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An all-powerful corporation has its fingers in every facet of the citizenry's life. As the populace trudges through the omnipresent rain, billboards appear with beautiful spokesmodels, touting how good life is while reality gives it the lie. And of course, the youth still dance and dabble in drugs, while the police struggle to maintain their integrity.

With a few variations, this could be a pretty standard science fiction story, at least as gets presented in film. Renaissance, however, throws in the twist of looking like a graphic novel come to life. Unlike Sin City, this is motion-capture and straight up animation in stark black and white. Wearing its debt to Blade Runner on its sleeve, this French production still carves out an original path.

One of the ways it does that is to take advantage of being European. Most futuristic dystopias take place in cities already stripped of glamour, such as Los Angeles and Tokyo. But Renaissance utilizes Paris, and the cultural mish-mash of that city, to spin what is, at heart, a noir tale with sci fi overtones. The more it sticks to its story, the better it works.

In fact, despite some impressive imagery, the futuristic elements almost stop the story as the filmmakers pull away to show off their environment. When it comes back down to police detective Karas (voiced by Daniel Craig in the English version) struggling to solve the kidnapping of Ilona Tasuiev (Romola Garai), it has some dramatic power.

That also comes from an almost seamless casting in the English language version. In addition to Craig and Garai, Catherine McCormack and Jonathan Pryce easily slide into their characters. Pryce in particular plays his toad-like evil executive with gusto, yet leaves it up to the animation to chew the scenery.

As for that animation, it's a little hit-and-miss. On the French language (but subtitled) "Making of Renaissance," director Christian Volckman admits that many of his staff had different views on what they wanted to do. Sometimes the motion-capture works extremely well; sometimes it looks like a videogame, albeit with cool design work.

That's a lengthy documentary, and it's the only real extra on this Miramax release. It's also comprehensive, covering every aspect of production. Perhaps most interesting is the focus on the French actors, exploring a technology that is becoming increasingly de rigeur for American and English thespians - or meat puppets.

The DVD also comes with the original French language track, and both work. I'm partial to the top-billed British actors, but the smaller roles work better in French. Go figure. I'd suggest it for high schools for their advanced French students - a very different kind of story and film than they usually get to sit through.

As an historical piece, since Hollywood is trying harder and harder to capture the spirit of graphic novels on film, Renaissance definitely makes its mark.

Buy Renaissance at Amazon.com

Derek McCaw

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