettably gets a resounding 'meh'. It is a gorgeous science fiction triumph on the surface, but scratch it or even poke it a little and its unnecessarily complex plot becomes glaringly apparent, as do the flat characters.
Nevertheless it is clear that the people at Onyx films have done something spectacular with the aforementioned surface. The visuals are staggering. They have used live action motion capture fitted into key-frame animation, with stark jet black and bright white contrasts and a heavily shadowed rotoscoped background. For those of you who are not down with the 'technical lingo', the film looks like a fully-animated Sin City. Its fluid, transparent, dark and stylized template is complemented by great lurid lightning. It's a vision. Yet much credit is also due to the crisp sound effects that take the form of humming futuristic weapons, suspenseful music, heavy raindrops and glass shards breaking. It's every tech-nerd's wet dream...
The film zooms in on an eerily-lit, bleak, futurescape Paris in which a major corporation called 'Avalon' has begun to interweave in the lives of the citizens with surveillance (think the fluid transparent screens from Minority Report) and genetic engineering. The latter leads to a mysterious kidnapping of young researcher Ilona (voiced by the lovely Romola Garai). Cut to our hard-boiled cop-on-suspension and protagonist Karas (Daniel Craig) a man who takes the law into his own hands who is assigned the case of finding and retrieving Ilona. During this case, he is being aided by Illona's sister with whom he also begins a love affair. A very half-assed love affair, if I may say so.
The world of Renaissance is remarkable. Director Christian Volckman takes a fair jab at melting the noir themes and the result is an urban jungle filled with cads, rats, femme fatales and lonely detectives that hide in the shadows of the seedy slum. The problem is that the creators undoubtedly felt the need to have extremely clear and spelled-out archetypes in the story, or the film would have been "too surreal" for mainstream audiences, owing to its lurid animation format. It follows then that we have a multitude of clichéd characters such as evil-laughing villains, sleazy crime bosses and butch tough-chicks who blow smoke every chance they get. It shoves noir in our faces, and it isn't necessary.
What is worse is that the dialogue is a little contrived. It seems as though every line exists for the sole reason of propelling the plot. This is nothing fatal because the plot is so complex once it gets going that it needs some clear direction. Daniel Craig helps here too by bringing a no-nonsense attitude to his hard-edged cop character. At one point in Renaissance, he is seen in a vivid car-chase that surely is one of the most adrenaline-pumping and top notch sequences of the film. Unfortunately, the novelty of the sci-fi visuals have worn off post this car chase and 'Renassaince' could benefit from being slightly shorter. In summary, a very interesting but flawed futuristic comic book experience.
7 out of 10