Kaena: The Prophecy
Amy Harlib · September 19, 2004 | An ambitious directorial debut by Chris Delaporte with Pascal Pinon, Kaena: The Prophecy—a video game project that evolved into a full-length film, France's first CGI feature—owes much of its inspiration to anime, its home country's graphic publication Métal Hurlant (Heavy Metal), and artists such as H. R. Giger. This production, resembling the largely Japanese-created CGI picture Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within more than that other recent Gallic effort The Triplets of Belleville, presents an interesting contrast: Kaena's digital, wildly exotic otherworld adventure milieu, so different from Triplets' earth-bound, hand-drawn, eccentric, cartoony whimsy—each equally valid examples of a vital art form's range.
Written by Delaporte with Tarik Hamdine and Kenneth Oppel, Kaena: The Prophecy opens with a prologue about two worlds, planets so close they almost touch. When an alien starship exploring the system explodes near the world Astria, most of the multifarious crew perishes and the vessel's computer-brain, the Vecanoi, survives its landing on Astria's surface. This disaster so alarms the world's semi-fluid, sapient inhabitants—the Selenites—that they try to destroy the extra-solar visitors, prompting the Vecanoi, before going dormant, to use its bio-plasm stores to construct a planet-sized tree huge enough to reach halfway to the second world. This giant growth serves to shelter the few human-looking survivors of the crash, whose descendants forget their origins and consider their immense arboreal habitat their only home.
Six hundred years later, the people, now calling their environs Axis, eke out a bare existence spending most of their time gathering sap for the Selenites who, having learned to thrive on this substance, have set themselves up as gods to the humans from whom they demand constant offerings. Orphaned human Kaena (Kirsten Dunst), a free-spirited, agile, nubile, curious teenaged girl raised by the High Priest, defies her society's restrictive faith to explore the boundaries of her village, approaching the limits of her known world—where vistas of surrounding clouds can be seen. Although Kaena experiences an unusual sense of connection to Axis, her jaunts finally, on one fateful day, nearly get her killed by some of the carnivorous flying fauna that also inhabit the tree-world.
Meanwhile, the Selenites' queen (Angelica Huston) and her chamberlain (Keith David), unsuccessfully trying to destroy the Vecanoi for 600 years and blaming it for the trauma of its arrival, feel even more threatened by Kaena and Opaz when the elder shows the younger how ungodly the Selenites really are. The Selenites also fear the changes a fully revived Vecanoi will bring and seek to prevent this from happening. More interesting complications come from the efforts of the humans to find the home of the "Gods" because of the sap's drying up and the tree dying while Kaena's best friend, the handsome and good-natured Zehos, desperately searches for her. All these plot strands merge in a rousing climax that will irrevocably alter the fate of everyone.
Kaena: The Prophecy truly dazzles with visuals so inventive, sumptuous, richly textured and subtly colored (in palettes of mostly earthy tones for humans and their tree-world and suffused with azure hues for anything high-tech) that the effect becomes delightfully trippy. The not-quite-realistic look of the CGI combined with the exotic costuming and backgrounds helps make the otherworldly atmosphere convincing. A lush, symphonic and choral score enhances the awe-inspiring imagery and scenic vistas.
Genre fans will find this film a gorgeous, breath-taking imaginative creation with engaging characters—especially the spunky, resourceful, eponymous heroine—and with an interesting story. The overwhelming weirdness of it all has already befuddled most critics and average audiences. Kaena's bizarre exoticism seems to be too esoteric to give this film the wide appeal its creators and aficionados would desire. Adventurous souls seeking a mind-blowing genre cinema experience should not miss the wondrous, visionary Kaena: The Prophecy.