Renaissance: Paris 2054 is a striking film. The stark black and white animation, devoid of color (for the most part) or even shades of gray is visually arresting and packs quite an action punch. It unabashedly wears its influences on its sleeve, everything from Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell to the crime fiction of James Ellroy. It's too bad the movie doesn't live up to those influences, or even the earnest pretention of its title.
Daniel Craig voices Police Inspector Barthelemy Karas, a world-weary, tough- as-nails cop who regularly gets thrown off of cases for leaving a trail of destruction in his wake while pursuing bad guys. Before long, he's investigating the abduction of Ilona Tasuiev (Romola Garai), a brilliant, beautiful researcher working for Avalon, an enormously powerful corporation that uses advanced genetic research to develop high-end beauty and longevity treatments. Along the way, Karas clashes with, and then beds, Ilona's equally-gorgeous sister Brislane (Catherine McCormack) as more and more of Paris' shady power brokers join the hunt for the missing scientist.
For all of the film's futuristic ambition and visualization of a post-cyberpunk Paris, the plot will feel familiar to anyone even passingly familiar with noir. The stakes are never so personal as they are in Blade Runner, nor are they as dazzlingly futuristic as in Ghost in the Shell. The macguffin's big reveal is satisfying, with a logical backstory, but the intangible nature of Ilona's knowledge leaves the movie in an awkward place. The climax feels small and insular, rather than having vast, world-shaking implications as the filmmakers obviously intended. Karas' ultimate resolution of his no-win scenario is appropriately bitter, and the somber tone it sets is a far more honest ending than anything more upbeat could deliver.
The script, written by Mathieu Delaporte and Jean-Bernard Pouy, takes the viewer on a sweeping tour of future Paris that may well exist just a few miles down the road from Fritz Lang's Metropolis. For all their enthusiasm at setting the film in a place that is neither New York or Tokyo, the city itself impacts the script very little beyond serving as an eye-candy backdrop. Relocating the events to the afore-mentioned New York or Tokyo wouldn't affect the story one iota. And, as with many films of this type, the sequential logic gets somewhat muddled in the third act as events begin rushing pell-mell toward the big finale. That said, the storytelling in Renaissance is far more logical and linear than in the vast majority of action-oriented anime, the genre this work will be more compared to.
The animation itself is an interesting experiment. As Robert Zemeckis did with Polar Express, Renaissance was perfomed by actors wearing motion capture suits, with computers taking those movements and applying layers of character and texture detail. Instead of attempting the pseudo-3D realism of Polar Express, however, the visual appeal of Renaissance is a hyper-stylized one much closer to traditional 2D animation. At its best, the result is a fluid, natural feel to the characters with a rich, almost tangible interaction. At its worst, however, the film exhibits a clunky, rigidty evocative of computer animation of a decade ago. There's not a whole lot of the latter, fortunately, but the stiff movements crop up enough to be a distraction.
If it weren't for a surprisingly well-done "The Making of Renaissance" feature on the disc, the special features would consist solely of multiple language tracks and trailers for other movies. Commentary tracks, even subtitled French translations, would be welcome with such a complex production. Alas, that was not to be. The movie cost upwards of $18 million to produce, and its worldwide take was barely $2 million, with the lion's share of hat coming from France. In the U.S., it ran for only a few weeks in a handful of theatres with little marketing support from Miramax, so viewers should be grateful the DVD isn't more bare-bones than it is. Thanks to the making-of feature, we do get to see what a labor of love the film was, with director Christian Volckman barely containing his enthusiasm about the project. The tricks and approaches used to get the most out of the performances are fascinating, and there's even a segment examining the thought and effort behind the film's score.
The only real misstep in the documentary is the ubiquitous "This really isn't science fiction" disclaimer, but otherwise the product is so well-done that they can be given a pass just this once.
Renaissance: Paris 2054 isn't a film that revolutionizes animation, nor does it push any boundaries much farther than they already were. It is a quality piece of filmmaking, however, an adult piece of animation that is distinctive in its own right and can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with pretty much anything coming from Japan or the U.S. At the end of the day, that's not too shabby of an accomplishment.
The Movie Itself: 7 out of 10
The DVD Features: 5 out of 10