The Dork Crystal

Kaena: The Prophecy looks great but comes up short in other areas

There are moments of Kaena: The Prophecy that will blow your mind, from the opening sequence, in which we are taken through the heart of a massive spaceship that's in the midst of a slow explosion, to the film's villains, a couple of "sap monsters" that look like H.R. Giger sculptures made of flowing liquid. The aerial predators called "sharkens" and the worms that wear full-body robot suits in order to fly aren't bad either. So it's a shame that this all-CG movie had to go and spoil things by making the main characters a bunch of humans. People are tough to render in computer animation, and the makers of Kaena aren't entirely up to the task.

Except, perhaps, when it comes to the female lead, Kaena (rhymes with "hyena"), who has been created in full babe-a-licious detail, clad in a buckskin bikini top and what appear to be cotton undies one size too small, exposing butt-crack throughout. This is a French movie, after all, and they're none too shy about showing skin over there. That Kaena is voiced in the English dub by Kirsten Dunst only adds to the drool factor, and also plays like a knowing in-joke, given the way the character swings through the air from platform to platform like some kind of arachnid superhero.

Kaena's a bit of a loner and a troublemaker, which is understandable when you're the only supermodel in a village full of cartoon characters (all the other humans look like their counterparts in Ice Age). The village exists somewhere in a gigantic tree trunk called Axis, surrounded by clouds above and below. Like many less-than-modern societies, these humans are kept in line by nutty, fanatical religious beliefs, though it is soon revealed, to the viewer at least, that the "gods" they worship are in fact Selenites -- the aforementioned sap monsters -- who are the last inhabitants of the world at the roots of Axis, and are using the humans to provide them with free food.

The Selenite queen, voiced by Anjelica Huston, is like a stereotypical bad housewife. All she does is eat and yell -- eating keeps her strength up for yelling, and her yell functions as a sonic weapon, with which she is constantly trying to destroy a glowing blue orb called Vecanoi, which is the energy core of the crashed spaceship, something the queen believes to be killing her world. Meanwhile, henpecked hubby Voxem (Keith David) just wants the queen to put out already ("fusioning," he calls it). Her reluctance is understandable, though: The Selenites are insects, and the female always dies in childbirth.

There's also an ancient alien scientist (voiced by the late Richard Harris) who survived the original crash as a child, and who wants Vecanoi for himself, as it contains a repository of all the knowledge accumulated by his people, or something.

The story of primitive religious mystics pitted against ugly, craggy insectoids for control of a great glowing object also sought by a free-spirited independent protagonist is reminiscent of The Dark Crystal, but it isn't the only thing that is. Kaena resembles the Jim Henson fantasy in many ways, from its visual imagination and creature design to the hideousness of its more humanoid characters and the general mediocrity of the voice acting. Dunst and David are experienced at this sort of thing and do fine (she was the lead in the English dub of Kiki's Delivery Service, and David is the guy everyone calls for voice-overs when James Earl Jones isn't available), but the rest of the cast just doesn't really fit. Particularly miscast is comedian Greg Proops as one of the flying worms; you may remember him as the voice of the similarly annoying pod-race announcer in The Phantom Menace ("I don't care what universe you're from, that's gotta hurt!"). The original French cast features the likes of Cecile de France (Around the World in 80 Days, the upcoming slasher High Tension) and Victoria Abril (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!), but unfortunately it looks like we'll have to wait for the DVD release to hear the movie in French, as the filmmakers intended.

Kaena was originally created as a demo for a video game, but along the way became a full-fledged feature with two officially credited screenwriters, one additional dialogue writer, and five folks credited with "additional screenplay contribution" (what happened to WGA rules limiting this stuff?). To everyone's credit, what's left doesn't feel like a mindless game, certainly not to the same extent Van Helsing did. But it is a strange mix, perhaps reflecting the sheer number of writers. On the surface it seems like a kid's movie, but Kaena's fetishistic wardrobe changes (including at least one blink-and-you'll-miss-it fully nude shot) and the innuendo-laden Selenite mating scene are such that the film's PG-13 rating comes as a surprise. French parents tend to be less bothered by this sort of thing.

Here in the USA, such elements tend to suggest a film for older audiences, but if that's the case, why not give us more mature moviegoers the original French dialogue? It's not like people will be paying much attention to the story anyhow -- the visuals are what make this movie, and they are often unforgettable.

 
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