(2001)4Elbert VenturaBoth a homecoming of sorts and a quantum leap forward, Richard Linklater's Waking Life can be taken as a companion piece to his groundbreaking debut feature, Slacker. Centering on the dreamscape rambles of an unnamed protagonist (played by Wiley Wiggins, who also served as one of the film's animators), the movie takes on Slacker's free-form approach, ricocheting from one conversation to the next with just a hint of a narrative. But while Slacker looked very much like the shoestring-budget indie movie that it was, Waking Life is an altogether different experience. Using new animation technology designed by Bob Sabiston, the movie's art director, Waking Life is one of the most visually innovative American films ever made. Linklater used a method that involved filming his actors in digital video; the frames were then painted over by a crew of artists. The resulting look is vibrant and ethereal, like a dreamy moving painting. The talk is dizzyingly flighty as well -- brimming with youthful inquisitiveness, Waking Life is a movie drunk on talk and ideas. Essentially a compendium of Philosophy 101 lectures, the movie's text is all over the place; discussion topics include existentialism, evolution, and film theorist Andre Bazin. Nonetheless, an obsession with dreams and their power to sustain emerges. With its ever-shifting planes and impressionistic figures, the animation is a fitting visual counterpart to Linklater's intellectual meanderings. While the movie falls short of profundity -- the various philosophical musings never quite rise above the level of entertaining mental masturbation -- its exuberance and inventiveness can't be denied.