Sunday, July 31, 2016

Fantasia ’16: Battledream Chronicle

Depending on how it is used, the internet can either liberate or enslave. Ask the Chinese how that works. Circumstances will be even more extreme in the year 2100. In this animated future, all nations are connected through the digital universe of Farandjun, where most day-to-day life is conducted, rather than in the toxic real world. Unfortunately, when the rogue AI virus Isfet assumes control over Farandjun, she demands the connected nations conduct a Battle Royale, with the losers submitting to the victors, in both the virtual and physical realms. Princess Syanna Meridian was the first to fall, but she will have a chance at redemption in Alain Bidard’s Battledream Chronicle (trailer here), which screened during the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Meridian was once the Crown Princess of the first formerly sovereign state pitted against the fierce Mortemonde. As a result, she was the first to learn Mortemondian dictator Isaac Ravengorn has special armor that renders him invulnerable and therefore invincible within Isfet’s Battledream arena. As they will do with successive losers, the Mortemonde victors will wipe the memories of Meridian and her people, integrating them into the lower rungs of their society.

As Meridan and her partner Alytha Mercuri plug away as workaday gladiators in the Battledream, Ravengorn cuts through his competition. The tiny city of Sablereve is the final holdout. A recent defector from Mortemonde has brought news of a relic within the game that can pierce Ravengorn’s armor. However, Meridian chances across the Easter Egg weapon during one of her matches, but is wholly unaware of its significance.

Let’s not mince words. Battledream’s underwhelming CG animation is barely a cut above straight to DVD B-movies like Gene-Fusion. However, its speculative world-building and heady themes are more ambitious than its flat style suggests. Frankly, is looks just adequate enough for viewers to get pulled into the cyberpunky story of oppression and revolt. Bidard has created some surprisingly engaging supporting characters, including Nyssa, the escaped Mortemonde slave, Oramame Alwami, a sadist Mortmonde inquisitor who was once Nyssa’s gladiatorial partner, and Klaus Balrog, the high-ranking Templar and defender of Sablereve.

This is definitely a film about good versus evil. In fact, the internal laws and traditions of Mortemonde are unusually nefarious and cruel. Bidard certainly primes us for some payback. Yet, he avoids most of the clichés you would expect in the final showdown.

Considering it was produced for about twelve cents, Battledream is definitely worth checking out. Animation fans will might find its visuals appealingly retro—or perhaps not. Still, there just aren’t that many animated features coming from Martinique, so this also holds a claim to novelty and national pride. As a bonus, it also features the Sonny Troupé Quartet’s tune “Voyages & Rêves” (see video here) over the closing credits, earning extra points for good taste. Recommended more for fans of dystopian science fiction than animation connoisseurs, Battledream Chronicle screened during this year’s Fantasia.