Eerie blend of human thesps seamlessly interacting with computer-generated 3-D and motion-capture animation depicts New York as a metropolis that has taken its cues from comic books and sci-fi. English-lingo outing by French master illustrator Enki Bilal is interesting without being riveting. Offshore prospects seem promising.

An otherworldly yet semi-familiar saga, “Immortal Ad Vitam” is a sort of “Blade Runner” for the new millennium. Dashing, eerie blend of human thesps seamlessly interacting with computer-generated 3-D and motion-capture animation depicts New York in 2095 as a metropolis that has taken all its cues from comic books and sci-fi. With visuals considerably bolder than its underlying narrative, English-lingo outing by Belgrade-born French master illustrator Enki Bilal is interesting without being riveting and melancholy without being haunting. Pic’s offshore prospects seem promising wherever auds may enjoy a less scattershot “Fifth Element” aimed slightly more at grown-ups than kids.

A giant pyramid floats over the Hudson River opposite the Manhattan skyline, which unbeknownst to the population below, houses some no-nonsense Egyptian gods. Horus (Thomas Pollard), who boasts a hawk’s head, a hunky nude human-style body and a deep mellifluous voice, is put on notice that he must give up his immortal status in exactly seven days.

His humorless associates release him to visit Earth and its creatures one last time. Denizens include traditional humans, computer-generated citizens, aliens, humanoids, and some folks who retain a percentage of their original human metabolism but have replaced certain features and organs with artificial spare parts.

In one of pic’s most striking visual sequences, Horus walks through the pyramid’s inclined stone wall and, as if one of the art-deco bird heads on the Chrysler Building had come to life, takes wing. Horus has urgent business in Manhattan.

Senator Kyle Allgood (Joe Sheridan), a paunchy politico with unsavory ties to all-powerful firm Eugenics, is nervous: A number of pods have fallen off the airborne prison Globus, one containing the convict Nikopol (Thomas Kretschmann, from “The Pianist”). Nikopol, an erstwhile revolutionary with a year still to go on his sentence of remaining frozen for 30 years, escapes losing one of his legs when he lands, still frozen solid.

A member of the medical resistance, Dr. Elma Turner (Charlotte Rampling), provides cosmetic surgery while secretly pursuing illegal medicine. Fascinated by Jill (Linda Hardy), a feisty young non-human woman with pale skin and blue hair, Elma arranges to take Jill from her Eugenics overlords to conduct scientific analyses. Per Elma’s hunch, Jill is an extremely rare specimen.

Meanwhile, partly synthetic police inspector Froebe (Yann Collette) is faced with seven bizarre murders in 72 hours. And while N.Y. itself enjoys a relatively normal climate, there’s a forbidding portion of Central Park called the Intrusion Zone, where the temperature is always way below zero. All efforts to penetrate it have proved fatal.

All these elements are cleverly intertwined as the hourglass sands continue falling for Horus. Although integrated with considerable artistry, the synthetic-looking protagonists lack an ineffable something that would prompt greater viewer sympathy. More successful, though too-briefly glimpsed, are the small, translucent personal assistants who will apparently tidy our desks and bathrooms in the future. Although street traffic is visible, taxis and official vehicles fly through the air.

From the outset, pic doles out a lot of visual and voiceover info whose meaning only gradually falls into place. Film’s major calling card is the way it looks. Lighting and compositing of synthetic imagery crafted by a staff of more than 200 creates a world unto itself drawn from Bilal’s imagination which, for better or worse, shares a few thematic notions with its pioneering sci-fi brethren from “Metropolis” to “Matrix” by way of “Tron,” “Dark City” and “Final Fantasy.”

In fact, Bilal laid claim to this imagery a quarter of a century ago in his bestselling comics, which means many others copied from him. Either way, this third feature by the director of futuristic live-actioners “Bunker Palace Hotel” (1989) and “Tykho Moon” (1996) looks cool.

Kretschmann’s Nikopol boasts a boyish-yet-manly charm, and Rampling, as the doc, brings a radiant screen presence to scenes that might otherwise tip into ponderous silliness. Hardy’s Jill has the looks one can imagine future programmers may emulate when building a feisty babe from scratch.

Other credited actors have been converted into animated hybrids that deliver lines and move the action along but remain inescapably cartoonish. This latter quality may be appealing to the generation raised on vidgames but still lacks something for those whose tastes were formed in the pre-digital era.

Immortal Ad Vitam

France-U.K.-Italy

Production

A UFD release (in France) of a Charles Gassot presentation of a Telema, TF1 Films Prod., CIBY 2000, RF2K (France)/Force Majeure Prods. (U.K.)/Medusa Film (Italy) production, with participation of TPS Star. (International sales: TF1 Intl., Boulogne, France.) Produced by Charles Gassot. Executive producer, Dominique Brunner. Co-producer, Daniel Walker. Directed by Enki Bilal. Screenplay, Bilal, Serge Lehman, loosely adapted from Bilal's graphic novels "La foire aux immortels" (The Carnival of Immortals) and "La femme piege" (The Woman Trap).

Crew

Camera (color), Pascal Gennesseaux; editor, Veronique Parnet; music, Goran Vejvoda, Sigur Ros, Venus; production designer, Jean-Pierre Fouillet; art directors, Christophe Faton, Stephane Biau, Frederique Nouailhat; costume designer, Mimi Lempika; hair designer, Cecile Gentilin; make-up designer, Nicolas Degennes; sound (Dolby), Pierre Lenoir, Gerard Lamps; sound designer, Laurent Quaglio; 3-D characters, Duran Animation Studio; f/x make-up artists and animatronics, Jean-Christophe Spadaccini, Pascal Molina, Denis Gastou; visual effects director, Jacquemin Piel; animation supervisor, Matthieu Grospiron; assistant director, Lionel Steketee; casting, Bernard Savin-Pascaud. Reviewed at UGC screening room, Paris, Feb. 25, 2004. Running time: 102 MIN. (English dialogue)

With

Dr. Elma Turner - Charlotte Rampling Nikopol - Thomas Kretschmann Jill - Linda Hardy John - Frederic Pierrot Horus - Thomas Pollard Froebe - Yann Collette Kyle Allgood - Joe Sheridan
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