8 June 2003 | gtran
Classic plot, beautifully rendered
Presented as the first full-length 3D-generated animated movie from France, Kaena was first an idea for a video game that was expanded into a `real' movie. A fantasy/sci-fi tale, it takes place on of flying forest made of gigantic vines inhabited by a tribe of humans, who, in order to appease their gods, must harvest the sap of the vines. Trouble is, the harvest is no longer what it was and the gods are somewhat angry. A young woman, Kaena, who looks like a cross between Lara Croft and Princess Mononoke, understands that the gods are up to no good, and fights them with the help of unexpected allies and funny sidekicks. The plot follows the well-used pattern where a young misfit must save the world from dark forces, battle monsters and unearth world-shattering secrets, and the script borrows from many previous ones (fans of French sci-fi comics will recognise bits of the `Adventures of Alef-Thau', written in the 80s by Alexandro Jodorowski, who is also credited on Kaena). The script is also certainly quite European in spirit, with more overt sexuality and a indictment of religion probably unimaginable in a mainstream US-made cartoon.
While a little lacking in plot, Kaena mostly succeeds as pure eye-candy. Since the representation of realistic humans is still out of reach for computer graphics (Cf. the mixed results in Final Fantasy), the authors have chosen a half-comic-book style (like in Ice Age) which is quite pleasant, at least if you like people with really big eyes. The movie creatures are quite nice, particularly the talkative worms with their tired faces and their walking and flying devices. But it's the sets which are the most beautiful, with a particular attention to lighting, colouring and texturing: many scenes are shot in a golden light, slightly overexposed with lens flares and other atmospheric effects. The mixture of quasi-photorealism and more traditional CG style works quite well. The vine forest, the village and the spaceship scenes are exceptionally rendered, and among the most beautiful seen in a CG-rendered movie so far. The world of the gods, by contrast, has a dark, liquid and sticky feel (the gods themselves are liquid, gigeresque creatures) with bright shining reflections, and is truly original. Sometimes, there's a little too much of everything, as if the movie was a demo for CG effects (hair, particle systems, volumetrics.), not unlike the first Technicolor movies where everything had to be brightly coloured. But that doesn't detract from the WOW! Factor of the movie.
All in all, Kaena is a very recommendable movie, and one can hope that the authors will follow with a bolder script.