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First Look Pictures // R // December 2, 2008
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted November 22, 2008 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
About three quarters of the way through Immortal, its mutant-alien-slowing-becoming-human heroine whispers, "I'm confused," to which I silently answered, "Join the group, honey." Immortal is one of the most visually interesting films I've seen, blending live action with CGI elements that are variously photo-realistic and seemingly culled from an errant videogame version of the movie, blended with both real and computer generated environments. The film therefore has the look of, say, a Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, while it simultaneously borrows plot elements from such far-flung films as The Fifth Element, Dark City, The Matrix, Stargate, Rosemary's Baby and It's a Wonderful Life. OK, I made that last one up, but I might be forgiven for being slightly dazed after trying to figure out exactly what was going on throughout this piece.

To say that Immortal is a mishmash is a bit of an understatement. We're in the New York City of 2095, an of course dystopian ghetto of retro-chic designs ("flying" cars that are suspended from tracks and look like 1952 DeSoto's) and nefarious government plots. Did I mention there's a floating pyramid hovering over the city containing living, breathing Egyptian gods like Horus and Anubis? There's also a collection of humans and genetically altered half-breeds filling the streets below. The two worlds intersect when Horus, evidently under some sort of death sentence that's never fully explained, decides he has to inhabit the body of a human in order to impregnate a woman to carry on the long line of falcon-headed gods. Or something like that. The man Horus inhabits is a freedom fighter mistakenly released early from cryogenic prison, and the woman who becomes his mate is a strange, blue-haired mutant who seems to be only three months old, is some sort of alien, but is slowly becoming human at the behest of her shrouded mentor and the blue pills he prescribes for her. Confused yet? If not, you're not trying hard enough.

There's simply so much that is left unexplained in Immortal that I doubt anyone other than ardent followers of director Enki Bilal's source graphic novels is going to completely understand it. There's also an at time extremely unsettling mix of visual styles and even graphic techniques throughout the movie that only add to its bewildering impact. There is an at times astoundingly realistic element at work, as in two pretty gruesome beasts that chase our heroes toward the end of the film, then there's a sort of middling ground, the best examples of which are the Egyptian gods, and then there are the patently unrealistic, video-game looking characters like a duplicitous Senator and his minions. It's like a patchwork quilt of studios, everything from Pixar to Ghibli, was used to create these manifold characters, and this melting pot of Immortal is sort of a mess as a result. That said, there is a lot to look at in Immortal, some of it quite amazing, if somewhat monochromatic in that Sky Captain manner. In fact, when the big bad beasties appear toward the end of the film, their brilliant red color is a welcome respite from the drab browns and grays that otherwise inhabit the bulk of Immortal.

French actress Linda Hardy (extremely well dubbed by Barbara Scaff) does a very nice job with the largely blank slate that is heroine Jill. Hardy's unusually expressive eyes are able to convey everything from rage to consternation (she especially needs the consternation part in this film), and at times she resembles a slightly alien Annie Lennox (I guess maybe that should be slightly more alien Annie Lennox). If Jill the character's motivations are usually unclear (especially toward the denouement when she suddenly falls in love with the hero), Hardy does a fine job attempting to ground the character in some sort of reality, something probably next to impossible to accomplish considering the surreal environment. Thomas Kretschmann portrays Nikopol, the unexpectedly released freedom fighter. Like Jill, his backstory and motivations are largely a cipher and the viewer is left to intuit various plot points from throwaway lines here and there. Kretschmann is dashing with an undercurrent of dolor that makes his Nikopol a very appealing character. Charlotte Rampling is also on board as a mysterious doctor who's trying to figure out where Jill came from and how she is slowly mutating into human form.

Immortal is one of those films that has "cult property" stamped all over it, and probably not for uniformly good reasons. A visual feast, it's a pretty sloppy mess plot wise, and, frankly, even visually at times. A more coherent approach toward straightforward storytelling could have freed the film up to really explore its visual virtuosity even more, without leaving stunned viewers by the wayside. If you're in the mood for a "trippy" experience, Immortal may be just your ticket. Whether or not it turns out to be a bad trip will probably depend on your tolerance for incoherence.

The Blu-ray

Though Immortal suffers from the same purposefully blanched palette that its CGI-environment kin Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow does, this 1080p AVC 1.85:1 transfer is pretty stunning nonetheless. Sharpness, depth and detail are all first rate, although there was one very brief moment of aliasing on some rounded linear patterns on a building toward the beginning of the film. When there is saturated color, as in Jill's hair and, later, the super-red "Dayaks" that attempt to attack Nikopol, it's there in abundance.

The English True HD 5.1 mix is stupendous, with really superb separation and immersion, something you'll notice immediately in the cityscape, with whizzing flying cars traveling from channel to channel. Dialogue (most of which was dubbed) is extremely clear and easy to understand, and is suitably weighted toward the front. There's quite a bit of bombast at various times in this feature, with some exceptional use of LFE. One major caveat: Though English subtitles are optional, the encoders chose not to include them in a default-on mode in the scenes spoken in Egyptian by the gods--you need to go in and turn them on for those moments, which I recommend.

Two featurettes, one ostensibly on the special effects, and the other on the making of the film, are included, though they both not only are culled from the same interviews, they actually contain some of the very same information and actual interview segments.

Final Thoughts:
Immortal is unique, you have to give it that. I really don't have a clue what it ultimately meant, but there's a lot to see and listen to, which might help distract you from wondering about the meaning of it all. I suggest you Rent It to gauge whether you want it in your permanent collection.

"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet

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