TIFF Report: Renaissance Review
It took seven years for Christian Volckman and his team to bring Renaissance to the big screen. However, if I had to make a guess, I'd say that only about three months of that time was spent working on the storyline. Visually and technically breathtaking, the film is nevertheless riddled by a number of sci-fi/action movie clichés that basically leave one feeling as if they've already seen this movie about a dozen times.
The setting is Paris in the year 2054. Karas (voiced by Daniel Craig) is a devoted member of Section K, specializing in kidnapping cases. While very good at his job, he's a lone wolf prone to doing whatever it takes to solve a case -- much to his superiors' chagrin. Karas' latest case involves the abduction of a woman named Ilona, a well-respected researcher who works for the Avalon Company, a powerful-yet-shady bio-medical firm that has much of the city in its grasp.
Karas joins forces with Ilona's older sister Bislane (voiced by Catherine McCormack), who turns out to be something of a rebel and a hothead. As he works on the case, he begins uncovering information about Ilona's involvement in a top-secret project involving the human genome, a project that has far-reaching implications. Of course, Avalon has a huge interest in the project, and so they have their own forces at work on the case, and aren't afraid to eliminate anyone who gets in their way.
Let's see... Corrupt shadowy bio-medical firms? Check. Top-secret projects that may give men godlike powers? Check. Lone wolf police officer who takes the law in his own hand? Check. Although the film does inject a few twists near the end, and does try to film in a little back-story for the world that it portrays, the storyline of Renaissance is essentially inert in its clichés from the very beginning.
Like so many animated films whose main claim to fame are their visuals, there is absolutely nothing under the surface. Even a film as inventive as Renaissance can't consistently wow the viewers for its entire runtime, and so needs something that will the viewer to make some sort of emotional connection to its characters. There is some attempt at that, with a short little bit that contains some Karas back-story, but it's largely peripheral to the proceedings as a whole.
So let's just be honest and say that the only reason to see Renaissance are for its gorgeous visuals and groundbreaking style. Of course, the most immediate thing to notice are its almost entirely black-and-white visuals. It's amazing how the animators can communicate such visual depth with such a limited palette, but they do. As for the animation, it's as fluid as can be, utilizing motion capture to replicate real human movement, be it in the way someone walks, holds their gun, or even moves their eyes (and as we all know, the eyes are all-important in creating authentic and believable animation).
It just would've been nice if the movie's four screenwriters had come up with a plot that was as original and groundbreaking as the visuals were. It's tempting to think what someone like Mamoru Oshii, who has proven himself capable of wedding cutting edge visuals to intriguing and involving storylines.
Renaissance is further proof that modern animation techniques utilizing extensive CGI, motion capture, and other technologies can replace much of traditional cel animation. Now, it just remains to be seen whether or not anything of actual merit or depth can be created with such tools. If not, these sorts of film will continue to remain little more than essentially glorified technical demos.