Battledream Chronicle: Review

Oh, we still have some readers after that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story review? I thought surely there would be rioting in the streets and piles of angry letters waiting for me when I checked the mail this morning. I suppose they’re probably just delayed because of the holidays. Bah humbug!

Not that I’m trying to run you off, dear reader. I just can’t stand idly by while fanboys run amok spouting science fiction blasphemy! Anywho, for those diehard few readers who remain, you’ll be pleased to hear that I’m finally recovering from a nasty winter virus that forced me to curl up on the couch and watch movies all day (god forbid). Fortunately, now I can return to recapping the 2016 Other World’s Austin Sci-Fi Film Festival—at least my portion that is. Airman Glock, what’s your excuse?

Syanna and her friend Alytha collecting XP in a Battledream match. Together they comprise the “Mermaids of Fire.”

Oh right, he has a real job, a healthy social life, and real-world obligations.  I, on the other hand, am just an opinionated bum.

While we’re on the subject of viruses, however. There’s a doozy of a virus in the animated feature Battledream Chronicle, directed by Alain Bidard. Heralded as Martinique’s first animated film, Battledream Chronicle is the story of a young slave who must regain her freedom and ultimately save her futuristic world from the forces of evil. It’s a film rich in imagination and characterization—enough, fortunately, to make up for an occasionally confusing and poorly defined world.

In the not-too-distant future, the majority of humans live in Farandjun—a virtual world where one does not need a physical body. A powerful virus by the name of Isfet eventually collapses Farandjun’s defenses (the firewalls) and forces all the digital nations to compete in global gladiatorial games thereby initiating a kind of world war.

Battledream, as the game is called, takes players from each respective nation and pits them against each other in vast arenas much as you’d find in a contemporary team-based multiplayer. To win Battledream, a team must either collect the most keys in three minutes or kill all members of the opposing team. The consequences of losing, however, mean relinquishing the sovereignty of your team’s digital nation or death (if you die in the game, you die in real life or your digital life or…whatever).

Thanks to an in-game hack, the nation of Mortemonde is able to quickly conquer the world through Battledream as one of their players has impenetrable armor. Only the floating city of Sablereve stands between Mortemonde and global domination. Desperate to survive, the city seeks a means of defeating their opponents after Isfet schedules the last Battledream match.

The citizens of the enslaved nations, meanwhile, must collect 1000 XP each month in tribute to the inquisitors of Mortemonde or else they are killed. One such slave, Syanna, stumbles upon a powerful relic while collecting XP in Battledream with her friend Alytha. Unbeknownst to the two teenage gamers, this weapon holds the key to defeating Mortemonde and regaining their freedom.

While I’m mildly pleased with myself for coming up with that fairly broad synopsis of the film—particularly because it makes some sense—the actual story of Battledream Chronicle is a bit more convoluted. Even after two viewings, I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out the rules that govern Farandjun ( the digital world) and the real world. That being said, I suppose it’s pointless to linger on them for too long.

But just for good measure, let’s rant a bit shall we?

The problem is, the film’s opening text reveals that the majority of humans cast off their corporeal existence to go live in Farandjun. Ok, got it. But wait, why is there a threat of toxic atmosphere in “the real world”? I thought everyone lived in the Matrix? Why are there firewalls and holographic battering rams in the real world? Is this Inception meets Tron?

Speaking of Tron, I get the rules of Battledream, but why would winning a match grant the victorious country sovereignty over the real world equivalent of their opponent? What purpose does enslaving the world’s population serve? What do they use all XP tribute for? Why are all the female gamers scantily glad while the male players are overclothed?

Nope, I need to stop. Sorry. Otherwise, I’ll be ranting for hours, and frankly, this movie isn’t deserving of much more than a passing criticism. It does a lot of things right, and I honestly can’t fault director Alain Bidard for trying. Indeed, Battledream Chronicle was more or less a project of love as Bidard himself wrote, animated, directed, edited and even composed for the film over the course of five years. Heck, he even voiced several of the characters! Plus the working budget was abysmally small—an unconfirmed estimate put it at €400,000.

At the end of the day, the story of Battledream is solid, and that’s enough to warrant a viewing. Syanna is powerful character audiences can rally behind, and it’s truly refreshing to see a black female protagonist in an animated film—because how often do we get that?

The answer is never, and it’s a crying shame too.

The Bottom Line:

Battledream Chronicle? More like Battledream Potemkin! But not really as the former is all about anti-colonialism and the latter is Soviet cinema at its finest. (Also Airman Glock made me say it)

Would I say I’m disappointed for choosing to watch Battledream Chronicle over the horror shorts on day two of Other Worlds Austin 2016? Not in the least. It was an entertaining and imaginative experience though I will say it was prone to more than its fair share of forgivable missteps. Were there major plot holes? Yes. General ridiculousness at times? Yes. Were the English subtitles generated through Google Translator? Probably. But overall it was a very simple story drenched in rich characterization and engaging action, and that’s enough to earn my lukewarm recommendation.

If nothing else it was oh so rewarding to finally see characters of color leading the story in an animated film. Better still, seeing a black girl kick ass and take names in a post-modern sci-fi adventure was a singularly delightful treat.

But let’s just point out the animated elephant in the room, shall we? Why are all the female characters animated to be extremely busty and why are their Battledream outfits the skimpiest things imaginable? Oh, nevermind. It’s because all video games are—for better or for worse—like that. Silly me.

If you can overlook the Scooby Doo-esque animations—and they certainly do leave much to be desired—you’ll ultimately walk away from Battledream Chronicle satisfied. Can’t find any way of watching the feature? No worries—apparently director Alain Bidard is working on turning his pet project into a TV series.