Kaena: The Prophecy (France 2003)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 9/13/04
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Richard Harris, Angelica Huston, Keith David

Hundreds of years ago, a spaceship crashed and from the wreckage grew the giant tree world of Axis. But now, Axis is dying - its sap is drying up, its fruits are harder to find, and the fearsome Selenites who lurk in the depths are becoming more hostile. The elders call for faith, but a young girl named Kaena (Kirsten Dunst) decides to discover the truth for herself. Is she the key to saving Axis, or utterly destroying it?

From the first five minutes you can tell this is a European film. As such, it has a certain look and feel, and the dialog and pacing are challenging. The world of Axis is beautifully designed, modeled, lit, and rendered, but it's surprisingly dull and lifeless. The character modeling is curiously inconsistent, with some characters looking realistically human (like Kaena), and others looking overly cartoonish. The cinematography and editing are adequate, but again, there seems to be a lack of tension and emotional depth. The frame rate also fluctuates throughout the film, which betrays the film's budget and production restraints. The music plays the most dramatic role in the film and is quite good, and the voice acting is very good for the most part. Kirsten Dunst and veteran Keith David rise high above the rest of the cast, who are either overly flat or overly emphatic. What I find most interesting about the dubbing is that the characters are all lip-synced to the English dialog, even though it's clearly a French film. Was this intentional, or did they re-render the film for its American release? (Pixar has done such things in the past) The story itself is tiresome and formulaic, reading like every other sci-fi story from a 1980's era issue of "Heavy Metal" or "Epic." In fact, the story behind the film is much more interesting than the film itself. Seven years in the making, "Kaena" was created on a small budget by a group of novices using cheap hardware and public domain software. Knowing that makes the film all the more impressive, but the experience is still amazingly bland. Like many other films that have attempted to fill the no man's land of teenage entertainment before, "Kaena" is too sophisticated for younger audiences, and not sophisticated enough for older audiences to really appreciate.