For some reason, great technological strides in moviemaking technology are rarely accompanied by even moderate strides in storytelling technology. The most visually groundbreaking recent films (think Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow or Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, or even the second Star Wars trilogy) often feature scripts that feel like afterthoughts, excuses for visual excess, or just first drafts of half-baked ideas that nobody took time to polish. Immortal, the third film written and directed by French/Yugoslavian comic-book artist Enki Bilal, falls into the usual traps of a highly visually innovative cinematic technological experiment: It's stunning from start to finish, with every calculated frame a poster-perfect image, but it's also busy, cold, and soulless, with a story that doesn't unfold so much as it mechanically lines up grungy-gorgeous sequences for perusal like paintings in a museum exhibit.
Linda Hardy and Thomas Kretschmann star as the story's two fated poles: She's a white-skinned, blue-scaled mutant whose internal structure fascinates intense, proprietary doctor Charlotte Rampling. He's a political prisoner, frozen in cold storage but released a year early during an equipment failure, and now on the run from the law. He's also intermittently serving as a vessel to the falcon-headed Egyptian god Horus, who's come to Manhattan circa 2095 to seek the rare woman who can continue his line. Guess who that is? The story is a partial adaptation of Bilal's Nikopol Trilogy, which Bilal puts on the screen with breathtaking style, building a grubby, heavily textured world in which people who look like CGI characters interact with CGI characters who rarely look like people. They're mutants, monsters, and style mavens, a zoo of futuristic weirdness and ancient-god iconography, and Bilal renders them all in expressive detail.
Like Sky Captain and Sin City, Immortal was built entirely in a computer-generated environment, and the few human characters never quite seem connected to their artificial surroundings; they float through run-down slum hotels and icy alien fantasy-scapes with equal detachment. But that detachment and the crowded, chilly style are common enough in French science fiction, and in Bilal's comics in general. It's remote rather than personally engaging, though the anomie is as calculated as the oppressive gray-brown color scheme, and any effort at more visceral emotion—such as Kretschmann's stabs at anger, fear, frustration, and despair—comes across as shrill and excessive, especially next to Hardy's muted cool. But for all its flaws, as a pure technical exercise, Immortal is brilliant. Part Sky Captain, part Fifth Element, and a large part simply accurately translated Bilal, Immortal makes the future look like a horrible place to live, but an incomparably wondrous place to visit.