Immortal is the greatest live action/animated movie ever made. Almost. Kind of…

Watching Enki Bilal’s 102-minute green screen epic, one is just as often awe-struck as they are staggered by the woefully ambitious computer-generated (CG) imagery. By no fault of the actors or artists, Immortal simply drowns in its own lofty world-building. Had animation taken precedence over live action (or vice-versa), Bilal’s visionary cyberpunk epic could have reached the mainstream recognition it deserves.

New York

The year is 2095. After vacating Earth for several thousand years, Egypt’s pantheon has made the interstellar trip back home aboard their flying pyramid (complete with a degraded capstone, curiously). Tensions onboard are high. Turns out the other gods hate Horus and have voted to take away his immortality. He is granted one week to return to Earth where he may, if he can find a suitable vessel, procreate. Parking the pyramid overtop New York, Horus takes flight and begins his search for a mate.

Horus has a history of influence.

It’s comical as it strange, and Bilal plays off this shock value with humor. Bilal’s Egyptian pantheon is a semi-literal translation of hieroglyphic art into hyper realistic humanoid beings, the result being both fascinating and hilarious to behold. The gods lack any clothes, or coloring, with the traditional hieroglyphic black, white, and primary color pallet swapped for pale brown-ish grey skin – almost like unpainted stone.

The gods’ politics and personalities aren’t as developed here as they are in the comic books (save for Horus), though the mystery of their presence suits the story here better. In fact, Immortal is more of a remix of the Nikopol trilogy than it is a direct translation. Characters, events, and setting have been reworked to make for a story that will be familiar to fans, but with some of the themes and overarching plot points streamlined for the screen.

hover cars

Future New York is a far cry from the future Europe seen in the comic books, and proves an interesting swap in setting and tone for the film. The Paris, London, and Berlin of 2023 are dirty and polluted, with old concrete bearing the weight and noise of their post-fascist futurist mutations; a shallow mix of techno-fied religious imagery and collapsed communist blocks. Conversely, the film’s New York is (comparatively) cleaner, and even brighter, while maintaining Bilal’s signature blue and grey overtones. Ponton cars refit as hover crafts blend effortlessly with the early twentieth-century architecture, making for something of a European caricature of New York, updated with sleek futuristic builds. A sort of halfway point between Metropolis and The Long Tomorrow, Bilal’s New York is both modern and megalithic. The age of streamlined optimism resonates in the landscape, even if degraded. New is built atop the old, the upper levels shimmering with steel and glass constructions, while the lower levels sit dark, with neon signage bolted to the caverns of the old city.

It may seem like a small change at first, but considering the heavy shadow of communism and religion in Bilal’s illustrated works, the film’s shift to New York sets a different tone, even if many of the same themes of control permeate in the background. It’s bleak as cyberpunk should be, but New York operates under a light of optimism and hope not seen in Bilal’s depiction of Europe. While New York is under the control of dubious politicians and corporations, bordering on totalitarian, it seems to be doing better than Paris or Berlin, if only marginally.

Jill New York
Many of Immortal’s shots are breathtaking.
Nikopol and Horus

After introducing the deities, the film shifts to the mortal players. A young woman named Jill (Linda Hardy) is apprehended and taken to a holding facility. Here, Doctor Elma Turner (Charlotte Rampling) speaks with her counterpart, Jack Turner (Jerry Di Giacomo), requesting to take Jill into her care. Here, Immortal begins its strange meld of live action and animation.

Turner and Turner

Animating an ancient god with chiseled abs and a falcon head is one thing, but Immortal goes one step farther by animating most of the cast. The first meeting between Jack and Elma is almost – almost – natural enough to fool. One can tell something is off, and as the scene plays out it become clearer that Jack is in fact computer animated. However, Jack is something on an anomaly among his counterparts, with most other CG characters looking notably more basic in detail.

The supporting cast tend to be more… extreme in their proportions; Allgood and Liang being especially egregious examples. This melding of realities looks akin to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, with the CG cast standing out not so much because of their primitive (even for 2005) tech, but because of their cartoonish looks. They seldom share the screen with real actors, lessening the visual blow. Nevertheless, the threat of it happening is omnipresent, and one is reminded of the questionable juxtaposition every scene change.

Nikopol and Horus 2

Jarring as the visuals may be in still frame, switching between Allgood and Liang and Jill and Nikopol still feels like the same movie, and not a live action and animated film carelessly spliced together. Praise needs to be given Gennesseaux and Bilal’s cinematography, melding the two realities together with continuity. Camera movements are grounded and smooth, not falling to the temptation of radical angles or fast pans when capturing the CG cast.

This separation of CG and actor is supposed to represent New York’s obsession with body modification. People replace organs and modify their looks to such a radical degree that, well, they become PlayStation 2 game characters. This causes Horus (and the audience) quite a bit of stress, as he needs a genuine human vessel to inhabit in order to procreate.

Nikopol and Jill

The film’s three main characters (Nikopol, Jill, and Dr. Turner) are all played by real actors, and the movie is at its best when focused on these three. Nikopol (Thomas Kretschmann) looks similar to his comic book counterpart, and he does a good job acting the part too. However, it’s in Jill and Dr. Tuner’s makeup and fashion where Bilal’s expertise in translating comic art to film is most evident. We’ve all seen those comic book movies before, where a costume that looks cool on paper ends up looking fucking ridiculous when made into a real piece of clothing. Luckily, Immortal is not one of those movies.

Some of the comic’s more radical elements, like the animal migration, are left out of. That said, the comic’s high strangeness of alien and mutant figures still feature prominently. Jill is humanoid in build, though her skin is an unnaturally pale white. She has blue lips, hair, and even sheds her blue tears. It’s, for lack of a better term, a naturalistic alien design, not looking like a cheap makeup cop-out, but not going overboard with prosthetics either. While numerous alien creatures populate New York, they (smartly) only get passing screen time, leading more to fascination than fixation.


Quantic Dream apparently assisted in the motion capture and animation of the CG models, and it shows. If there is one bit of praise which can be given, it is in how natural characters move, even if they look like something out of the base Poser 8 library.

If there are two bits of praise which can be given, it is the voice acting. Matter of fact, if we were to ever get a Star Wars re-release-esque makeover to Immortal, all that would need tweaking are the models themselves; the voice acting and animation being fine as they are.


Subsequent viewings lessen the visual’s jarring impact. In fact, I’ve only come to love the movie more. I’m still struck with the same feeling of frustration every time I watch Immortal, wishing they had gone full CG or, better yet, gone full live action, keeping the backdrops (and Horus, of course). The cinematography and animation are laudable, as are the art direction and acting. It’s only the CG actor builds themselves which prove distracting. Furthermore, Bilal has managed to rewrite his own saga into an entirely new scenario while keeping many of the characters and events from his comic book in place – a fine line to walk in this medium. Ambition may have gotten ahead of budget, but what was pulled together is both a grand addition to cyberpunk cinema and a mostly successful translation of Bilal’s work from page to screen. Immortal is a stunning visual feast and fans of the comics, or cyberpunk in general, should give it a watch.

Jill 2

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *