Don't mention Judge William Lee's big head.
Someone is listening to your thoughts.
Tarik Saleh is an Egyptian-Swedish television producer, journalist, animator and graffiti artist. Metropia is his first feature-length animated movie and it showcases his unique creative vision. He's got the visual style but can he deliver the substance?
Facts of the Case
Europe in the not-so-distant future is a bleak place. Environmental disaster and economic collapse has left the world under a gloomy pall. Corporate power still reigns though, evidenced by a shampoo company's neon logos installed over the Eiffel Tower. A vast underground train system links the entire European continent. However, Roger (Vincent Gallo, Tetro) hates riding the trains.
Every time he enters the underground, Roger hears voices in his head. One day he follows a mysterious woman through the train network because she looks like a beautiful model he's seen on television. When Roger meets the woman, Nina (Juliette Lewis, Whip It) presents him with some startling information: "Listen. A voice in your head is talking to you. It doesn't belong to you. I know where it's coming from." As Roger's involvement with Nina develops, his feelings for his girlfriend are strained and he uncovers a conspiracy to control the minds of the populace. Or is he just suffering from paranoid delusion?
Metropia is one of the most unique looking films in recent years. The world, presented in a sickly pale monochrome, resembles an urban wasteland. Not a city that's been bombed out but rather one that has been decaying for some time. The depiction of humans is startling. They all have oversized heads propped on otherwise normal looking bodies. It reminds me a little of those bobble-head toys only the features are unsettlingly photo-realistic. This surreal imagery would be very striking in a music video and indeed memorable in a short film. After about 20 minutes into this feature, however, we've seen all the tricks that this visual gimmick has to offer.
While the film's animation technique is arresting at first, it soon becomes obvious that the range of movement is limited and emotional expression all but impossible. Characters move like two-dimensional cardboard cutouts. Facial animation is likewise restricted. The eyes manage to be fairly expressive but the lip-syncing is unconvincing on the main characters and barely attempted with the minor ones. I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt that what I describe is the intended style of the animators and not a shortcoming in their skills. However, the result is the impression that we're looking at shells of characters approximating their personas instead of believing that these are real people involved in a story. Stretched to feature length, you need to feel a connection with the characters and this high tech puppet show doesn't pull it off.
The voice work is often more expressive than the animation can support. Gallo and Lewis are very good in their roles even though I wasn't sure if Nina was supposed to be an American or a Parisian. Udo Kier (My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done) is also heard as the head of a shady corporation.
The movie excels at creating an atmosphere of hopelessness and paranoia. The script is very talky for an animated film and it takes a while before the thriller elements dominate the action. The story's revelations about the corrupt power of corporations and the true motivations at play are nothing new but the movie goes through the paces competently.
The picture is meant to look slightly "ugly" and the DVD is satisfying in that regard. Color palette is limited but the image sharpness is good. The image is minimally grainy and this is more noticeable in the shadows where a small amount of digital noise can be seen to shift even when the backgrounds are still. Audio is presented in stereo or 5.1 surround. The movie's soundtrack is much softer than the opening logos and other clips on the disc so crank up the volume once the feature proper starts.
Five minutes of interviews are included on the disc divided into two clips. "My Tribeca Story" features director Tarik Saleh giving a quick intro to the movie. "On the Red Carpet" sees Saleh giving sound bites at the film's premiere while actress Juliette Lewis quickly sounds off on how great it is to be there.
Metropia is a one-trick pony. The unique visual style is striking but there isn't anything new to see beyond that. While the animation is eerie and interesting at first, not enough is done with it to sustain interest for the full duration of the movie. The story is familiar sci-fi but it seems a bit lifeless this time around.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
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