Thursday, 28 December 2006

Renaissance (2006)


It seems to me that there's something slightly desperate about a DVD release that has to put a big 'Featuring the voice of Daniel Craig' sticker on the front as its main selling point, presumably in an attempt to gain something from all the hype around the new James Bond movie.

Renaissance is a French film that's unfortunately had its original French soundtrack removed (Amazon France has an HD-DVD version of the film with its original language track for those that prefer things in a more 'pure' form - but it has no English subtitles option. Doh!). New vocals are supplied by such acting luminaries as the afore-mentioned Craig, Ian Holm and Jonathan Pryce: the picture may look low-budget (it isn't of course) but the English cast certainly aren't. However it seems a terrible waste of talent because the dialogue here is pure dumbed-down comic book speak of the worst possible kind.

The story is set in Paris in the year 2054 where things have gone very Orwellian. Everything is monitored and the city's largest company, Avalon, controls almost every aspect of life. Avalon market long life and beauty but one of their young researcher at the company has been violently kidnapped and her company's employers are not happy. They contact Bartholomew Karas (Craig), an unorthodox kidnap rescue specialist, to retrieve her. The plot, once you get past the basic set-up, is pure 'comic book by numbers' and, unfortunately, the visuals don't add anything - they just make things much harder to follow.

This is a black and white film - in every sense of the word. The 'arty concept' is that there are no greys, just black and white line drawings. The problem is that the makers don't stick to this rule, and use 3D-like grayscale animations for holograms etc so that the things that should be vague stand out as being more real, where the real world just looks like a bad Hanna-Barber cartoon for most of the time. Occasionally a scene breaks into a sort of 'live action Roto-scoped' depiction that's quite impressive, but for no apparent reason. The film-makers compound the difficulties of following such a 'black and white' world with the 'direction' by using endless gimmicks that just confuse, particularly with regard to use of mirrors and glass walkways that are completely invisible using the black-and-white technique. Too often you're distracted from what you should be looking at because it's not clear that you're looking at someone talking to a reflection not a person in front of them, or that people seemingly walking elevated in the air are meant to be on glass corridors that have no reflections.

There is a tendency for those who earn their living from comic books, or those that just feel guilty about reading them in later years, to dress them up as if they were some kind of high art form, or intellectual stimulus. You can no longer call something a 'comic book', you have to call it a 'graphic novel' (to which the only sensible retort is 'Pretentious? Moi?' or 'Have you ever actually READ a novel?!') and unfortunately there's a surfeit of that sort of pretension in this film. If one were to analyse the story, the dialogue or even the direction away from the gimmicky black and white techniques that are used, it wouldn't gain any credence at all - it's a clichéd, poorly written mess. Comic book fans and the makers appear desperate to draw parallels with Sin City when doing so is a huge insult to that infinitely superior movie. The film cost $18 million to make - a staggering sum given the poor visual cohesiveness and nasty cheap look most of the film has. One or two Rotoscoped scenes aside the graphics are flat and lifeless and frequently look unfinished. At the time of writing, the film's made back less than a third of that, which is, frankly, more than it deserves. Comic book obsessives might find it an interesting film to experience, but for the mainstream it's a plodding, confusing mess.

Renaissance screencap

The transfer is fine, but then we're talking black and white line drawings here so there's no reason why it shouldn't be. Sound is OK and the British actors do a good job with the weak dialogue they've been given. The 'Making of' documentary is full of enthusiastic fans talking up the movie and the techniques used, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the different techniques used don't gel or make for any kind of a cohesive viewing experience. The same annoying techniques that made the film a mess of styles are used throughout the 'Making of' so that some interviews are colour, most are black and white, and most keep morphing from greyscale to black and white line art talking heads for no apparent rhyme or reason. That being said, those interested in this visual experiment should find enough here to keep them entertained.

Even as a former comic-book reader myself I found this film turgid and hard work. Too often I just wanted to stop the player and do something more useful with my time. I stopped buying comic books just a couple of years ago when I realised that 10 minutes entertainment for the same price as a DVD, in a market that treats its customers with such contempt when it comes to finishing story arcs, maintaining any kind of character consistency or just basic quality control, wasn't a good use of my money. Those still parting with large amounts of cash for their weekly comic book fix may find this worth shelling out for, but for the rest of us it's very much a case of 'for hardcore comic book geeks only' - and even then only as a rental. Avoid!

Renaissance screencap

1 comment:

illustrationISM said...

Si, BUT have you read the Renaissance, Italian Graphic Novel AMBROGIO BECCARRIA?! it's quite enthralling!
Click here for a preview!

Thanx - 'a friend', of Jonathan M Prince
(the author & artist of 'Ambrogio Beccarria'),
at illustrationISM