Review

  • OK, let's get the bad news out of the way right now. The plot is weak. There are some gaping silly holes in the story, numerous unexplained critter origins, shaky science, and a few threads that don't resolve at all. Automatic scoring deductions, across the board.

    So what's good about the movie? First, the graphics. This is the natural evolution of French animation, of which there isn't nearly enough. Rene' Laloux's "Fantastic Planet" is one of the all-time animated psychotropic classics, and there is much in this film that pays homage to it: the visuals of the Axis "forest", the xenomorphic life forms, the conflict between master and slave races, etcetera. At the same time, the animation technique is the sort of hyper-real CGI used in Final Fantasy/Spirits Within, where each hair follicle is individually rendered. Like these two sibling films, Kaena abounds with brilliant bong hit graphics and mind-bending action sequences.

    One common pitfall for animated features, particularly those of foreign origin, is the voice acting. To its immense credit, Kaena has a fairly decent dub, and I felt none of the accustomed grumpiness that comes with de-synced speech for any of the characters. The main characters were all well voiced. The IMDb cast list doesn't appear to mention all the voice actors, and I'm pretty sure the little kid was voiced by the same person who plays Shippo on Inuyasha (Jillian Michaels?). Sounds that way, at least.

    However, while the voice acting is fine, the same cannot be said for the dialog. Long in exposition and short in character development, I get the feeling that this was an editor's nightmare. The balance between ensuring that people understand events and helping them care about the consequences of those events can be a difficult one to achieve. This has been the bane of science fiction films since the genre's inception. Unfortunately, dialog in Kaena finds a way to fail on both sides of the equation -- albeit at different times.

    Without revealing any more details, I will say this much. The story tries to operate on a grand scale, but is undercut by the uneven development, jerky scene transitions, mediocre dialog, and the aforementioned plot-holes.

    This is a film to be enjoyed as a raw sensory experience, not as a total cinematic product. It's not going to end up on any top-20-all-time lists and its pretensions to epic film status are undercut by its many weaknesses.

    The overall effect, however, is extraordinary; it merits viewing as an exploration of what can now be accomplished with CGI. I enjoyed it immensely from this perspective, to the point where I was quite distracted from the numerous shortcomings.