Moving Pictures: Immortal (2004)

(Image source feoamante.com)

Now, the plot of the film includes implied rape, and it isn’t resolved. It is just “cancelled” through fairly unconvincing retroactive consent.

The days are grey and cloudy. Several styles mix: early 20th century architecture, late 21st century advanced technology, 1950s-looking streets and (flying) cars. It has a crude, rough, worn, cold texture to it. The visuals of Blade Runner or Ghost in the Shell aren’t far away, nor their themes. Some aspects of The Fifth Element would seem to recur here, but Immortal is a very different film covering some common ground.

This is a film made from scraps taken from a graphic-novel by Enki Bilal (who also directed the film), and the visuals of the film are by far important than the dialogue or the plot. And that is the pride and the downfall of it. Like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, it is shot on a “digital backlot”: a stage where only the most fundamental elements of the location are created physically while the rest were added using CGI afterwards. Most people are CGI heads added to actors’ bodies, some people, gods, and monsters are nothing but CGI. The CGI is very dated, but at the same time it matches the unreal and somewhat expressionless quality of the original comic.

New York, New York. With some recent additions:

  • The Intrusion, a zone of… otherness. The official line is that it contains dangerous mutants, dissidents claim that it is a gateway to other worlds.
  • A spaceship of unknown origin, looking like the Great Pyramid at Giza is hovering high above the city.
  • A cryogenic prison (the inmates are kept frozen in pods) is also parked high in the sky.
  • Eugenics, a big-corp dealing in genetic alterations, limb/organ replacement, etc, has massive facilities. They also have paramilitary teams that snatch living humans for experiments and spare parts on patrol.

Blue-haired Jill is captured by a Eugenics team. Her chances of survival are slim, but she gets traded to a free-lance geneticist who takes a fancy to her. Jill is set up with a room. She seems to be in her twenties, but her body is only three months old. She takes blue pills that give her massive memory lapses. Her organs are in the wrong places, and she has a limited mind-reading capability.

The god Horus, sentenced to death for rebellion, is released from the pyramid for a last visit to earth, for the span of a god’s heartbeat, seven days. He has a plan, but for that he needs to possess a human male’s body, and find a suitable woman.

A malfunction in the cryo-prison releases three pods, which fall into the city. Two of the prisoners are killed by the impact, the third one is thrown out of the pod, losing half his leg. The prisoner, Nikopol, is left painfully thawing in the bearings, where he is chosen and picked up by Horus. Horus feels justified in using people for his purposes. After all, the gods created humans to be their servants. Nikopol, possessed by Horus, is recuperating in a bar when Jill enters and is hypnotised by Horus.

(Image source paulgravett.com)

The comic, from which the above image is taken, is not as visually constrained: it is colourful and surreal. The tone is sardonic and at the same time often light-hearted. The comic uses three volumes to tell its story: the material for this film comes from the first two. The film avoids compressing the plot by changing events extensively (e.g. inserting the rape), but in the end the film’s plot becomes hollow instead. Some elements, like the Senator and his staff, have parallels in the comic but are insufficiently reworked and detract from the film as a pointless component.

Inspector Froebe and Doctor Turner are new in the film, and seem to have interesting developments coming up, but they also fizzle out. Froebe becomes decidedly one-note, and Turner is given far too little screen time. As I said earlier, the plot isn’t top priority in this film, and far too many elements are just mixed into it without being developed (and without the elements being resolved), just to give the visuals a path to follow. To some extent this holds for the comic too, but it is at least less striking there.

Nikopol and Jill actually have some chemistry, which is sort of a saving grace. Of course they belong to a very small group of characters that are acted real face to real face. Horus interacts with them mostly as a disembodied voice: his CGI persona is so-so. Well, for a falcon-headed big living-statue character the CGI is both necessary and fairly good, but interactions such as dialogue never work well.

It’s not a bad film, but it’s a film with many problems and very little payoff. Not in any way a must-see.

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