It seems like 2004 will be known as ‘The Year of the Virtual Movie Set.’ “Immortel” is one of four films that are garnering notice this year for being almost entirely filmed on blue/green screen with the majority of the on-screen visuals added digitally in post production (the other three films being “Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow,” “Casshern” and the upcoming “Sin City”). While “Sky Captain” gained the most US media buzz, “Immortel” was, in fact, the first green-screen film to be released this year, followed by “Casshern” and then “Sky Captain” (“Sin City” is slated for a 2005 release).
Based on several graphic novels and directed by French comic book artist Enki Bilal, “Immortel” is a strange mix of eclectic and disparate influences and cultural references. I’m personally not familiar with any of Bilal’s work, but from what I can tell from this film, he’s certainly got a vivid imagination. The look of the film is decidedly post-”Blade Runner” chic, with its soaring cityscapes and flying cars lording over a burned out and dilapidated core, while the story picks and chooses its themes, from vampirism to ancient Egyptian mythology to “Logan’s Run.”
The movie starts out interestingly enough as we meet Jill (Linda Hardy), a woman with bone white skin, blue tears and a wild, blue egg shell hair-do. The world in which Jill finds herself in is some sort of Medical Dictatorship, where the all-powerful Eugenics Corp. seems to be using 2095 New York City as some sort of large medical experiment involving everything from artificial organs to mutations and much worse. These experiments have given rise to several sub-classes of humans segregated by being forced to live on certain ‘Levels’ of the city. The Eugenics Corp. seems to wield unlimited power in the city, carrying out raids of the lower Levels to collect ‘volunteers’ for their experiments while maintaining a stranglehold on the local politics.
Into this dystopia arrives a giant floating pyramid housing the Egyptian Gods Horus, Annubis and Bastet. Apparently the Gods have a limit on their immortality and Horus’ is about to run out in seven days. Thus Horus sets out on a mission to find a way around this fate in the time he has left. This leads us to Nikopol, a political prisoner kept in cryogenic stasis in a large floating prison. After being rescued from death by Horus, Nikopol agrees to be Horus’ vessel in his search for a cure. All the while, we keep seeing holographic signs denouncing the evil Eugenics Corp., all of them signed, ‘Spirit of Nikopol.’
So, what’s going on here? Who is Nikopol? Who, or what, is Jill? Who is Jill’s mysterious friend/drug dealer whose face we never see? What is Nikopol’s connection to the current Mayor of NYC and Eugenics Corp.? And how are all these characters connected to the Egyptian Gods and hot, divine sex?
All good questions. Unfortunately, most of it goes unanswered. There’s simply too much plot here for the movie to sort through. It’s made all the worse by the fact that the central question of Jill’s origins is answered in a totally unsatisfactory fashion. By the time we see the solution to Horus’ little problem with death (a rather conventional solution at that), we’ve kind of lost interest in the whole affair. The stilted dialog by the supporting characters doesn’t help matters any.
With all this talk of plot, story consistency and character motivation, I’m ignoring the major question about the film: How do the CG visuals look? Well, it’s a decidedly mixed bag. I’m not sure if it was due to budgetary limitations or if it was the ‘look’ the director was going for, but the CG elements of “Immortel” look decidedly CG. Very well done CG, but CG nonetheless. (Think “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”). Except for the three main actors, everyone else are CG sprites, as are all the sets, props and background visuals.
The integration between the CG and the real actors is mixed as well. Some scenes look seamless while others are fairly obvious where real ends and CGI begins. It’s not all bad, though. The visualization of a flooded out and vertically rebuilt NYC is pretty well realized and there are some clever character concepts on display (including Jill’s blue hair and body metamorphosis, as well as some particularly nasty looking hammerhead shark beasts with metal teeth) in addition to a surprising amount of CGI gore. However, these bright spots aren’t enough to elevate the rest of the film.
Overall, “Immortel” is a notable effort that ultimately falls short in too many areas. The plot is overstuffed, the characters aren’t particularly compelling, there isn’t enough action and the film is just ‘too CG’ to be taken seriously. In fact, it probably would have been better if the film was entirely CG (ala “Final Fantasy”), as the current uneasy juxtaposition of real actors and CGI serves as a distraction.
Enki Bilal (director)
CAST: Linda Hardy …. Jill Bioskop
Thomas Kretschmann …. Nikopol
Charlotte Rampling …. Elma Turner
Fr’d’ric Pierrot …. John
Thomas M. Pollard …. Horus
Yann Collette …. Froebe
Derrick Brenner …. Jonas