Judge Eric Profancik wonders how difficult it would be to give an animated woman a breast-reduction procedure.
A secret society determined to save the world…
It's an "animated script." That's how the press release describes the style of Ellium: Rise of the Fallen. How would I describe it? Like reading a comic book on television, except that the cells aren't still. The items (characters, backgrounds) move around, as in sliding around the frame—not walking or anything.
I went to the company's site to see what this disc was all about, as I was confused as to whether it was animated or live action. In not reading the fine print, I incorrectly deduced the latter. That is not a bad thing, though I am not an animation or comic fan. The intricacies of the genre escape me, as the last comic I've read would have been Dilbert in the newspaper many weeks ago.
Bear with me as you get an outsider's viewpoint on an animated world.
Facts of the Case
Ellium: Rise of the Fallen is a set of four short stories set in the year 2042 (with some establishing flashbacks). This disc works to introduce major characters in the growing global conflict with Ellium at its core. The four stories are:
• "Diamond Mine" (9 minutes): In the Democratic Republic of Congo, an unpopular president is about to see his country burst into revolution.
• "Blood Red Snow" (30 minutes): Investigating a murder/kidnapping case, Ellium Agent Samantha Snow must confront the horrors of her past.
• "Little Deaths" (7.5 minutes): Riel, a shadowy and sultry woman, seduces Charlie Harris, a geneticist. It will mark his doom.
• "Swordplay" (25.5 minutes): The Plato Continuum is an organization that no one believes exists, but over the centuries it has been coveting a very special sword. Ellium learns that Plato is close to its goal, and they work to intercept the sword.
As someone brand spanking new to Ellium, not to mention the world of the "animated script," I discovered one massively huge flaw with this release: If I've never read the previously available comic books or web comics, then how am I supposed to know what Ellium, the core group at the center of these stories, is all about?
After watching these four stories, I had absolutely no idea. Ellium is not explained on the disc, and you're left with nothing more than a lot of inference and hyperbole. It wasn't until I put the DVD in my computer and read the bonus materials that I learned the idea behind Ellium. Ellium is a secret group that has its fingers in everything, and it's there to protect the world.
I never would have deduced that from these stories. Well, I did infer that Ellium was powerful and everywhere, but that they were the good guys? Not a chance. They came across as another run-of-the-mill, overly powerful, shadowy organization. An evil organization.
Further, what was the point of these four stories? Outside of Ellium and a few characters that popped up between stories, what was the arc? What was the goal? What was I supposed to learn or take away? Again, only when I looked at the bonus materials was it revealed that Volume One was simply meant to lay the foundation of important characters and concepts for the bigger tale of Ellium. So from a storytelling perspective, this disc misses the mark since I had no idea what I was watching.
But let's toss that aside. Despite my general confusion, I somewhat enjoyed Ellium: Rise of the Fallen. Certainly no connoisseur of the animated form, I found it different and fairly interesting. First and foremost is the visual style of Ellium. The cells are not richly detailed; much of the screen is of minimal design and composition, using few colors (mostly brown, copper, black, and big red splotches of blood), giving it an almost monochromatic feel. It's all very simple, which didn't thrill me at first. But then I got into the look of it all, especially the characters, and appreciated what Jason Moser was doing. It quickly grew on me and I ended up liking it. As this is an animated comic book, you get to read the dialogue and thought bubbles. There are no voice actors and minimal sound effects—just a lot of nondescript background music. Surprisingly, even the music grows on you and enhances the emotion of the scene.
What's uneven are the stories themselves. Why do we have such disparate lengths across four stories? A little bit of uniformity would have been appreciated. More important, of course, is the quality of the material. "Diamond Mine" is quick and dirty, and I had to watch it twice to figure out what was going on. (It all goes back to the missing narrative foundation.) This is a good, simple story—and a good introduction to the disc. "Blood Red Snow" runs too long and could have used trimming, and the ending was disappointing for being predictable. "Little Deaths" is fortunately the shortest of the group as is also the worst story in the group. It introduces Riel and her large breasts, but the story doesn't do much. "Swordplay" obviously is laying a lot of groundwork of a future conflict between Ellium and the Continuum, and is a pretty good story overall. The sticking point across the disc is that there's a lot of clichés. These were in both the dialogue and the characters' actions. Hopefully the series becomes less dependent on cliché and more creative in its own right. And what's going on with Riel? She's 100% teenage boy fantasy. Is that the core audience? She stands out for her immature depiction and cheapens the mature nature of the storytelling. (I guess it would help if I knew she was supposed to be a Succubus…)
For the quality of the DVD, there isn't much to say. The primarily static video is not open to much discussion. I have two areas of general confusion, however. First, I'm uncertain of the aspect ratio of the disc. Not a big deal, but I hypothesize full frame. I'm almost inclined to think 1.85:1 anamorphic, but I'm not convinced the original material was drawn to that ratio. Second, it's unclear whether this is a transfer error or stylistic choice, but there are many transitions where one scene fades to another. At this point there's what appears to be a huge burst of aliasing, but, again, this actually could be a style choice. So I'm not qualifying it as an error. For the audio, the simple yet catchy background music comes through the front speakers fine and clear. It does have some nice overall oomph, which helps the bass but sometimes causes the treble registers to crackle. The DVD has no subtitles because there's no spoken dialogue.
Bonus materials have to be accessed on your DVD player and on your computer, which I do not like. The only thing available via your player is a photo gallery and some trailers. The better stuff is accessible via PC, including character biographies, interview, script, and bonus story "Fair Play." All of this must be available on the DVD player, as not everyone has a DVD-ROM and some of us just don't like to watch DVD material on our PCs.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Two last nitpicks. Relating to the Ellium story again, I found these four stories undefined. I didn't know what was going on for a while and then wondered where it was going. More direction is warranted. And the fight scenes were not very good. You didn't get a real sense of action; what each character was doing. It was all style and no substance in these moments.
Though I rarely tread in the land of animation, Ellium: Rise of the Fallen (whatever that title means) is a brief yet enjoyable diversion from live action fare. This disc hints at a large and potentially interesting mythology for this series. I have a mild inkling to see where it goes, but that inkling is weak and I'm not compelled to see what happens to this grand and mysterious shadow organization. Based on that, I can't recommend Ellium as a blind buy to anyone in my situation. (It's currently only available for purchase at the official site.) To the fans who have followed the growth of this story, I see nothing to dissuade you from proudly adding this to your collection.
Ellium: Rise of the Fallen is hereby found guilty of using too much silicone.
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