Immortal (2004) — A thought-provoking graphic novel adaptation

“Ceaselessly by my side moves the demon. He swims around me like impalpable air. I swallow and feel it burn my lungs. And fill them with eternal desire and guilt.”

ZombieDog’s rating: Solo viewing experience, weed would enhance.

ZombieDog’s review: B-movies, cult films, and indie films are at their heart a gamble.

While mainstream films have just as much chance of being a failure, they can definitely afford the best. In simple terms, larger budgets allow for the best directors, the best equipment, and the best in-demand actors. Looking at films as a strictly business venture with investment and return ratios, investing $200 million into a film with over $1 billion return is a sound investment. This does not by any stretch of imagination guarantee that something artistic or even creative will be produced. Independent cinema does have an investment to return ratio but are predominantly geared towards creativity and originality.

This brings up an interesting possibility. Imagine if the cost of production became achievable for anybody with a dream. What kind of movies would be produced then? It’s not just enough to have the technology to make a movie you need the idea and the passion as well. Independent cinema and college films have been around for quite some time, only within the past decade or so have virtually professional level tools become widely available for the average user to create whatever moves their soul.

You are still stuck with the problem though, and that problem is, “I need an idea.” I’m certain that many people would say that they have an idea for a movie, but do you have dialogue, setting, set design, camera angles, lighting, etc. Movies take an insane amount of creativity on levels that are often unseen.

There is a way to jumpstart this process in the form of a graphic novel. Several movies in recent history started as graphic novels. Take V for Vendetta and Watchmen just to name a couple. Enki Bilal, a French comic book artist developed the Nikopol trilogy (1980-1992). By 2004, he combined all three chapters into the film Immortal (or, as it was known in France, Immortel, ad vitam).

The film is a complex story which focuses on Nikopol, a radical and escaped convict, and Jill, a genetically modified being with an unknown origin. This is where describing this film becomes exceedingly difficult. The film is a sequence of events that involve situations that both characters are unable to fully comprehend. The story really begins when a giant floating pyramid shows up over the city.

Horace the Egyptian God has been found guilty of crimes by the other gods and has been given seven human days (or one heartbeat) in which to put his affairs in order. Horace is looking for somebody to help him out in his final days and the search is a violent and bloody affair until he finds Nikopol. Nikopol, on the verge of death, is offered a deal to keep him alive if he helps Horace find a special female. There’s an extremely coercive nature to their relationship and an element of victimization that Horace intends to inflict on the people he needs to accomplish his goal. Horace eventually finds Jill to use to carry his child.

The story is further complicated by a shadowy figure named John. It would appear that John is responsible for opening up some kind of dimensional gate in Central Park. The gate kills all who try to enter. There’s a heavy implication here that these events are culminating in ways that are not explained to the viewer and these two beings Horace and John are part of some kind of galactic plan. All these events take place in the background of a rundown future dystopian city where the technology of gene alteration and organ replacement has run rampant. The city, like its people, feels like it’s on the verge of collapse, and the arrival of Horace only makes things worse.

Let me get this out of the way first: The CGI in this movie is horribly bad. The film was made in 2004 and the animation feels like it’s from the early ’90s. To work your way through this film you will have to consciously suspend disbelief.

The exercise is worth it because while the special effects may not be up to par, the story is compelling. The interaction and dialogue between the three main characters, (Nikolai, Jill, and Horace) is a master class in character development. There’s no doubt the narrative benefited from Bilal’s decades-old history of storytelling. It always bothers me when people compare movies to a sourcebook because they are completely different formats. In this case however, graphic novels being a visual medium, the comparison is not only appropriate but an important metric. The graphic novel is a fully conceived universe with the nuances and subtlety to go with it.

To be fair, to create a movie from this source is beyond ambitious. What’s more to attempt to do it on a budget of $20 million is not only unrealistic it’s delusional. By comparison Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings, a movie from roughly the same time period which engaged in world building, had a budget of $93 million.

For Enki Bilal to take on the role both writer and director for this film, I can only assume this was a passion project. He is an amazingly gifted artist and has an incredible award-winning body of work, along with being published in multiple forms he has truly pushed the boundaries of graphic novels and adult storytelling. Heavy Metal magazine has multiple issues of stories he produced. If any magazine can be used as a benchmark to judge the level and skill of an artist, Heavy Metal is a solid indicator.

This is not a perfect film — not even close. There is a long list of problems that will be obvious to anybody who takes the time to sit down with this movie. I would still recommend it though. I would recommend it because it is done by a master artist, and it shows what one day could be possible for anybody willing to take the time to make something new. I would also recommend picking up the Nikopol graphic novel trilogy. The books are absolutely worth your time and can provide insight into what could’ve been possible had more tools been available.

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