Today is International Swoon over Ryan Adams Day, something I've yet to be convinced is really necessary. (It is sad when you are not even the coolest person around with the letters "r-y-a-n-a-d-a-m-s" in your name.) I'm sure you detectives out there have figured out that the day was created by Lady Jane Scarlett, of Lady Jane Scarlett's Den. Despite her bizarre worship of talentless musicians, we here at the Institute are big fans.

There have been quite a few new movies out on Video, so I will get to as many as I can. I was going to review THE NUMBER 23 today, but it doesn't deserve its own day, so I will save that for one of my upcoming Compare/Contrast series. (For now, if you go to Blockbuster, please stay the heck away from it. The movie is not good.) Instead, we have another brand new video release that's actually worth your time…


Movie-Hype (#708) - RENAISSANCE

In a way, writing a review is almost unnecessary. If you take one minute and seventeen seconds to watch this trailer, you will either want to watch the movie or you will not.

Well, just in case….

RENAISSANCE is a bold new movie with an audacious vision of where filmmaking might be headed. Liberally borrowing plot and style from avant-garde Cinema milestones (such as BLADE RUNNER, GHOST IN THE SHELL, SIN CITY, and THE ANIMATRIX; just to name a few), RENAISSANCE uses motion capture technology in a completely unheard of way to give us the first black and white animated sci-fi film noire cyberpunk detective story.

When I say the film is in black and white, I am not kidding. There is literally no gray here, or any other colors. Everything is in black and white. Animating people has been done. Black and white has been done. (The story will be very familiar for fans of any of the above genres, but that is not important.) Putting them all together: you get a unique movie experience.

If you are like me, you are willing to see a movie that is dramatically different and daring just for that, even if the movie might not completely work. And if the movie kicks ass…..

Did I mention that RENAISSANCE totally kicks ass?

Paris: 2054. You have all seen futuristic movies, so I will not spend three paragraphs detailing neat little grace note features, but somehow the animation gives it a fresh feel. (Actually, I do want to mention one thing: the famous Pont Neuf Bridge now has "clear" concrete. Think about the visual possibilities.)

One of the cool things about animation is that they can do things with their characters that real people cannot. However, since RENAISSANCE filmed real people, the "magical" aspects of the future seem even cooler, because it feels real. On the other hand, with ONLY black and white in the palette the film can never be real, so there is a delicious contradiction going on. They do things in this movie that seem impossible, which is a strange thing to say for an animated film, but there is that Matrix quality of "OMFG! Did you see that?" to at least three scenes. I guess because of the motion capture and how real the faces are you get sucked in as if this world existed, so when suddenly the "camera" shifts radically into an impossible shot there is even more of an impact.

The English language voice work is good enough that I STRONGLY DISCOURAGE you idiots out there who insist on watching animated films in their original language. For a regular movie, I agree that dubbing is terrible, but in animation, there isn't the synchronicity problem, not to mention that fact that you do not want to waste one single second "reading" when there is so much to look at. (Daniel Craig headlines a cast that includes Catherine McCormack and Ian Holm.)

The story is somewhat conventional for Cyberpunk/Sci-Fi, and rather tough to follow right at first, but bear with the movie; they pull things together into a taught net by the middle. Actually, RENAISSANCE may be no tougher to follow than any movie straddling that many genres, but I personally was distracted because I just could not stop staring at the visuals. The people were amazing. The sets were amazing. And—this is not a small point—because it is only in black and white, you really have to pay attention to what you are looking at. There were times when I felt like I was checking out one of those Old/Young woman pics.

The final "message" of RENAISSANCE is, to be charitable, not well translated from the French. Or maybe I do not understand what they are driving at, and feel they did not come close to "proving" anything. But it does not matter. Normally I would say "story" trumps all aspects of a movie, but here I make an exception. (Besides, other than the ultimate conclusion, the story really does work well once all the pieces are interlocked and moving.) For all the neat story stuff going on, you see RENAISSANCE for one reason only: to throw your eyes a party. You have never seen anything like it.

