In Paris in 2054, a cop named Karas (voiced by Daniel Craig) is investigating the disappearance of a woman named Ilona (Romola Garai), a scientist involved in genetic research at a pharmaceutical company called Avalon, run by the cacklingly sinister Dellenbach (Jonathan Pryce). Seems Ilona was working on a formula to cure the premature-aging disorder known as progeria, and her sister, Bislane (Catherine McCormack), may likewise be involved. But of course, there’s more to the story—something having to do with immortality, which comes in handy when you’re watching a movie that seems to go on forever.
You have never seen anything like Christian Volckman’s film, which spent some six years cooking in the lab before being unleashed on European audiences earlier this year. Volckman, in his attempts to make a big-screen comic book sans recognizable faces, has stripped down and amped up the procedure: His set-in-the-future sci-fi police procedural is entirely monochromatic, save for a brief burst of color that comes on like a Technicolor hurricane just when you need some relief from the bland pizzazz. It’s film noir, with too much noir for its own good.
The story, a mash-up of elements lifted from Blade Runner and Minority Report and other sci-fi actioners dealing with genetic engineering, was kept threadbare in order to keep the audience engaged in a film that is demanding enough on the eyeballs. But one can’t knock the look; the design of 2054 Paris is easily the most compelling thing about the film. This future city looks much the same as it does today, but the visual- effects crew has added some nifty and realistic touches; the metro, for instance, has a bulletproof glass ceiling. It comes in handy during chase scenes; imagine being able to track your prey without being able to stop him, which is a most frustrating proposition for cops in this movie.
For a little while, the film is dazzling.
Then it’s dizzying. Then it’s just kind of . . . wearying. That’s not because it’s in black-and-white; so was Sin City. There’s just something terribly, tragically dull about Renaissance, which is less a plotted movie than a meticulously made demo reel for “motion capture,” a method of animation (used on The Polar Express and Monster House) that’s been reinvented for this impressive and wholly stultifying endeavor. Basically a filmmaker directs actual people, whose images are then shipped to a computer, where a team of animators spends years transforming humans into cartoon characters. Here, Volckman turns people into ink blotters, more or less; you don’t watch these characters as much as you interpret them, which is about as exciting as the thing gets.