Combining the look and feel of movies like Sin City and Blade Runner, first time director Christian Volckman delivers a movie that is ultra-stylish, although the story itself does not feel all that special. Despite the familiar feeling, the film brings a bold, fresh look to the animated film genre. It is a science fiction tale of cops and criminals, kidnappers, and the misuse of science for personal gain. More than anything, the film is breathtaking for its use of motion capture and rotoscoping, utilizing the concept of adapting a graphic novel to the big screen, sans graphic novel.
The year is 2054, the place is Paris. This not terribly distant future finds most of the citizens employed by a cosmetics company called Avalon. This company seems to have their hands in all sorts of things, and they are massive. Avalon sort of reminds me of Resident Evil's Umbrella Corporation, or in the real world, Microsoft or Apple (which is funny considering IBM has credit for their technical support of the film). A young woman named Ilona (voiced by Romola Garai) is one of their most promising young scientists, that is until she is mysteriously kidnapped. The police detective assigned to the case, Karas (voiced by James Bond himself, Daniel Craig), sets out to find her. Along the way he meets her boss, Jonas Muller (Ian Holm), a gangster named Farfella (Kevork Mialikyan) who has a past with our hero, and his love interest Bislane (Catherine McCormack), who is also Ilona's older sister.
The story moves along in a straightforward manner; nothing is terribly deep, but Renaissance is nonetheless captivating. In some films, the lack of a deep story ultimately brings the film down a few notches, despite whatever else it may offer in interesting setting or style (see Perfect Creature). Renaissance does not have any big twists or turns; it is refreshingly straightforward as Karas moves forward in his investigation, as Bislane does some searching of her own, both intent on reaching the end and finding Ilona.
Karas is interesting even if he is cut from the same cloth as most other brooding heroes. There is something about him that hints of a tragic past, and ties him to Farfella. Actually, the character is not unlike Daniel Craig's other character, James Bond, a man of few words, a man of action, and a man willing to bed women while in the pursuit of his objective. There is even a scene early on where he gets the assignment which plays out like a meeting between Bond and M.
In the end, Renaissance seems less concerned with the story (although it is good), and more concerned with the style, the look, the environment, and the details. Yes, the world of 2054 Paris is completely immersive. The detail is spectacular, a science fiction noir with carefully thought out camera placements, interesting use of light and shadow, and it feels very real, like you could reach out and touch it. It is much like the way Sin City and 300 were shot, but taken a step further. Instead of just shooting the actors in front of a green screen and adding in backgrounds, the actors' movements were motion captured, manipulated in the computer, and placed within the CG-constructed Paris. It is a striking look, and the decision to use purely black and white is one that pays off in spades. The details just jump out, and the facial expressions and movements look very natural.
Audio/Video. Both English and French language tracks are included; the film is from France and was only dubbed for the US and other non-French markets (obviously), but they did a good job of bringing in very good voice talent that fit the nature of the characters here. I listened to the English track, a Dolby 5.1 track that sounds quite good, well representing the dialogue and score. Video is a gorgeous 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. It just looks fantastic, no complaints from this viewer.
Extras. A single extra is included, but it is a good one. It is a half hour 'making of' featurette that looks into the origins of the story, and how the concept centered on the idea of a motion captured black and white animated film, with the story coming later. It follows through the design, shooting, and post production phases. It is much better than a fluff piece, I only wish we had more.
Bottom line. I really liked this movie. I wasn't sure at first as it did open a little on the slow side. Still, the characters were interesting, and I just wanted more of this black and white world filled with people who live in the grey area in between.