BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An organism intended to protect a city winds up trapping its residents.
PROS: Outstanding visuals; excellent score; skillful and emotive actors.
CONS: Despite the cool premise, the narrative of the story is almost non-existent.
BOTTOM LINE: Copelia is an idea that falters in execution but looks fantastic doing it.
The quickly-dispatched premise of Copelia, a short film written and directed by Nic Benns, begins when a gardener (Morton Strobel, played by John Standing) invents a method to turn sound into a living shell organism that protects his plants. His idea is stolen and used to protect a city, but the creation grows out of control and traps the residents. The film focuses on the efforts to free the city from the confines of the organism as seen through the eyes of a man named Bill (Vincent Regan) whose wife, Agatha (Anna Walton), is trapped inside. Bill looks after their son, Coen (played as an adult by William Orbit), and their daughter, Copelia.
That premise alone is more serviceable than many full-length science fiction films, but if Copelia does anything, it highlights the importance the storytelling in a visual medium. The story itself — the attempts of a man to free his wife and ultimately of their son trying to do the same – lacks the import of the premise. Not enough is explained to the viewer to grasp exactly what is going on. For example, Copelia, who is presumably a normal human girl at the start of the film, is shown to be some mechanized robot creature four decades later. How did that happen, exactly? It’s anyone’s guess how to fill in these narrative holes. Accordingly, Copelia‘s whisper-thin narrative is its most glaring fault.
To be sure, Copelia at least gets the visuals done right. From the opening credits, it’s immediately eye-catching because of its ethereal, fluid visuals. The alienness evoked by the appearance of the shell is both arresting and soothing at the same time. These superb visuals are evident throughout the entirety of the film as well. Partnered with the robot mechs seemingly used to perform menial tasks, the futuristic vibe it depicts is top-notch. Furthermore, given the sparse dialogue supplied to them, the actors do a wonderful job playing their parts, believably emoting with stern and forlorn expressions. Nic Benns’ & Miki Kato’s excellent soundtrack and William Orbit’s end title music nicely adds to the ethereal mood of the film.
But none of these admirable attributes can make up for the absence of storytelling. Simply stated, Copelia is an idea that falters in execution but looks fantastic doing it.