Metropia is a 2009 Swedish production that has flown completely under-the-radar, despite fascinating and innovative animation that accompanies the pretty basic science-fiction storyline. I only came upon it by searching for Vincent Gallo films on Netflix. The availability of Metropia is a story itself. You can get the DVD or stream from Netflix, you can purchase a copy of the DVD on Amazon, and yet Wikipedia claims that this film will be released in North America by Paramount Pictures in 2012. Hopefully this last piece of information is true as it might garner this film more exposure.
The plot is pretty standard sci-fi fare. The story takes place in Europe, 2024; the world is running out of oil and Europe's underground subways have been connected into one large underground tunnel called The Metro. Roger (Vincent Gallo) is a lugubrious call-center worker, paranoid about using the Metro, who begins hearing a voice (belonging to Alexander Skarsgård) in his head. Soon the tries to turn Roger against his girlfriend Anna and his paranoia continues growing. After seeing the model whose face graces the bottle of dandruff shampoo he uses, Roger follows her. The woman's name is Nina (voiced by Juliette Lewis) and his involvement with her gets him entangled in a conspiracy involving the Trexx Corporation and its overlord Ivan Bahn (nightmarishly voiced by Udo Kier).
Mind-control, paranoia, technology, dystopian world, muted colors, etc. Standard sci-fi stuff, but delivered with a European flavor. The story is intriguing but slow-moving, requiring patience from the viewer. It only runs 80 minutes, but if you're not ready to invest yourself into the film than steer clear until you are. There are times when it moves at a snail's pace, but even at its most tedious it always remains fascinating to behold. It's the animation that you will take away from watching it as it makes the film more accessible and adds a certain amount of depth to the actual story as well. The animation was done completely through manipulation of still photographs. People and locations were photographed, edited in Photoshop, and then animated in Adobe After Effects. This may give the impression that the animation is gimmicky or cheap, but it makes Metropia an experience like no other.
This animation is both stunning and innovative, lending great atmosphere with its muted colors and making Metropia a visual experience with the potential to become a cult sci-fi classic. The nods to Orwell, Hitchcock, Philip K. Dick, and perhaps even David Lynch help too. If you have any worries about the film looking too "computer-generated," let me assure you: this style looks more realistic than the motion-capture stuff that Robert Zemeckis has been championing for years and Spielberg is having fun with for his upcoming film. It's a slightly demented style, but one that draws you in.
The voice work is perfect, providing you have no qualms with the story taking place in Sweden with two main characters that are obviously American. Gallo gives a surprisingly tender and sensitive vocal performance, while Juliette Lewis provides a perfect amount of sexiness and intrigue. Kier, meanwhile, is absolutely frightening. The voice work is very subtle and nuanced, avoiding cartoonish theatrics. Like everything in the film, it's downplayed and appropriate for the gloomy tone.
This is an animated tale for adults with a mature storyline and the occasional moment of adult content (although there's nothing too graphic). It's a cold film with a strong emotional disconnect that fails to make an astounding impression, but it will stay with you simply because of how terrific it looks and how well-acted it is. It's no masterpiece, but it deserves to be picked from obscurity and exposed to more people as it's an impressive achievement.