The Transhumanism of “Immortal”

Egyptian gods and goddesses, a political martyr, a polluted future populated by transhumans, flying cars, a flying pyramid, French existentialist philosophy, and a beautiful protagonist with alabaster white skin and blue hair . . . the 2004 film Immortal had all the potential to be the most epic Cyberpunk movie of all time, but why does it miss the mark?

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The year is 2095, the place New York City, and strange things have been occurring: Central Park has slipped into another dimension, mysteriously encased in an “intrusion zone” that proves deadly to anyone trying to enter, and a giant pyramid is hovering over the city. The Egyptian gods have returned from outer space to grant the condemned Horus (voiced by Thomas M. Pollard) one last time on Earth before they end his immortality.

Immortal Charlotte Rampling

Charlotte Rampling as Elma Turner

Down below in the city, Jill Bioskop (played by Linda Hardy) is a genetic mystery, an evolving creature with human form, pale white skin, and blue hair, but amidst the population of genetically altered post-humans she mostly blends in, except to eugenics scientist Elma Turner (played by Charlotte Rampling) who becomes fascinated by Jill. Elsewhere above New York City, after a mechanical accident, political rebel Alcide Nikopol (played by Thomas Kretschmann) falls to the ground from the cryogenic frozen prison where he was serving a 30 year sentence. Both Jill and Nikopol become entwined in Horus’s search a bodily host and a means of reproduction as the fated god faces death. Many obstacles stand before the oddly matched trio as political corruption, interdimensional holes in space, and the police force on the trail of a murderer close in on them.

Immortal Horus and Nikopol

The Odd Couple . . . Horus (Thomas M. Pollard) and Nikopol (Thomas Kretschmann)

Immortal is based on the Nikopol Triology of graphic novels by Enki Bilal who also directed the film adaptation. The first installment of the trilogy is La Foire aux Immortels (1980), or The Carnival of the Immortals, set in the year 2023, the book follows Alcide Nikopol‘s return to Paris after spending 30 years frozen in space as a punishment for dodging the draft. The Paris he once knew is now ruled by fascist dictator J. F. Choublanc, the city is swarming with aliens, decaying and succumbing to chaos. At the same time, a flying pyramid-shaped space craft is hovering over Paris. It is inhabited by Egyptian gods who ask for fuel from the local authorities, as their pyramid vessel has run out of gas. In return for this service Choublanc wants immortality from the gods.

WomantrapPart two of the trilogy is La Femme Piège (1986), or The Woman Trap, which introduces and centers around Jill Bioskop, a journalist woman with blue hair and white skin. The story continues two years after Nikopol is admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Paris, a time in which of a block of concrete is discovered in space containing the immortal body of Horus. Jill has been taking a series of pills to erase her memory, but also finds herself killing a series of men, while on the trail of her latest story. Nikopol is on the trail of Horus, whom Nikopol feels he must stop, and Horus is on the trail of Jill.

The final installment is Froid Équateur (1992), or Equator Cold, focuses more on Nikopol’s son, who looks just like his father due to Nikopol’s 30 frozen years, and is set in the African continent that is experiencing unnatural pockets of snow and ice; also local cities are now populated and governed by sentient animals. The book extensively features chess boxing, a hybrid sport mixing chess and boxing. In 2003, chess boxing became a real sport, directly inspired by how it appeared in Froid Équateur.

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The plot of the Trilogy was severely condensed and drastically rearranged for the film adaptation, which delivers a new tale that seems more “inspired by” rather than adaptation. Along with Casshern and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (both released in 2004 as well), Immortal was shot entirely on a “digital backlot“, blending live actors with computer generated surroundings; the French video game studio Quantic Dream helped produce much of the cinematics. While the scenery is one of the most fantastic examples of Cyberpunk urban decay, a look captured by Bilal in 1980 that looks straight out of Blade Runner (1982), the biggest failing of this film is not the butchering of the initial plot, but the subpar computer animation of many supporting characters.

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Bilal’s narrative style of his graphic novels has that distinctly French flavor of style over content, and at a stretch one can argue that the artificial looking nature of the CGI characters was a stylized attempt to illustrate the transhuman differences. By having them look somewhat cartoonish, the characters follow the theme of human impurity, but it is too much of a distraction and pulls the viewer away from the plot . . . which is a huge shame because Immortal has all the potential ingredients of being a great film.

It’s hard to avoid the old “book was better than the film” cliché, but in this case it is totally true. Things such as Jill’s blue hair and white skin go without comment in the graphic novel, others sport similar styles, but in the film these minor details are elevated to epic proportions. The Trilogy is packed with odd things to which characters seldom are surprised, but this idiosyncrasy is removed for the film at a cost. The nonchalant air and slow pace of the books distinguish themselves from many comic book stories, but the film seems to be under pressure to create increased drama in all the wrong places. That said, the film is still worth a view, but make sure that you don’t experience the graphic novel until afterwards.


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