Thursday, June 3, 2010

Kaena: La prophétie / Kaena: The Prophecy (France, 2003)

Kaena: The Prophecy starts with the wreck of a intergalactic spaceship, has a brief scene of alien hunting alien, and then pops 600 years into the future to a small and simple folk that spend their days collecting sap for their gods. They harvest the sap from Axis, their "planet," a huge and inter-coiling plant floating mid-air in a never-ending horizon of clouds. But Axis is withering and dying, and their gods care little about the problems of the peons. But then, the gods are in reality simply a race of devious creatures—modeled ever-so-slightly after Geiger's alien archetype—led by an evil queen (voiced by Anjelica Huston) whose only goal is to destroy the glowing orb that crashed upon her planet 600 years early (that she is a stubborn being must go without saying, for after 600 years she is still trying). An adventurous young girl of the village named Kaena (Kirsten Dunst) not only has visions that there is more to life than what they know, but dares to question the gods; her actions result in her having to flee for her safety. With no place else to go, she decides to finally journey down to see what lies in the forbidden zone below the clouds...
Kaena: The Prophecy is an animated film for young adults—if only because smaller children and older folks will probably not be able to follow the style of animation or the convoluted yet underdeveloped storyline. That Kaena supposedly won 2nd place at the 2003 FantAsia Film Festival in Montreal does not exactly sing praise for the quality of the movies screened at the festival. Touted as the first fully computer-animated French film, the visual style of Kaena is much too aligned with the graphics of computer-animated computer games to be in any way truly innovative or astounding, and the film probably already looked somewhat dated when it first came out.
Not to say that there is a total lack of anything of visual interest—the mostly sepia-toned color scheme is something different, Kaena has nice tits (even if they are covered for all but one indistinct segment), and the talking worms in their mechanically locomotive bodies are enjoyably expressive. But the filmmakers were overly enamored by the rendition of fluid and barreling tracking shots in and out of tunnels and through branches, things that had a "WOW" effect back in the early days of computer animation but that have long become overused standards (if not clichés)—and probably weren't all that fresh in 2004, either. It would have done Kaena some good had less time been spent on the eye candy and more attention had been given to visual clarity.
The story could have been a bit clearer, too—or at least a bit more clearly structured. Originally developed as a computer game, the linear and action-heavy plot development betrays the movie's roots. The film is a good 10-15 minutes underway before the (thinking) viewer is able to interconnect the various opening visual highpoints (or plot elements) into a halfway coherent narrative, and it is not until the appearance of Opaz (Richard Harris) that the strands are actually tied together. But then, to keep the story rolling all sorts of elements are pulled out of thin air (or dropped) as needed—whatever happened to the teethy, meat-eating flying worms, for example? No longer needed by the end of the movie, they simply disappear. And why does Opaz, once so set on returning home, suddenly have a turn of mind and do a "I am the last of my kind save your people" number? Where, actually, did Kaena's people come from in the first place if the "gods" were the natives and Opaz's people from space? Why does Kaena alone have the mystical link to the orb? These and dozens more questions arise when one in any way starts to take a closer look at the plot, but for all the loose ends the scriptwriters also throw in enough subplots to make the film even harder to follow if one's attention should happen to stray at the wrong moment—the queen's loyal male's desire to mate (although it means their death) and his subsequent (and fortuitously timed) testosterone-driven betrayal, for example, are easy to miss. All that occurs, however, happens around the bare bones of a story old, tried and tired: a young outsider that refuses to follow the masses and is thus expelled only to return to save the people with the help of a rag-tag team picked up along the way—and, as they say: all's well that ends well. About the only truly iconoclastic element of the narrative is the underlying thematic strand that a ruling religion can be a lie and should be questioned.
Kaena is not a fiasco as a film; it simply feels as if it seems to miss whatever marks it may have been aiming for, visually, plot-wise and/or thematically. The end result is a mildly interesting but just as mildly aggravating film. The film would have been a lot better had the filmmakers simply slowed down a bit in every way.

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