VOICES OF: Kirsten Dunst, Richard Harris, Angelica Huston

2004, 85 Minutes, Directed by: Chris Delaporte, Pascal Pinon

Description: This post-apocalyptic tale concerns an adventurous young woman, Kaena (voiced in English by Kirsten Dunst), who is a member of a race--one of many--that inhabit an enormous tree called the Axis, rising 100 miles from Earth's surface. While her people's leader, Opaz (Richard Harris), insists his tribe's sole purpose is collecting sap and honouring the gods who provide sustenance, Kaena is more interested in exploring. Signs that the Axis might be dying sends Kaena on a mission to find out why; along the way she encounters a slavemaster race, the Selenites, and their vicious queen (Anjelica Huston).

For large chunks of this movie I had no idea what was happening and why it was happening. At about the 40-minute mark when Kaena – the Prophecy started answering some of my questions, there were still quite a few unanswered questions floating around, a bit like those peasant villagers in zero gravity in the movie I suppose.

Look, I probably should have known better than to apply my imperfect knowledge of Newton’s Law of Gravity, planetary orbits and the like to the plot, but I still found myself asking questions like: Who were those H.R. Giger look-alike aliens and what were they doing on that planet? Just why was every single member of that alien race on that specific spaceship that blew up? (Were they like the useless lot in Douglas Adams’ Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sent off to inadvertently colonise the Earth?) And so on.

"Has a more genuine SF premise behind it than most of today’s so-called sci-fi offerings . . ."

Being left with all these questions isn’t exactly a good thing: Kaena, a French (!) produced computer-animated feature originally intended to be viewed in 3-D, lacks narrative cohesion. The plot stutters forwards and back, a bit like a car with engine trouble that is struggling to get going. Maybe it tries to cram in too much info in its short running time, I thought, but the answer came to me while watching the end credits: the movie has a veritable army of screenwriters!

A lot of screenwriters may sound like a good idea in an era in which screenplays are often the most neglected aspect of Hollywood products, but usually the end result of too many scriptwriters is just a muddled mess. (Tip for Hollywood producers: if you want a muddled mess and save money on a committee of screenwriters you need only hire one man to do the job of many, namely Akiva Goldman, the Batman & Robin and Lost in Space scribe. He’d make a muddled mess of your movie on his own . . .)

All of this is rather a pity, because Kaena has a more interesting and real SF premise behind it than most of today’s so-called sci-fi offerings, which merely tend to be action movies with a few science fiction gadgets thrown in for good measure (Paycheck, anyone?). In true SF tradition, it creates an interesting universe of its own, populated by some fascinating creature and production designs.

Alas, the narrative – along with some disappointing animation – lets all this down. (The humans looked especially clunky and awkward.) If you were expecting animation on the level of Final Fantasy then you’d probably be disappointed: Kaena doesn’t look much better than a lot of those filler scenes in between the action on computer games that take up several gigabytes of your computer’s hard disk.

Still, I often found myself engrossed during Kaena’s brief running time, even if it was to figure out just what the hell was happening! It throws around some interesting and genuine SF ideas – a pity it drops the ball on most of them.

File this one under “interesting failure that could have been a whole better, but should still be enjoyed by SF fans.” (In fairness, my wife liked it more than I did.)



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