Tarik Saleh's Metropia is an interesting experiment in science fiction. The film follows a man named Roger (Vincent Gallo) who lives in the lousy future world of 2024. One of many denizens of the sprawling crowded inner city environment he calls home, Roger doesn't stand out at all. He works in a cubicle, he tends to blend in a little too easily in a crowd, and he has absolutely no chemistry with the girlfriend he lives with despite her best efforts. There's something off about Roger, however - he hears voices in his head, and often times at a pretty serious volume. They're not particularly scary voices, in fact, they sure sound an awful lot like he does, but this is a concern regardless.
Roger's life changes when he falls in love with a shampoo model that he sees on television. He's so infatuated with her that he actually buys that shampoo that features her image, not because he needs shampoo (he's bald) but because he hears the woman tell him to buy it. When seemingly by chance he meets her in real life, things get a bit more complicated. This woman, Nina (Juliette Lewis), knows more about the voices in Roger's head than he could possibly imagine. In fact, she's related to a man who happens to control those voices (Udo Kier) and how intends to use them to keep Roger in the complacent state that he is, so that he'll consume, consume and consume some more.
As an dystopian glimpse into a possible future, Metropia is a pretty interesting movie but the style in which its rendered is going to cause issues for some. As an animated feature, Metropia is odd. The character design is interesting, if sometimes unpleasant (such is life, right?) but the animation itself is so rigid and overly quirky looking that we never once really feel that these are real people. It's hard to invest in their stories when we can't really relate to them on even a basic level - the visuals are interesting to look at initially, but once the novelty wears off you can't help but think that the reasoning behind the animation style employed in the film was simply to make it stand out a bit. It does, but this comes at the cost of accessibility and it directly affects the audiences ability to invest that little bit of emotion into the characters that makes the best movies as involving as they are. On top of that, the animation in the film does nothing to take advantage of the unlimited possibilities that the format allows for. There's nothing here in animated form that wouldn't have worked just as well, sometimes more likely better, than it would have in a live action vehicle.
The cast involved do a fine job where the voice acting is concerned. They give their characters a bit of identity and the voices match the faces of the characters and their visual representations fairly well. This works in the film's favor, particularly any time Udo Kier gets a line. Those who know his voice from the films he's made over the years will recognize him instantly. Gallo's character sounds appropriately distant for the first part of the picture, as appropriately bland and uninteresting as he should, though as the story picks up so too does his performance - it works well in the context of the story that Saleh is telling here. Lewis is the weakest link in the chain, here she sounds burnt out and worn and while that sometimes works to her advantage, here it doesn't quite suit the character, in fact, it takes away from her appeal where we should be drawn to her instead.
By blending influences from the works of Philip K. Dick to the shadowy film noir worlds of Otto Preminger and his cohorts, Saleh manages to craft an interesting story and set it in an interesting world. That's the best way to describe Metropia - it's interesting, and this is in spite of its flaws and unnecessarily obtuse style, and as such, it's worth a watch even if it won't likely make your 'best of' list any time soon.
Metropia arrives on DVD in an appropriately gloomy looking anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks to present the film in its original aspect ratio. Grey is the most prominent color used throughout the film, with other shades of black and brown and pale yellow and pale green used throughout - not the most colorful film you're going to see. Detail is probably as good as the animated source material will allow for and while there's not as much to soak in here as the latest big budget high definition presentation, the finer points of the animation are easy to spot and to appreciate. There are some minor compression artifacts present in a couple of the darker scenes but aside from that the disc is pretty decent looking.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track included on this DVD is quite good, though the absence of subtitles might irritate some. This isn't a particularly bombastic or aggressive mix but it does use the rear channels fairly well throughout the film to place some effective ambient sound effects and to spread out the score a little bit. Dialogue is always easy enough to understand and the levels are well balanced. As you'd hope, there are no problems with hiss or distortion and the mix is both atmospheric and clean sounding. An optional 2.0 stereo track is also included.
The first of the two extras on the disc is On The Red Carpet With Metropia (2:52) contains some sit down interview footage with the director and some 'red carpet' sound bites from a couple of cast members relating to the film. There's also a brief interview with the director called My Tribeca Story (2:13) that sheds some light on his motivation - but really, it's basically an advertisement. All in all, there's a pretty healthy selection of supplements here, but with that said, the American Express advertising that occurs before you get to the main menu and before each trailer that plays before you get to the main menu (and which is all over the packaging) is completely obnoxious.
Metropia wears its influences plainly on its sleeve but manages to differentiate itself from its predecessors with its wholly unique visual style. That said, it's unfortunate that this same style is what ensures we keep a certain distance from its characters and are unable to completely let ourselves be taken in by the film. Though it's not perfect, it deserves credit not just for trying but for succeeding periodically throughout its narrative. The DVD looks and sounds fine and though its light on extras, fans of sci-fi and animation will at least want to give this a look - rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.