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Marina Antunes [DVD News 06.12.12] animation action drama adventure

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A couple of years ago the great John Hillcoat, the director behind the excellent The Proposition and The Road (review), got his hands dirty in the world of video games, creating a thirty minute short film entirely within the universe of "Red Dead Redemption" (see the short here). The resulting film was an interesting experiment but one I hadn't given much thought to until I sat down with Antoine Charreyron's The Prodigies which is also set in a world and a style which feel very much like a video game.

Based on Bernard Lenteric's novel, The Prodigies is the story of a group of kids with heightened intelligence and the ability to control others' minds. It all starts with Jim, a young man who is found and recruited by Mr. Killian, a successful business man on the lookout for young people who share in his special abilities. He finds Jim after a tragic event lands him in the psych ward, takes him under his wing and raises him as his own son, nurturing Jim and his power for good. Now all grown up, Jim and Killian have developed a game that also acts as a test for other children with the same powers. Their goal is to find these kids, bring them into the fold and help them deal with the side effects of their powers. All goes well until a tragic series of events leads to the rape of one of the "prodigies" and a retaliation from the rest of the group who come together to exact their revenge on not just the guilty party but also the general public who they feel are standing against them. Jim finds himself in the middle of the fight, trying to protect the world from the kids' wrath while also showing the troubled teens that they're not alone. The results are tragic.

Anyone familiar with the source material is well aware that the story behind The Prodigies isn't very kid friendly and though it certainly tackles familiar issues of alienation, bullying and abuse, Charreyron's film isn't something to be seen lightly as it doesn't shy away from the gruesome. Death, rape, violence, it's all integral to the story, providing essential background and motivation for the characters and thankfully, it's all included here though the animated movie makes it all seem much less disturbing than it is.

The choice to go animated certainly solves the problems of the subject matter, creating a layer of disassociation between the audience and the characters, allowing the filmmakers the opportunity to include material that would otherwise be impossible to show (rape never plays well and teen rape is even touchier) but I couldn't quite put my finger on why the universe felt so different from other animated movies and then it hit me: this feels like its set in a video game universe. Not much of a shocker considering that Charreyron's career to date has, almost exclusively, been in directing video games and it takes a bit of getting used to. The characters move differently than we're used to seeing, even in animated fare, and it's too easy to forget that the material on show is dark and difficult. It's easy to walk away from The Prodigies feeling like you've just seen a light animated movie rather than a tragic, violence-filled movie. This isn't a movie to be seen passively but it's very easy to get lost in Charreyron's gorgeous visuals and his excellent use of the virtual space in which the camera moves in unexpected ways, making for an exciting viewing experience.

The Prodigies isn't for the faint of heart but it is a fantastic example not only of what can be accomplished with this type of animation but also continues in the tradition of great adult fare which just happens to appear in a different style. In this case, not only is the animation ideal for the difficult subject matter but it also allows the filmmakers some artistic license for handling the mind control aspect of the story and giving violence a dramatic visual style. It's unclear if The Prodigies will get a sequel to continue with the story which ends satisfactorily but leaves the door open for a continuation, but I'd certainly love to see more.

The Prodigies is out on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, June 12th.

DVD Extras: None.

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