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The word renaissance conjures up many different scenes in my head. I think of an Italy full of the greatest artists, scholars, mathematicians and philosophers all working together to enrich society. Or on a smaller note you can imagine the great come backs of our time. Take That! Where did they disappear to only to return slightly crumpled but still as good? Now the word conjures up a new image, one of noir cartoons, hard science fiction and impenetrable plotlines.
Renaissance is a CGI cartoon with a few major differences from the usual fare. For one, its French. Also the fact that there are no talking animals on show, its all shot in a black and white comic book way, and that it deals with adult themes. This means that it is perhaps more comparable to Blade Runner than Shrek. If note the fact that it is essentially a hard science fiction film that just happens to be in a cartoon format, you may like it more than you would think.
50 years in the future the world has changed, but not as much as you may expect. People are still driven by the need to look young and beautiful. This world is a dangerous place and when a young but brilliant student is kidnapped, it is up to maverick cop Karas to uncover were she is. With the help of the students sister Bislane, Karas uncovers a world of danger were the highest powers will do anything to get their hands on a formula that will make people pretty for longer. Can Karas and Bislane survive long enough to unravel the mystery behind Iionas disappearance and if they succeed is it actually the best thing?
The most prominent aspect of this feature is the style that the producers have decided to take. It is a combination of film noir and the black and white carton strips that you get in France. This means that there is as much use of shadow as there is light. For me it is a stunning looking CGI film that does differentiate itself from anything else out there. The characters are motion captured so they move like us; the closet film I have seen to it would be A Scanner Darkly or even Sin City. The best parts are when the film makers revel in their effects and have someone talking to another person via a reflection or through glass. It does look great, but is it enough to carry a whole film?
The answer would have to be a certain no. For all the positive aspects that the look and feel give the film there are a few things that just let it down. Firstly, the voice acting is not the strongest. Although a French film, it is dubbed into English and the characters mouths do move correctly. It is the actors used that let the film down a little. The main culprit is Daniel Craig as Karas, thats right James Bond is not very good! Craig is a good actor but he comes across as very dark and determined. This comes across in his voice as sounding a bit bored and he does not give the character the urgency needed. The other actors used such as Catherine McCormack and Ian Holmes are also a bit bland, even if it does fit into the feel of a sterile world gone bad. Add to this Jonathan Price as Paul Dellenbach and you have an overly hammy actor in a pivotal role (I will never forgive him for his awful turn in The World is not Enough). Volckman should really have chosen stronger voice talents as it does detract from the film, giving it a blandness that it perhaps does not deserve.
A final point of conflict is the story itself. Depending on your own tastes the narrative could easily effect the enjoyment of the film. It is pretty slow and confusing in parts and brings out the noir and science fiction in the film. I was unable to follow what was happening in some sections of the film but this may have been done to add to the mysterious feel. My partner absolutely loved the fact that the film was ambiguous and felt that the film had a much more 1950s feel to it than many modern films. It is the story elements of the film that will determine a persons opinion on it. It has such a strong hold on the film that the effects and voice acting can not stand apart from the central thread.
So your enjoyment of this film depends not on your love of the actors involved or even the pioneering use of CGI. Instead it all depends on your taste in film. If you like obscure science fiction films such as Dark City and Cipher then this film is definitely worth watching as these are the nearest things to it. If you like to watch film noir, then this film may hold some interest. However, if you are more a fan of Over the Hedge or M111 you will probably find this film far too slow and confusing. I for one found it an interesting watch but not one of my favourite films of all time.
Renaissance is an animated film in the style of Sin City. it is all black and white, nourish and crime based. The difference being that where Sin City consisted of actors being put into a cartoon like world Renaissance takes it one step further by animating the moves of the actors. They film the scenes and then animate over the top of the actors to create a more realistic look to the animation, much akin to Richard Linklater's two movies 'Waking Life' and the recent 'A Scanner Darkly'. I'm not entirely sure that this worked as in my eyes a lot of the movements looked very odd, whether this is because it didn't come across as well as they hoped or because I'm not used to seeing this kind of animation I'm not sure.
