Cinema Signal:

. "Waking Life"

What is this? It's a string of polemic discussions and debates filmed by sometimes famous people sometimes not and the live action reduced to a stylized quasi realistic cartoon. This plotless diatribe, which seems aimed at propounding the meaning of life, would seem to have been condensed from the conversations of university students at UC Berkeley and other hotbeds of nihilistic philosophy and made for an audience of similar extraction.

So, what is it doing in movie theatres? That's a harder question to answer. One wonders. They did get a few real (and attractive) actors to play the dialogue, most notably a pairing carried over from a previous film together, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Here they are engaging in pillow talk that would be the envy of philosophy professors and philosophizers world-wide.

Transforming the images to an engaging and artful three dimensional posterized quality imparts the most interesting aspect to the film (from an entertainment standpoint) and it's probably the key to justify a commercial release. It's done with a computerized version of an old technique called rotoscoping, in which animators trace their cartoon images from live-action footage. Chief animator Bob Sabiston calls it, "interpolated rotoscoping".

While the artistry is a considerable achievement, its script limits it to a cartoon world for eggheads and intelligentsia. Instead of cosmetics we get cosmology; instead of threatening situations we get theorems and thinking in radical dimensions. It has all the drama of "My Dinner With Andre" and will find whatever appeal it might have among that audience. I have no doubt others will see it as a more meaningful experiment than I did but I expect they'll be coming from the rarefied atmosphere of academia. I'll take something more story-based and cinematic for my movie experiences.

The fact of it having a life in theatres is itself the most salient of the ideas propounded and the most significant from a movie-making and marketing point of view. I rather see it as a Sunday afternoon video at the dorm room while the more physical jocks turn to football. As long as it lasts in theatres, however, there'll be that alternate viewing option. See it if any of this sounds appealing but don't say you attended unwarned.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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