'Renaissance' is a science fiction mystery in the noir tradition. Set in 2054 Paris, a world-weary cop starts investigating the disappearance of a young woman and encounters more than he bargained for. But what makes 'Renaissance' stand out is the sheer artistry on display. With stark black-and-white computer generated animation based on motion capture techniques, French director Christian Volckman's feature-length debut is a beautifully crafted visual treat. Pity there wasn't as much care expended on the script.
Police hostage retrieval specialist Karas (voiced by Craig) is assigned to track down Ilona (Garai), a highly-regarded researcher at giant multinational Avalon who has been kidnapped by person or persons unknown. Encounters with Ilona's mentor, Dr Jonas Muller (Holm), and Paul Dellenbach (Pryce), Avalon's morally dubious boss, don't get Karas very far. Then he meets her sister, femme fatale Bislane (McCormack), and things start falling into place, albeit in an unexpected way.
There's nothing unusual about the plot. It's a typical film noir crime drama, albeit in a hyper-imaginative cityscape, with everyone smoking, lots of rain and an even-more-than-usual contrast between light and dark. Unfortunately the animation technique, all crisp black and white, can't quite manage to capture the complexities and shades of grey that make the genre so interesting. Because of the way that 'Renaissance' is filmed and voiced, there are three casts: one to perform in front of the motion capture cameras, French actors to voice the French version and another English voice cast. As a result - unlike last year's film adaptation of Frank Miller's 'Sin City' graphic novels, which it sometimes resembles - there are no faces to create instant recognition and an already somewhat perplexing plot becomes further confused.
With nods to, amongst others, 'Blade Runner's giant corporation-gone-wrong, the architecture of Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis' and the animated billboards and police investigations shown in Spielberg's 'Minority Report' (also set in 2054), 'Renaissance' pays homage to many different cultural forebears. The clichéd storyline lets it down but this is a film where style far outweighs substance.