The plot of the film is pure 30's film noire crime thriller but set in a futuristic France. The lone cop with numerous commendations to his name but known to be a bit of a loose cannon is called in by the head of a large corporation, Avalon that is synonymous with the futuristic Paris. One of their top researchers has been kidnapped and they want her back. Barthelemy Karas (voiced by Daniel Craig in the English version) is the top cop in the city and they want him to investigate and find her.
When Karas begins to unravel the threads surrounding Ilona's disappearance he begins to realise that not everything he has been told is what it appears to be and there are layers under layers, just like peeling an onion reveals another layer underneath Karas discovers that everything he uncovers just reveals another secret.
The truth is hidden away waiting for Karas to find, but what will his reaction be when he does finally find out why Avalon want her back and what her scientific abilities were researching?
Due to the nature of the film it is very difficult to say anything, revealing any of the layers could just ruin some of the enjoyment a viewer would get from the best part of the film, the complex crime story.
Renaissance is very reminiscent of Bladerunner in many ways, the look of the futuristic Paris is very similar and the basic plot about clones and an over powerful business corporation is along the same lines, sadly though it doesn't compare in the slightest, though it is very difficult for any film to live up to the magnificence that is Bladrunner! Maybe it is because of the animated look as I did think the story was great, a great blend of 30's/40's film noir and science fiction, but everything else in it didn't quite click with me. The film was enjoyable but only in a surface, while watching it way, most of it didn't just click with me properly at all.
Maybe it is the actual look of the film that causes this, distracting you from the story as you look at the shadows and light beautifully draw into the black and white animation, admiring the clever use of darkness to add to the scene. The animation is superb but strange in the same way. The realism of it just doesn't look like animation, maybe it is too realistic and makes it hard for the head to associate it with what I am used to seeing animation look like.
I'm not really sure why I didn't like this as much as I expected, or even as much as I would think I would know having looked at clips again to remind myself about it. I think that while the animation is very stylish and the story is superb the two don't really mix together, they don't gel as a whole. The story is too complex and by concentrating on that you miss the quality of the animated backgrounds, but if you revel in the excellence of the animation you cant concentrate on the story enough!
Renaissance is a valiant effort that just falls short of being recommended viewing, though it could be said that seeing this on DVD might make this much more watchable, at least then you have the time to watch both the animation and the story, unlike watching it in the cinema like I did.
Info bits: Renaissance is a French film and was first released with French actors doing the voices in France (obviously!). The English language version has the aforementioned Daniel Craig, Catherine McCormack (Spy Game), Romola Garai (I Capture The Castle), Ian Holm and Jonathan Pryce in the voice cast.
Style trumps substance in Renaissance, a 2006 French film whose breathtaking visuals largely overcome its shortcomings in the areas of story and character development. Detailed in a lengthy and absorbing "making of" featurette, the film's look is a combination of CG animation, motion capture, and a palette consisting solely of black & white (there are a few splashes of color late in the proceedings, but no gray whatsoever). And while it has a few obvious antecedents (the filmmakers readily acknowledge the influence of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, not to mention the much earlier, Expressionist work of Fritz Lang and Orson Welles), Renaissance, with its commingling of heavily processed live action and graphic novel sensibilities, looks very little like anything you've ever seen before. The setting is Paris in the year 2054, and it is here that director Christian Volckman and his crew do their best work. The French capital is certainly recognisable (the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre's Sacre Coeur are two familiar landmarks), but its classic architecture is glazed with all manner of futuristic touches, from vast glass penthouses to layers of transparent walkways outside Notre Dame Cathedral; and with the preponderance of the action taking place at night, frequently in the rain, the City of Light more often suggests a very literal representation of film noir. As for the story, it's nothing special. Hard-nosed police Captain Barthélémy Karas (voiced in this English version by Daniel Craig) is searching for a female scientist who works for Avalon, one of those sinister mega-corporations that seem to run everything in movies like this; seems the woman, who has been kidnapped, possesses what's referred to as "the protocol for immortality," and Avalon, which promises good health, beauty, and long life for all, desperately wants her back. The characters are a bit stiff (physically and otherwise), the dialogue is occasionally stilted, and the film is sometimes so dark that it's hard to tell what's going on. But most of Renaissance looks so amazing that such deficiencies can easily be ignored, at least the first time through. --Sam Graham