VOICES OF: Kirsten Dunst, Richard Harris,
2004, 85 Minutes, Directed by: Chris Delaporte, Pascal Pinon
This post-apocalyptic tale concerns an adventurous young woman, Kaena (voiced in
English by Kirsten Dunst), who is a member of a race--one of many--that inhabit
an enormous tree called the Axis, rising 100 miles from Earth's surface. While
her people's leader, Opaz (Richard Harris), insists his tribe's sole purpose is
collecting sap and honouring the gods who provide sustenance, Kaena is more
interested in exploring. Signs that the Axis might be dying sends Kaena on a
mission to find out why; along the way she encounters a slavemaster race, the
Selenites, and their vicious queen (Anjelica Huston).
For large chunks of this movie
I had no idea what was happening and why it was happening. At about the
40-minute mark when Kaena – the Prophecy started answering some of my
questions, there were still quite a few unanswered questions floating around, a
bit like those peasant villagers in zero gravity in the movie I suppose.
Look, I probably should have
known better than to apply my imperfect knowledge of Newton’s Law of Gravity,
planetary orbits and the like to the plot, but I still found myself asking
questions like: Who were those H.R. Giger look-alike aliens and what were they
doing on that planet? Just why was every single member of that alien race on
that specific spaceship that blew up? (Were they like the useless lot in Douglas
Adams’ Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sent
off to inadvertently colonise the Earth?) And so on.
"Has a more genuine SF premise behind it than most of today’s
so-called sci-fi offerings . . ."
Being left with all these
questions isn’t exactly a good thing: Kaena, a French (!) produced
computer-animated feature originally intended to be viewed in 3-D, lacks
narrative cohesion. The plot stutters forwards and back, a bit like a car with
engine trouble that is struggling to get going. Maybe it tries to cram in too
much info in its short running time, I thought, but the answer came to me while
watching the end credits: the movie has a veritable army of screenwriters!
A lot of screenwriters may
sound like a good idea in an era in which screenplays are often the most
neglected aspect of Hollywood products, but usually the end result of too many
scriptwriters is just a muddled mess. (Tip for Hollywood producers: if you want
a muddled mess and save money on a committee of screenwriters you need only hire
one man to do the job of many, namely Akiva Goldman, the
Batman & Robin and Lost in Space scribe. He’d make
a muddled mess of your movie on his own . . .)
of this is rather a pity, because Kaena has a more interesting and real
SF premise behind it than most of today’s so-called sci-fi offerings, which
merely tend to be action movies with a few science fiction gadgets thrown in for
good measure (Paycheck, anyone?). In true SF
tradition, it creates an interesting universe of its own, populated by some
fascinating creature and production designs.
Alas, the narrative – along
with some disappointing animation – lets all this down. (The humans looked
especially clunky and awkward.) If you were expecting animation on the level of
Final Fantasy then you’d probably be
disappointed: Kaena doesn’t look much better than a lot of those filler
scenes in between the action on computer games that take up several gigabytes of
your computer’s hard disk.
Still, I often found myself
engrossed during Kaena’s brief running time, even if it was to figure out
just what the hell was happening! It throws around some interesting and genuine
SF ideas – a pity it drops the ball on most of them.
File this one under
“interesting failure that could have been a whole better, but should still be
enjoyed by SF fans.” (In fairness, my wife liked it more than I did.)