Voice Talents: Daniel Craig, Jonathan Pryce, Ian Holm
Studio: Miramax 53452
Video: 2.35:1, enhanced for 16:9, B&W
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 – English or French
Subtitles: Spanish, French
Extras: Featurette: “The Making of Renaissance” (color)
Length 105 minutes
I wondered why this animated feature with top voice talents was already coming to DVD after just a few showings at film festivals last year. It did play in theaters in Europe. Perhaps the makers thought it difficult to promote a theatrical showing of a black & white animated feature. And it is aggressively black & white – no grays in between – something in the style of the recent Sin City. Again, the trick is used of only having one thing in the entire film appear in color (this time though, it’s not blood).
Clearly, visual style and presentation is the main calling card for this sci-fi crime thriller. Where it differs from Sin City is that rather than being inspired by a graphic novel, its inspiration was sci-fi classics such as Blade Runner and the distinctive camerawork of innovators such as Orson Welles’ cinematographer. There is also a similarity to Richard Linklatter’s films such as Waking Life in there being a very close connection between the final animation and original cinematography of the actors. Finally, there is the breakthru feature Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow – the first in which the actors performed the entire film without sets, against a blue screen, and everything else was CGI-created later. The unique approach in Renaissance was that all the actors wore skintight black knit outfits with white balls attached to strategic points on their body, which were then filmed by multiple cameras. Using this motion capture process (previously used for special effect scenes in some films), the animators could move the characters exactly as the actors had in real life – imparting a creepy sort of realism to the highly-stylized high contrast animation.
The filmmakers are based in Paris and wanted to have that city be the setting for their sci-fi tale of the not too distant future rather than New York or LA, which often have been used in the past. They created a sort of fantasy Paris, with some of the identifiable attractions such as The Eiffel Tower and the church of Montmarte visible amidst multiple levels of streets, walkways and waterways. Citroen helped design a futuristic car for the lead character, a cop named Karas, played by Daniel Craig. By the way, the animation studio also creates computer games, and their work looks like it, but more sophisticated. It’s not clear whether Daniel Craig, for example, actually wore a motion capture suit and physically played his character – it appears not.
Avalon is a huge corporation making products to keep people youthful, and seems to have some serious secrets in the area of genetic research. Everyone’s life is monitored and regulated by the police for which Karas works. He has been assigned to track down a girl who worked for an enigmatic surgeon and who disappeared suddenly. In the process he has a relationship with her older sister. The story has most of the genre’s clichés: the tough, loner detective who struggles against all odds, getting horribly beaten up along the way. Also getting fired from his position because he overstepped the authorities; but he continues single-mindedly on his own. The suspicious head of the corporation. The attractive woman who may be a femme fatale. The Godfather-sort of crime lord who is a friend of Karas and aids him in his pursuit. And semi-invisible henchmen who bedevil the hero at every turn.
Still, the visual/aural spectacle is so involving and original that the whole thing seems to work. The starkness of the storyline is effectively underlined by the stark b&w designs, which are beautifully rendered. The surrounds are put to clever use for scenes in the police headquarters where characters are being monitored. One then hears the voices and sounds filtered and via the surround speakers, whereas when it cuts to the actual scene being monitored the sound switches to the frontal speakers and full range. The symphonic score, recorded by a nearly full orchestra, adds to the threatening futuristic vision. I see there is a HD DVD version available, but considering the nature of the images I can’t imagine it contributes much – just as the Blu-ray version of Sky Captain also didn’t.