You would certainly be forgiven if 2003’s Kaena The Prophecy slipped below your computer animated feature film radar. I was particularly perplexed why I hadn’t heard of it sooner when I discovered that Sony Pictures (under the Columbia Tristar label) distributed this DVD domestically. The actual film comes to us from a small French firm called Destination Films (Directed by: Chris Delaporte & Pascal Pinon) using software that was actually written for video game development.
The film certainly rings of Final Fantasy animated movie inspiration with emphasis on a sort of blend of science fiction and fantasy story elements set in a visually rich world. However, while the Final Fantasy series may be remembered for its stunning lifelike animation, Kaena (rhymes with hyena) does more with its plotting and prose than it draws gasps for visual perfection (presumably due to budget restrictions and again, a software set that was never intended for the demands of feature film rendering).
The story goes something like this: Set in a post-apocalyptic alien world, this tale concerns an adventurous young woman named Kaena (voiced by Kirsten Dunst), a member of a race of humanoids who inhabit an enormous tree called the Axis, rising some hundred miles from the planet surface.
Her people's leader, Opaz (Richard Harris), insists the tribe's reason for being is harvesting sap from the ever-dying/ drying tree as offerings to the deities who provide sustenance. Ever obstinate, Kaena finds herself doubting the teachings of her people in favor of exploring the world around her for answers.
The plot really thickens when she discovers that the very existence of her race is credited to an alien space craft that had crashed on the planet some 600 years prior and the idols her people worship are in fact the native race of the planet (the living tree sap Selenites, led by a vicious queen (Anjelica Huston)).
If this plot summary sounds intriguing to you, rest assured the actual material is quite impressive. It flows along with the type of atmosphere one would expect from a science fiction paperback novel coupled to visuals that could best be described as a cross between the imagination of Jim Henson and HR Giger.
About the weakest element here would have to be the humans themselves. Close-up shots of their skin reveal some passable textures but on the whole they animate clunkily and awkwardly. Bodily movement and hair interaction is reminiscent, of well, a video game cut scene. But that’s hardly surprising all factors considering.
I wouldn’t go as far as to call the plot structure of Kaena muddled, although it takes a rather non-linear approach to weaving its tale that is commonly found in Japanese anime pieces. The story is all there but a majority of viewers should not expect to simply blank out in front of the screen and have the material force-fed to them. Some thought is necessary, especially early on, to make sense of everything being presented.
The film has a PG-13 rating and for the most part this recommendation is pretty spot on. The title character runs around in a skimpy outfit throughout the first half of the picture and there is a brief segment at the end that depicts her fully nude (but tastefully drowned in bright light). Otherwise there really is no violence/ gore to be concerned with and the dialog is appropriate for all ages.
Perhaps the most impressive segment of the picture is a clash between Kaena and a massive sub-terrenes beast called the Marauder. Flawlessly executed and quite thrilling, it can truly be called the crowning achievement moment of the production.
In all, Kaena the Prophecy is a pretty enjoyable experience. Its modest budget and technical limitations couldn’t stop the charm of the storytellers’ vision from shining through. It definitely lacks the polish and all-age-friendliness that we typically associate with domestic CG-based features but it makes up for it with a more enriching, adult-friendly experience.
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