Space has been referred to as the final frontier, though not in the realm of cinema. The great beyond has since been conquered by pictures running the gamut from standard sci-fi adventures to existential dramas. It’s the latter ring that Dante 01 chucks its proverbial hat into, a noble pursuit considering we need more interstellar dogfights like we need more Tom Green movies. But lest we forget that reaching for the stars can sometimes result in a meteoric plunge back to earth, a grim fate that this French import’s inability to properly do what it wants to causes it to suffer.
Dante 01 kicks off with the arrival of two freeze-dried passengers at a psychiatric facility orbiting the eponymous planet. One is Elisa (Linh-Dan Pham), a scientist who’s come to try out groundbreaking nanotechnology therapy on the station’s disturbed patients. The other, a prisoner nicknamed Saint George (Lambert Wilson), is a tougher nut to crack. Found as the lone survivor on a desolate vessel, Saint George has been brought to the monolithic station for evaluation, his inability to speak and scrambled past making him the perfect guinea pig for Elisa. But there’s more to this mystery man than meets the eye, for he begins to exhibit powers that not even he knew he had. His miraculous ability to clear his fellow inmates of their maladies makes him a messiah to some, but those who see him as an enemy plot to use his gift for their own devious purposes.
I like to bitch and moan about how movies these days just don’t try anymore. Not a week goes by where I don’t see something that’s tossed its potential out with the bathwater. But what’s especially frustrating is when a film has everything it needs to make a modern masterpiece right in front of it, only to pay it all as much heed as the Kraken would address a spitball. Dante 01 is just such a vexing journey, one in which the lights are certainly on but not a single soul is home. All the makings of a science fiction landmark are present and accounted for: fascinating premise, effective atmosphere, and, most importantly, it’s French. No matter how many crummy Asian ghost stories I see, I always presume that other countries know better than to be sucked into the same black hole that’s sapped Hollywood of its originality. I suppose I should be grateful that Dante 01 isn’t a full-length version of Moonraker’s achingly campy climax, but it’s hardly a resounding victory when what you get instead consistently flirts with the dark side of pretension.
The best way to describe Dante 01 is as a Solaris lookalike mixed in with two scoops of religious symbolism. The director of this magical misery tour is Marc Caro, the same man who helmed Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children alongside Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Monsieur Caro definitely picked up a few visual tricks from his former comrade, for Dante 01 looks appropriately dingy, as opposed to the genre’s overly sanitized norm. After all, this is still a prison picture at heart, and with the loneliness of outer space coupled with the isolation that comes with being locked up, you can bet the farm that this won’t be a delightful jaunt through the flowers. Also providing a good thematic boost is the religious angle, which, unfortunately, is at once too restrained and amazingly heavy-handed. One second, viewers will be straining to find the meaning behind certain sequences, and other times, Caro is throwing metaphors in your face as if they were nice cream pies. The ensuing hybrid results in a very schizophrenic flow, one that takes forever to get going and then tries hoisting all its analogies on you at once, culminating in an ending that hilariously tries to cop a 2001.
In theory, Dante 01 should’ve worked like a charm, and admittedly, it puts forth a decent effort. But a botched execution, some grating performances, and a few slipshod subplots are all it takes to ensure this flick’s place as one of the worst space cases in recent memory.