Immortal (France/Italy/UK 2004)

Rating: **
Review Date: 4/17/05
Written And Directed By: Enki Bilal
Cast: Linda Hardy, Thomas Kretschmann, Charlotte Rampling

Another film competing with "Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow" (2004) and "Casshern" (2004) as the first film to be shot almost entirely with virtual sets. Enki Bilal is one of my favorite European science fiction artists, and I loved reading his stuff in "Heavy Metal" as a kid. "Immortal" is loosely based on Bilal's Nikopol stories, "The Carnival Of Immortals" and "The Woman Trap," which take place in the year 2095 in a highly technological and dystopian landscape populated by humans, aliens, and mutants. A strange Egyptian pyramid mysteriously appears hovering above New York City, and the ancient god Horus is granted seven days on Earth before being sentenced by his peers. His first priority is finding a suitable male host body, his second is finding a suitable female body for his divine seed, and his final task is to impregnate her, thus carrying on his legacy. Having no luck finding a body, political activist and revolutionary Nikopol (Thomas Kretschmann) is conveniently broken out of prison and Horus takes a liking to him, completing phase one of his plan. Next, a beautiful woman with white skin and blue hair (stunning Linda Hardy) comes under the care of Dr. Elma Turner (Charlotte Rampling). Her name is Jill, and everything about her is a mystery. She has no memories, her bodily organs are arranged improperly, and she possesses powerful psychic and psionic abilities. Horus has his eyes on her and forces Nikopol to repeatedly rape her. Meanwhile, the Eugenics Corporation is desperately trying to find Nikopol, who has the power to topple their entire organization. Too bad they don't realize that messing with Nikopol also means messing with Horus, and he effortlessly dispatches any threats. As we reach the climax of the film, Jill finally evolves into a human woman complete with Horus's unborn offspring, and Horus and the pyramid disappear into space.

First of all, the look of the film is fantastic and brilliantly captures the flavor of Bilal's original work. The colors are drab and muted, and the details of the world are superb. Linda Hardy does an excellent job as Jill, a beautiful and confused stranger in a strange land, much like Leeloo in "The Fifth Element" (1997). Unfortunately, that's about all the praise I can give the film, since everything else about the production is either amateurish or just plain puzzling. While the look of the film is faithful to the comics, inadequate cinematography fails to breathe life and movement into the fantastic images. The film would probably work better as a slideshow of still frames. Secondly, the pace is dreadfully slow and the dialog is painfully bad. Granted, there are some pretty heavy socio-political and philosophical themes going on, but the dialog is downright banal. The film is also musically sparse, which just accentuates the pacing and dialog issues.

But by far the most troubling and puzzling aspect of the film is with the character design and direction, which makes absolutely no sense to me. Most of the human characters in the film are actually computer generated, which is downright bizarre. Now if ALL of the characters were computer generated, it would at least be artistically and stylistically consistent, but having real humans interact with virtual humans is visually distracting at best. The virtual humans also don't look very convincing. Their movement is awkward, their lip-syncing is poor, and the lighting and textures make them look shiny and plastic. It doesn't even come close to what "Final Fantasy" (2001) had to offer. It becomes even more puzzling when some of the monsters are actually puppets or real people in rubber suits, which looks laughably bad and out of place. A guy in a rubber monster suit interacting with a computer generated human is just beyond perverse. Scenes that are tailor made for computer animation are shot with real actors on wires, while close-up scenes of people walking and talking are done in animation. It's just mind boggling. Horus himself is also puzzling. He's completely computer generated, but he LOOKS like a human wearing a mask, and he appears to talk out of his neck where a human mouth should be. Ultimately, all of these visual oddities derail the film from being an interesting and engaging science fiction adventure, which perhaps implies that the plot isn't strong enough to keep the film together. Pretty, but hollow and disappointing.