Sunday, August 20, 2006


Last night I spent about an hour typing up my thoughts on the film Renaissance as part of a big post about the animated films I've seen recently. I was very pleased with it, it had big words and everything, but when I decided to upload an image of the film at the end it crashed my browser and all was lost. So I went to bed.
Trying again today, attempting to upload pics still crashes the browser, so I give up. I am disheartened. Shall I bother to try and remember what I wrote, start afresh or just do something completely different? Technology can be so disheartening sometimes.

I went to see some films in the last few days. All of these films were animated rather than live action. I saw Renaissance on Thursday. It's a joint UK/France/Luxembourg co-production, and I think there's a French dub as well as the English one that's been released in Blighty.
Renaissance is a dystopian sci-fi police thriller. There have been many similarly themed films, and this is not one of the better ones. The futuristic touches of the evil corporation, the advanced technology and the look of 2054 Paris seem like disjointed impact moments, they shout "look at this!" rather than forming a logical and cohesive future world. And much of the spectacle on offer comes from ideas recycled from many of the other films in this genre anyway, so it all seems a bit ho-hum. The plot only takes a slight departure from the norm, involving a bit of immortality intrigue with it's progeria research conspiracies, but the telling is all so very predictable and there is little here to distinguish it from a bazillion other dystopia flicks.
The main selling point is the visual style, as not only is it fully CGI it also uses a different style, going for a blocky monochrome rather than the usual attempts at photo-realism in a way which no doubt sounded like a perfect fit for the hard-boiled noir element of the film. It's a shame, then, that these visuals don't really elevate the film.
I'm sure a number of viewers haven't before seen particular video game cut scenes that have used this style for years, and indeed the sales for Capcom's Killer 7 in this country (which uses the same visual technique throughout) can't have been very high, but even without the benefit of having seen these already I found I was never fully immersed into the story as the harsh blocks of black and white allow for no grey and throughout the film it feels unfinished, as if there is depth and texture waiting to be added. Shadow no longer becomes a mask of fear, threatening possible menace, but instead offers up a pitch black void in which nothing seems to exist.

In any case, even if the visuals worked the story itself is a little too ho-hum to rise above average. This is not a bad film, don't get me wrong, it doesn't plumb the depths of Casshern's style-over-substance roadkill with a nice coat, but it just isn't anything special, and in the dystopian science fiction genre there is so much competition that it's not good enough to offer little more than a nice smile.
On reflection I think it suffers from similar problems as Final Fantasy:Spirits Within and Sky Blue - trying so hard to produce something with state-of-the-art visuals but not paying as much attention to ther story, Renaissance will be found lacking as the visual bar is raised.

I'd like to put in a picture here, but instead I'll just have to link you to some on the official site. Updated link to trailer: 04.09.13

On Friday I saw A Scanner Darkly. I've been a fan of Philip K Dick's writing for a few years now, so I'd already read the book it's based on, Scanner being the latest in a long line of adaptations including Bladerunner, Screamers, Total Recall, Minority Report, Impostor and Paycheck.
As adaptations go this is very faithful, and does a great job of presenting the world of the druggy, a mixture of bullshitting fun and paranoia. Keanu Reeves is Bob Arctor, an undercover agent trying to infiltrate the drug underworld and find the source of a potent and highly addictive substance named 'D'. The film follows him as he deals with his dual identities, his addict housemates and the distance of his sort-of girlfriend and dealer, Donna.
Dick is a master of the whole dystopia theme, and does Paranoia like no-one. With a fully-formed story, it's left to the actors and director Richard Linklater to bring the film to cinematic life, so happily they've all done a great job.
Keanu's spaced-out and distant delivery perfectly fits a character who is confused about his own identity and increasingly about the world in general thanks to his D habit, woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr. and Rory Cochrane are all note-perfect as Arctor's friends, having substance addled conversations and getting The Fear, particularly Cochrane as the twitchy Freck and Downey's Barris is excellent as the deluded yet self-styled expert on many subjects.
Linklater brings the animation to the table, using the Rotoscoping technique that he first utilised to create Waking Life, covering the live action shots in a layer of paint and allowing for the animation to be simultaneously life-like and yet seamlessly introduce the more bizarre elements such as the D hallucinations or the sci-fi elements such as the scramble-suit. The scramble suit is a device that agents wear so that they cannot be identified by anyone when reporting in to the Sheriff's department, as a method of limiting damage from the endemic corruption within the police force. It works by projecting the images of millions of people of multiple ages, races and sexes and altering the voice, and it is this scramble suit that first presents problems for Arctor as he is assigned, as Agent 'Fred', to investigate Arctor, worsening his identity crisis.

As well as the spot-on acting, interesting story and the inevitable conspiracy that is unfolding underneath, the Rotoscoped visuals produce beautiful shots throughout the film.
Where A Scanner Darkly differs from Renaissance can be seen in how the visual style completely fits the story and feel of the film, and the futuristic elements of surveillance tech and the scramble suits and such are totally integrated into the world, they are part of it and not just special effects to marvel at.
A Scanner Darkly is an accomplished film and a faithful adaptation, something worth seeking out.

Then Friday night I went over to the NFT to see a couple of short films as part of their mini-anime season.
First up was Yonna in the Solitary Fortress, a 34 minute 3D CGI effort created by Kengo Takeuchi.
Yonna and her brother Stan both have special powers or something, which has made them outcasts. Stan has moved them to a remote castle to keep to themselves. The Imperial government want to make use of Yonna's powers and so send a young agent to retrieve her, but Stan isn't happy at the intrusion and another devious Imperial agent, Piggott, is already on the scene.
Kengo Takeuchi used to be an animator for the Square Enix Final Fantasy games and it shows. The visual style looks just like a Final Fantasy cut-scene, the plot is weak and the character designs are uninspired. While it is an impressive acheivement for one person to produce, it doesn't stop Yonna being plain boring.

Luckily for the audience then that Negadon : the Monster form Mars was up next. Also a 3D CGI short (of 25 minutes) that took the creator Jun Awazu over two years to make, it is an affectionate homage to the Japanese monster movies of the 60s and 70s.
After making a mess of the Earth, mankind sets about terraforming Mars. A cocoon-like structure is found and brought back, but the ship crash lands and the cocoon hatches, unleashing the levitating crustacean-ish monster Negadon, who sets about on a rampage in Tokyo.
Luckily for Earth the scientist Ryuichi Narasaki began a robot programme years previously. He stopped work a decade ago when his daughter was killed in a robot-related accident, but with the threat of Negadon Ryuichi decides it is finally time to take his giant robot creation for a walk.

Negadon is fantastic, at once knowingly cheesy when aping the style of the old monster movies, it also has a great deal of respect for them and this shines through in the painstakingly detailed look of the film. The future as seen from the 50s is faithfully represented in everything from spaceships to computers, and the CGI work is so good that Negadon looks just like a model from a 70s Godzilla flick. In one scene we see a frog which is so realistic that it's breathtaking, only for the colours to bleed out and take on a sepia tone as the legend "ten years ago" informs us of a flashback.
The film was apparently worked on ten hours a day for two years by Awazu using off-the-shelf computer programmes, and it is an astounding achievement, managing to be funny without descending into parody and providing a neat little self-contained story that completely fits with the old-school sci-fi feel.
I'm not sure if Negadon has been picked up for distribution here but it is currently available on DVD in the US and includes Awazu's two previous student short films.
You can see the trailer on this site.

And that was my weekend of animated tomfoolery.

Update! (04.09.13) That trailer link no longer works but you can go and watch Negadon on Youtube here. (Part one of three)

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