This Korean anime effort reportedly took five years to make, and is described in the press materials as the first example of “HD multi-layered animation,” involving “live action miniatures and atmospheric elements shot on Panavision’s 24p HDW-F900 camera, immersive 3D CGI backgrounds, and traditional 2D character animation–layered many dozens of times in each frame of HD digital film.” That all sounds pretty spectacular, and it’s no wonder that “Sky Blue,” as it’s been titled in this dubbed-into-English version (an earlier one was called “Wonderful Days”), is visually very impressive, especially in terms of the background settings and landscape vistas. (The character animation, on the other hand, is pretty conventional and dull.)
But what really sinks the movie is the script, which is drearily cliched and predictable. It’s set in 2142 AD after an environmental apocalypse that’s left the world a dank, gloomy place where acid rain makes most areas uninhabitable. The exception is Ecoban, which might sound like some new prescription drug hawked prominently on CNN but is actually a huge, antiseptically modern city in which a ruling elite lords it over a mass of oppressed workers, the hapless “diggers,” who mine the carbon which serves as an energy source. Among the members of the security apparatus protecting Ecoban against rebellion and invasion from the slum-dwelling elements outside its walls are the brutal Commander Locke (David Naughton), young Commander Cade (Kirk Thornton) and Cade’s girlfriend Jay (Catherine Cavadini), a captain who’s of two minds about the cruelty with which the diggers are treated.
There’s an opposition to the status quo, of course. Its great heroic figure is Shua (Marc Worden), a stoic, valiant young man who–we learn–was a child in Ecoban (and Jay’s intended) until he was framed for murder by the jealous Cade and forced to flee to the outworld. He’s now in league with Dr. Noah (Naughton, again), an elderly scientist who helped design the city’s power system but is now plotting to turn it off. Two kids are among those they protect–Karen, a blind girl Dr. Noah has taken under his wing, and Woody (Rebecca Wink), an orphan boy whom Shua tries to lure away from the influence of a street gang that includes the gargantuan Goliath and his ferret-like follower Moe (Karl Wiedegott). The whole plot centers on Shua’s efforts to break into Ecoban in order to steal data needed by Noah to complete his computations so that the final assault on the city can be launched, and on the romantic triangle that ensues when Jay finds out that Shua is still alive and Cade schemes to keep her for himself.
There’s obviously nothing new in this–“Sky Blue” is essentially just another clone of “Metropolis” that falls far short of its inspiration–but it would have been a lot more fun if it didn’t take itself so seriously (the only humor is of the Saturday-morning action-hero variety) and the characters weren’t such a bunch of sticks. The movie is under 90 minutes long, but in an effort to appear profound it moves so turgidly that it seems twice the actual length–even the numerous chase sequences (always in curiously unpeopled surroundings, odd for a place that’s supposed to be heavily populated) lack energy and pizzazz, although they occasionally share in the carefully-contrived visual splendor (an early confrontation between Shua and Jay in a museum, for instance, has some perfectly lovely moments involving famous works of art). As if the usual laborious pace weren’t deadening enough, the big finale actually goes into a sort of slow motion so that spurts of blood can glide around like tufts of red cloud. The voice performances are nothing special, either. That’s partially the fault of the English dialogue (courtesy of Sunmin Park, Howard Rabinowicz and Jeffrey Winter) , which is composed largely of banalities, but apart from Naughton’s Locke, who barks out his orders with snarling malevolence, most everybody else seems to be on some sort of mood-dampening medication. That’s especially evident in Worden’s recitation of Shua’s lines: he delivers them in a smooth, calming monotone that recalls nothing more than Douglas Rain’s HAL-9000 intonation from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” But there the effect was supposed to be numbing.
One can always try to click off the nonsensical plot elements and dreary dialogue and simply luxuriate in the images, of course–and in the eclectic, surprisingly subdued music score by Il Won and Sam Spiegel, which has some effectively exotic elements. But sadly “Sky Blue” isn’t good enough to be quite worth the effort.