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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Kaena: The Prophecy (2004)

"He chose you, Kaena. You must lead your people."
- Opaz (Richard Harris)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: September 09, 2004

Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Richard Harris
Other Stars: Anjelica Huston, Keith David, Greg Proops
Director: Chris Delaporte

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sensuality and some frightening images
Run Time: 01h:31m:11s
Release Date: September 07, 2004
UPC: 043396037731
Genre: animation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- C-A-B C

DVD Review

Kaena: The Prophecy is the latest in a long line of incomprehensible science-fiction films that struggle to get by on flash over substance, unique only because it's only the second CGI film to attempt to tell a story with human characters, and because it was produced independently by a small company in France.

It's about a race of people living on a giant tree or something that sticks out into space and even has its own atmosphere, I guess. There only seem to be about 25 of them, and though they supposedly have a rich culture, all they're ever shown doing is milling about and harvesting a dwindling supply of sap from the tree, which they offer up to their gods.

Their gods, by the way, are these sentient sap creatures, I think, and they bitch about the people stealing their sap, even though it's all given back to them in the form of offerings. Anyway, sap dwindling, gods angry, all life threatened, yadda yadda, in walks Kaena (Kirsten Dunst), your carbon copy "rebel" who questions her people's religion (not that I blame her, as its a pretty stupid religion). She ventures beyond the tree to find some energy source she's been dreaming about and meets Opaz (Richard Harris), an alien survivor of a crash 600 years in the past that may hold the key to the future for Kaena's people. Or whatever. I'm not really sure how it all fits together (particularly the sap monsters, but at least they look kinda neat).

Even after watching the bonus materials and doing some research online, I'm still not entirely sure in what language the film was originally produced. I'd assume French (and I know a French dub exists—maybe the philosophical hooey sounds better in the Language of Love), but if it wasn't English, the script does a darn good job matching emotions and lip movements (which could explain some of the stilted dialogue and haphazard plot development). Either way, only the English mix is included on this disc, so we're forced to listen to Kirsten Dunst in the lead. While I like the actress fine, I can easily pinpoint her voice as one of her worst qualities—it's far too weak and awkwardly accented in her live action roles, and not nearly distinct or forceful enough to carry off an animated action heroine. It's not that the actress does a bad job. It's that Kaena just sounds like... Kirsten Dunst. She even begins to look like Kirsten Dunst after a while (though the animated version may have several more molecules of CGI meat on her bones). It's a perfect example of why animated films shouldn't use big names just for publicity's sake. Her vocal tone is just wrong for the character, and it's distracting.

That being said, big name talent doesn't mean inherently poor voice-over work (as anyone who has seen a Pixar film can attest). Take, for example, the two other Kaena headliners, Richard Harris as the kindly Opaz and Anjelica Huston as the evil (?) sap monster thing (?). Both tend to melt into their characters and the tone of the film, particularly Huston, who is unrecognizable in a small but showy role.

I can forgive inconsistencies in performances and even acting if the visuals are good enough—so sue me, I'm a sucker for animation (I even raved about Final Fantasy)—but Kaena is hit or miss in that regard too. Sometimes, the animation quality rivals any major Hollywood production (I'm thinking in particular of a scene where Kaena is literally hanging on at the edge of a planet). The more exaggerated characters, including a couple of comic relief worms that walk around on mechanical legs, are well-rendered and expressive. But for the most part, the more lifelike characters move jerkily and show limited emotion through their facial expressions. The designs themselves are downright ugly, save for Kaena (whose Lara Croft physique is boring but obviously received the most attention) (Er... not like that). The eyes are too big and glossy, and one wizened old character looks way too much like Gollum.

The backgrounds are dull as dirt (and about as colorful), save for a few picturesque moments (conveniently highlighted in the flashy theatrical trailer), and much of the film looks more like cutscenes from a video game (apt, as the project began as just that). The animators also seem to have suffered from a lack of processing power—when there are multiple characters onscreen or the action gets too intense, motion tends to slow down subtly (enough to be noticeable, but not enough to look intentional), sort of like an old video game. I assume it was just too much data for their computers to render. Whatever the reason, it's another strike against the film.

Still, Kaena isn't a total loss. At the very least, it proves that well-funded American studios no longer have a monopoly on CGI effects and animation. It's not quite the indie revelation of a >Triplets of Belleville, but it's a step in the right direction.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Video is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the transfer is quite attractive, though not quite up to the standards you'd expect from, say, Pixar or Dreamworks. The problem is attributable mostly to some graininess in the image that, along with some slight aliasing, makes the picture look at little indistinct at times. For the most part, though, colors are rich, black are deep, and fine detail is spot-on—the textures on some of the character's alien skin have crisp dimensionality.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in English 5.1 only, and the mix is decent, but not as dynamic as I'd expected. The track is pretty front-heavy, with dialogue anchored in the center and the majority of the sound effects presented across the front soundstage, albeit with nice stereo separation and directionality. The surrounds do enhance the action sequences and carry there score, and there are a few panning effects from front to back, but nothing that will cause you to really take notice.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Katsuhiro Otomo presents Memories, Tokyo Godfathers, Steamboy, Metropolis, Cyborg 009, Mirror Mask
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Virtual interview
Extras Review: Kaena's chief special feature is a 14-minute making-of piece originally produced for its release in France. It's in French, with burned-in subs, and includes interviews with the director and the technical team. They discuss the film's origins as a video game and chart the growth of the production from an inauspicious start in a small apartment to completion in a warehouse space with a staff of 100 artists. It's all interesting, if this sort of stuff interests you; there is a lot of footage of people sitting behind computers explaining things. Sadly, they do not explain the film's incomprehensible plot.

The only other significant extra is a three-minute "virtual interview" with Kaena, a computer generated version of a PR interview that's, well, just as boring as any other PR interview, but I guess it's supposed to be exciting because it's CGI. I just hope it didn't cost that much. Kaena speaks subtitled French, and the voice actress is a heck of a lot better than Kirsten Dunst.

Find also a trailer gallery with a spot for the feature and a bunch more oft-included spots for Columbia TriStar's anime imports, including Katsuhiro Otomo's Memories, Tokyo Godfathers, Metropolis, Cyborg 009 and the forthcoming Steamboy. There is also a trailer for the Everquest II on-line game and the upcoming feature from the Jim Henson company, Mirror Mask, directed by graphic artist Dave McKean and written by Neil Gaiman. It looks pretty cool, but a little on the low-budget side, which gives me the feeling it will probably show up on DVD rather than in theaters.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

The creators of Kaena: The Prophecy apparently didn't have the foresight to realize their artsy visuals would be all for naught without a decent script, and despite occasional moments of eye-candy, the movie is a tiresome, muddled mish-mash of psuedo-action and psuedo-philosophy. The DVD, while it features decent audio and video, is also a bust, as it omits the original French language track in favor of a star-studded but inconsistent cast of American stars, produced for a US theatrical release that never took place because, well, see above.


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