Style over Substance sounds like a cynical critique of our modern world, but in this case they are one and the same. It's not just about looking cool and kicking ass, it's about reminding us why Cinema is such a dynamic Artistic Medium, capable of that which none other is: to show us the future now. The filmmakers of RENAISSANCE have stepped out on the ledge of movie making to show us the possibilities. It is up to you to follow.


Anonymous said...

Where's my prize?

Sea Hag said...

Ryan Adams is THE SHIT! Don't be hatin'.

Sea Hag said...

And where's my prize?

Dragon said...

He's the shit? Since when is that a compliment?

Anonymous said...

I liked the review. Makes me interested in seeing the movie.

However, I have to take issue with your last paragraph. Cinema is not the only "dynamic Artistic Medium" capable of showing us the future now. It depends on how you define and use your terms, but books can feel just as dynamic as cinema, and they are certainly capable of communicating to us a future in great detail. They don't show it visually, no, but they reveal it to the reader. Some might argue that other media do so as well.

What about computer simulations? Not only are they capable of showing us the future now, they are capable of showing many possible futures.

Hyperion said...

Koz - I graced you with my presence last night.

Sea Hag - I put up with your Bryan Adams drivel.

Dragon - Ironically, it's the only true thing they say about him.

Bear - I appreciate the attempt to refute my assertions, but you're off your game. I was careful with my verb usage, as you'll agree that novels, while arguably a great art form, do not by definition "show," but rather "tell."

As for computer simulations, I'm not even sure what you mean (in this instance), but I'm betting it doesn't meet the threshold of "great art," so I'm not sweating it.

Anonymous said...

I'm not off my game at all. Note that I said "It depends on how you define and use your terms", and went on to detail how by "show" you could mean "communicate" or "reveal", not necessarily in a visual sense.

Anyhow, I'm a nit-picky technical guy, as you know, and I'm not going to sit here and argue that books show anything visually, because I don't really believe that. I do believe that they are inherently just as dynamic as movies. I don't know if that's a point of contention or not, but I'm open on that one.

I am very interested in the computer simulations topic, for obvious reasons. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I do have extensive experience with computer simulations and I'm not so easy to dismiss them as not "great art". I'm not sure why you would doubt that they could be great art. You are sounding like Roger Ebert, who is someone who knows virtually nothing about video games, has played maybe 2 of them in his life, and yet claims that they are not great art. You'd have to admit that it might be a good idea to step back and think about this.

It's important to define the terms we're talking about, and I think Wikipedia has a great definition of art:

"Art is a (product of) human activity, made with the intention of stimulating the human senses as well as the human mind; thus art is an action, an object, or a collection of actions and objects created with the intention of transmitting emotions and/or ideas. Beyond this description, there is no general agreed-upon definition of art, since defining the boundaries of "art" is subjective, but the impetus for art is often called human creativity" (

My claim is that computer simulations, or video games, fit under the category of art. They all attempt to appeal to the senses and mind and convey emotions and ideas. I have countless examples of games doing that, and will be happy to spew them out to no end, but let me take a more general approach: If video games were not art--if they did not appeal favorably to the senses, mind, and did not cause people to feel emotions--then they would not be fun and people would not buy them and play them!

At this point one might say "By your criteria, anything can be art." Very true, but I don't see a problem with that. The quality of art is what's important, and that is subjective. I would say that since the goals of art are to stimulate the senses and the mind and to transmit emotions and ideas, that something called "great art" would be art that excels at these two goals.

But, again, why would you doubt that computer simulations could be great art? Many of the components that make up modern cinema have heavy dependence on the same computer techniques found in video games. The visuals that you rave about in Renaissance are produced by computer graphics techniques. The music and sound effects are enhanced via computers.

