Immortal: a very French sci-fi fantasy film

ImmortalIt’s 2095. Aliens walk among a human population on an earth which is evenly divided between steampunk, early 20th century architecture and flying automobiles, and the sleek, gleaming white corridors of a manipulative megacorp which peddles genetic enhancements to all and sundry.

Central Park in New York has been swallowed up by an ‘intrusion’, which spits out the skeletons of anyone foolish enough to stumble in. Corrupt politicians seek re-election; rebels are incarcerated in suspended animation, and a giant Egyptian pyramid hovers over the city. Inside, Bast and Anubis play Monopoly while Horus has one worldly week in which to find the girl of his dreams and do the inevitable…

As you might have gathered, Immortal is not your average sci-fi flick. Filmed over several years and released a decade ago, it evenly divides opinion among film fans. Accused of being derivative (and indeed, there are echoes of many other futuristic films in here), Immortal may not be to all tastes. It is, however, an extremely imaginative and enjoyable movie, with a compelling message about the nature of humanity and what immortality actually is. The plot isn’t exactly taxing but it is presented in a stylish and visually exciting format – just not one which will necessarily appeal to those seeking straightforward sci-fi or action/adventure thrills.

If you enjoyed movies like Run Lola Run, Blade Runner, Final Fantasy, the Matrix anime series, or the Fifth Element… well, this is some weird kind of hybrid of the lot of them. It’s at the high end of comic-book (or ‘graphic novel’ if you must) art, brought to life with a few carefully chosen actors and stylised (deliberately so) animation. The use of cgi allows the director to realise things which just ain’t possible in real life – and to allow his creativity to run amok in visually spectacular fashion.

However, the art of creating green-screen films has progressed quite dramatically in the past ten years, and watching it again recently showed up those clunkier moments where the entirely-animated characters didn’t quite mesh with the live-action performances. Cameron’s Avatar is certainly far more sophisticated in its presentation, although Immortal takes a lot more risks and has a deliciously sordid, gritty feel to it. The striking visual style – very 1920s urban American with chunky skyscrapers and be-finned vintage air-cars – is fabulous, and there’s masses of attention to tiny detail in the pleasingly scuzzy set design and costumes, even for the minor characters.

There are some simply gorgeous moments, too, as when the head of Horus protrudes through a solid wall. And all of Immortal is sprinkled with that rare kind of creativity which just can’t stop itself scattering wild ideas hither and yon, so look out for the washroom ‘attendants’ who normally pass the soap but might produce a revolver if required. Don’t get the idea that this is a children’s film; far from it. Immortal is explicit, violent, sexual, artful and atmospheric. it is very much a graphic novel brought to moving form, with all the flaws and foibles of the original form.

Immortal also makes good use of different animation techniques in a knowing self-commentary: a fake alien monster appears at one point, and it’s rendered with almost amateur rough edges. Then the real alien monster beast shows up and it is beautifully crafted and multi-dimensional – demonstrating that the animation artists are subtly commenting on each character in the very way they are created.

On the downside, there’s a somewhat queasy moral conundrum at the core of this film, regarding personal responsibility. The debate is framed around the subject of rape… and of the developing relationship between the male and female protagonists. Essentially, what price immortality?

So overall, Immortal is most definitely a *continental* film, not a Hollywood one. It’s very French in its quirky delivery, explicit sexuality and disorganised creativity. Not the usual mainstream sci-fi: try James Cameron for that…

8/10

Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason

Immortal is available to rent or buy on DVD from Amazon

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