Daniel Craig as Barthélémy Karas (voice)
Catherine McCormack as Bislane Tasuiev (voice)
Romola Garai as Ilona Tasuiev (voice)
Jonathan Pryce as Paul Dellenbach (voice)
Ian Holm as Jonas Muller (voice)
Rick Warden as Amiel (voice)
Kevork Malikyan as Nusrat Farfella (voice)
Directed by Christian Volckman
A gorgeous film and an impressive technical achievement, but the complex story lacks originality and the writing lacks the punch to really make it stand out.
In the Paris of 2054, police officer Barthélémy Karas (voiced by Daniel Craig) has been assigned to find Ilona (Romola Garai), a researcher at the city’s largest company Avalon, who has been mysteriously kidnapped, leading him to a complex web of intrigue and conspiracy.
Computer animation has run the gamut of genres and styles, but few people realize that one of the first fully computer animated feature films, made consecutively with Pixar’s “Toy Story,” was the French sci-fi movie “Kaena: The Prophecy.” It wasn’t very impressive, but three years after it finally saw the light of day, the second French computer animated production shows up on these shores with a premise that’s geared more towards older teens and adults.
The setting isn’t too far removed from most Japanese Anime films, being fifty years in the future, but in this case, it’s Paris, and things aren’t that different, except that the mega-corporation Avalon has billboards everywhere promising eternal life. When Ilona, a beautiful researcher at the company, mysteriously vanishes, a tough cop named Karas is called in to find her, but as he gets closer to truth, it’s obvious that neither Avalon, nor his superiors, want him to find out why Ilona disappeared, especially as the bodies begin to pile up.
The first thing immediately noticeable about “Renaissance” is it’s distinctive look, since almost the entire movie is in black and white. Being an animated movie, it takes a bit of time to adjust to this lack of color, because it makes the characters look flat and lifeless, but that gets less noticeable as the movie goes along. It’s hard to determine how they achieved this distinctive look, because it retains the depth and dimension of 3-D animation, but also has almost a hand-drawn or painted look similar to the rotoscope work “A Scanner Darkly.” It’s similar in a way to how modern Japanese animation has combined hand-drawn and computer-generated animation, and once you adjust, it’s as visually striking as the best black and white crime films.
Impressive animation aside, the story and characters really could have used some work. The complicated story isn’t very original, wearing its noir influences on its sleeve, as well as borrowing heavily from Japanese animation by trying to set the story in an ultra-hip futuristic setting, something that doesn’t work as well against the classic architecture of Paris. Essentially, the movie spends most of the time cutting between Karas’ search with scenes of the kidnapped researcher being restrained by an aged man-boy reject from “Akira.” (Even after seeing the movie twice, I couldn’t figure out why one of Avalon’s test subjects would have kidnapped a researcher, because this character never talks.)
The writing is pretty bland even by anime standards, and the dubbed voices consist of far too many exaggerated accents and performances to make any of the characters very effective, even with strong actors like Ian Holm and Jonathan Pryce. There are far too many instances where the character designs and voice just don’t mesh, with two exceptions. Daniel Craig does the best job using his voice to make Karas into a well-rounded character, though his back story just isn’t very interesting, but the best character of the movie, Farfella, Karas’ former childhood friend and now a Kingpin-like crime boss, is sorely underused, appearing only briefly.
In that sense, “Renaissance” has some of the same problems as “Kaena,” as both movies would have done better by embracing their French roots rather than trying to be something else. Since the animation was done in English, it’s doubtful that there will be a subtitled version of the movie on DVD, something that has often been a saving grace for weakly-dubbed anime films.
The Bottom Line:
“Renaissance” is an amazing achievement in animation, more likely to appeal to existing fans of Japanese sci-fi anime than to crime noir fans interested in seeing how it translates into animation. As great as the movie looks, most of its problems lie in its story and the writing, which just aren’t up to snuff with similar sci-fi or crime dramas. “Sin City” it’s not.