It's not just a one-way street, either, as video games borrow techniques from movies. Games make use of various camera shots and the rules for switching between them. For example, the "180 degree rule" for switching between shots applies to games because you don't want to disorient the player, just as you don't want to disorient the audience. Like a typical Hollywood movie, you tend to want the transition between camera angles to be as transparent as possible.

Video games, like movies, are produced by large teams consisting of producers, writers, artists, and programmers, cost comparable amounts of money to make, and end up sitting on shelves in Blockbuster right next to films. Why would games not be quite capable of using all of the same visual techniques of film (and for that matter the textual techniques of novels) to produce similar stories?

My not so well-stated point about computer simulations showing us the future was that computer simulations have the capability to show us not only one fixed story, but many possible stories. The fact that the player or user can be an active part of that process makes the experience that much more personal. The player participates in the creation process and therefore becomes an artist.

Hyperion said...

Bear - I get the feeling you need a website of your own to vent, or at least we should do a point/counterpoint column on the subject. (I yearn to write, "Bear you ignorant slut.")

As to books vs. movies, it's a great debate, and closer than it might appear. As you know, this is the first thing that Empire of the Mind is going to be debating (What is the Best Art Medium), which probably makes everyone jealous, but then again, they can always apply.

As to these so called "computer simulations," I initially wrote that I wasn't sure what you meant. I was being serious. The only thing I could think of was one of those old biology movies we used to watch in school, and I reasoned that since I'd never really heard of "computer simulations" at least in regards to being considered "high art," I was fairly confident they were not.

It took you six paragraphs in your response to say what a computer simulation is! Knowing you, I should have suspected you were talking about video games, but I don't think I have ever heard you call "video games" anything but "video games." If "computer simulation" is the new Orwellian term your crowd is using somebody could have told me. I like to be hip too, you know.

(In a side bar note, you will recall that two years ago I brought up the idea that "video game" was an outmoded term and the industry needed rebranding, not just for correctness, but for marketing purposes (vis a vis being accepted as art). I still like the ideas I came up with.)

Anyway, as you also know I am fairly ignorant about video games, but I would never claim they were not (or at least could not be) art, and in some cases high art. Of course I would qualify that with a few thoughts on the subject, but as we principally agree on this I will table THAT discussion until it inevitably comes up on Empire of the Mind.

I initially wrote that Cinema can show us the future now, in a stylistic attempt to capture the grandeur of what RENAISSANCE is doing. Well, I grant you that video games can be cutting edge with technology. I suppose then they might be able to do some of the same things, and while I suspect it would always be derivative of Cinema (since the parts of the game that are "showing the future" are really small movies in and of themselves), I freely admit there could be a more hollistic and existential experience involved when it comes to delivering the future, especially as it relates to the interactivity.

In retrospect I should have qualified my statement more, but that would have diluted the "high art" I was aiming for in my argument. (On the plus side, I might have sounded like that kid in the "What America means to Me" contest episode of The Simpsons when he says "Where else but in America, or possibly Canada, could our family find such opportunity?")

I will say now--not as a sign of disrespect, but just handicapping--I do not see how video games can hold their own in our upcoming Battle Royale debate on "Best Art Form EVER!" However, I relish the thought of you in there making the case and throwing pile drivers.

Joseph Boyd said...

I understand that you were really excited about the movie, and the point that you were making about how awesome movies can be. I wholeheartedly agree.

I assumed that you had an idea of what a "computer simulation". To be fair, only academic game theorists would use a term like that on a regular basis, and there aren't many of those around (although I feel like I'm becoming one). I figured you'd at least look up the words and formulate your own conception.

I think what I wrote was misleading in that not all computer simulations are video games. I would say that there is significant overlap between them, perhaps even to the point that video games are a subset of computer simulations. Not all rectangles are squares, but all squares are rectangles. I'd love to continue this further, and come up with a definition of computer simulations, but I hear Koz snoring and we'll take this up in Empire, which you should just go ahead and kick off, slacker!!!!