29 years after the original source material first came out, Alita: Battle Angel finally hit the theatres in early 2019. I’d been a HUGE fan of the series since its release in 1990 and over time had waited with bated breath for James Cameron, Mr Terminator / Aliens / Titanic / Avatar to release the film he had optioned for sooo very long. With the success of Avatar, Cameron became too busy and passed the task onto Robert Rodriguez, a great / good director with a variable success rate. I was concerned when the film was pushed back from its December release date and the trailers, while exciting, had me concerned. The online backlash *sigh* against the size of Alita’s eyes had me concerned that people were sharpening their knives for the film… so with some trepidation I kept away from all review, reports and social media on the film to see it fresh and uninfluenced, and I’m glad I did as the film did not disappoint and was quite successful in worldwide box offices.
The recently released Alita: Battle Angel DVD had me revisiting the movie for a second time, the first experience having been at the cinema. To clarify for those not aware of the history of the character, Battle Angel Alita is an ongoing manga comic book series that is a masterful piece of sci-fi. The story tells the dark tale of Alita, a young cyborg girl who is discovered broken but with her brain intact by Dr Daisuke Ido. Ido is delighted with his find and takes Alita to his home and repairs her. Over time, there develops a father-daughter bond but Alita has amnesia and is unhappy as she wants to find out more about her mysterious past. Over time she learns that she knows the powerful 'Panzer Kurst' fighting technique and enters the Motorball Tournament, a Running Man / Rollerball style gauntlet filled with cyborgs and other hideous mechanical marvels.
Over the course of the first 4 graphic novels Alita enters and becomes the champion of Motorball. The other 5 graphic novels see Alita try to live a ‘normal’ civilian life but life has other plans and there are plots to overthrow the floating city and bring equity to the Scrapyard… all pretty heady stuff!
Trying to fit over 1000 pages of comics into 2 hours would not be possible or advisable and so the film covers the first 3 to 4 graphic novels. The first 5 minutes of the movie whizz along at a cracking pace and the whole film moves from set-piece to set-piece effortlessly.
My heart soared with joy at seeing the scenes I'd imagined in my head for many years play out so spectacularly on the big screen. The scrapyard was bathed in a dirty golden glow as Ido finds Alita's broken body, her head and chest intact. The world of the scrapyard and the mysterious floating city of Zalem is beautifully realised, being one of the best cityscapes since Valarian, Blade Runner 2049 or Ghost in the Shell. The enlarges eyes of Alita drew initial criticism but within the first minute or so they just... blend in. When you have people with cyborg bodies roaming around slightly enlarges eyes on a robot girl seem less jarring, there isn't the uncanny valley that I and many others were worried about.
The fact that the United Republics of Mars - Earth conflict from much of Last Order and Mars Chronicle (the second and third Alita series) is mentioned is a nice inclusion for longtime fans as that’s a pretty deep cut, however it is covered well, as is the Panzer Kunst and Berserker Body. Without heavy exposition the concepts and background are explained, this is good work indeed, especially from a writing team not known for good scripting.
The love story doesn't always work as Rosa Salazar (Alita) is a much stronger actor that Keean Johnson (love interest, Hugo) in this film but the film works for me, not as an apologist for bad manga and anime conversions but generally as a bold sci-fi film. It is the best manga conversion so far and granted the bar was low but as a long time Alita fan (29 years) I was extremely happy with the end result.
Watching it from the comfort of my home, I found that the 3rd act doesn't grate as much and the at times cheesy dialogue doesn't wind me up as much, maybe it's because having seen it once before I could let the visual splendour of the film wash over me and immerse me in this beautifully crafted dystopia without worrying that the film wouldn't be faithful to the source material. Whatever the case, its a wonderful sci-fi story well done and beautifully realised.
With the DVD and Blu-Ray release there are two extras on the DVD: Alita's World and From Manga To Screen. Alita's World contains 4 mini documentaries are all done with voice overs by the many actors and talk about the different parts of, funnily enough 'Alita's World'. All docs are presented with moving CGI storyboards, which may sound hack but is actually quite interesting. The duration for all 4 docs is only about 15 minutes but that's alright to present you with the essentials of this often complex manga adaptation.
The Fall looks at the history of the Mars- Earth war and talks about how Alita was born and in her prime became a Bezerker in the intergalactic war.
Iron City looks at the different sectors that surround the scrapyard below Zalem and in a concise fashion, gives you just what you need to know about the different sectors and the industry and entertainment contained within.
What It Means To Be A Cyborg is narrated by Ed Skrein as Zapan and explains why people give up their biological body parts for a machine upgrade.
Rules Of The Game goes through the sport of Motorball and provides the rules, all presented in hyped up speech.
The other extra, From Manga To Screen, is a more meaty proposition, coming in at just under 20 minutes. It explores the origins of Manga after World War II and how Yukito Kishiro, the manga-ka (artist and writer) developed the concept of cyborgs living 'normal' lives to become a more fully fleshed character and series. The Director, Actors and even Producer, James Cameron, all add their bit into the discussion of how the film was made and it is really insightful and interesting. The fact that you learn that James Cameron worked so closely with Kishiro goes some way to explaining why the film turned out so well, rather than being a Western 'interpretation' that ignored what made the source material so amazing.
We also find out why Avatar was created first and why there was a delay in the making of Alita: Battle Angel. In short Avatar was a proof of concept for the motion capture technology and Alita was that realisation that would feed back to the Avatar sequels. Cameron is one smart cookie as he was tackling both projects simultaneously. The introduction of Robert Rodriguez as a collaborator is discussed and the intense planning to ensure respecting the source material is explored.
Overall, this is a solid DVD package with some neat extras but the visual fidelity alone is worth the price of entry.