Battle Commences Soon
Producer Jon Landau and Director Robert Rodriguez were in London recently to treat a very lucky audience to a Q&A session following the screening of thirty minutes of their eagerly anticipated forthcoming film, Alita: Battle Angel. Tripwire Magazine’s Andrew Duffy was in attendance…
Visually, the eight segments screened are truly phenomenal achievements, and not solely on a technical level. The acting and directing is first-rate and Robert Rodriguez has utterly nailed the look and spirit of the source material (a classic long-running Japanese manga series by Yukito Kishiro called “Gunnm” [“Gun Dream”], known as “Battle Angel Alita” in the west). This film has an incredible cast and on the evidence presented, looks simply jaw-dropping. The CGI and ‘emotion capture’ / ’performance capture’ (both phrases that producer, Jon Landau, prefers to differentiate it from regular motion capture) are the most lifelike computer effects ever seen on a cinema screen, so wonderfully detailed and believable that the viewer continually forgets it’s artificial.
Alita, despite being a cyborg, is 99% convincing to the viewer as a live human that interacts with animals, regular humans (some with bionic limbs), robots (a couple of whom bear more than a passing resemblance to the original Robocop ED209) and full blown cyborgs (often possessing extremely dangerous circular saws, giant metal tentacles, blades and the like). The 1% occasionally kicks you in the head to remind you that this doll ISN’T real – she doesn’t breathe air bubbles underwater, she fails to eat an orange sensibly, she performs mind bending ballet-esque movements that a contortionist or gymnast would struggle to reproduce or simply couldn’t, and most notably of all – huge eyes due to her having irises that are 30% larger than that of a human.
Rosa Salazar, in the title role, gives it her all in what looks set to be a breakout performance that is extremely versatile, dynamic – and always thoroughly engaging and compelling. With so much gorgeous CGI on offer, you would be inclined to think that some of the fighting choreography is solely computer generated but having seen some of Salazar’s martial arts training videos in preparation for making “Alita: Battle Angel”, I am incredibly hard pushed to tell whether it was the actor herself or some clever WETA Digital trickery performing the fight or stunt sequences. I confidently predict that regardless of this film’s performance at the box office, she is going to be in huge demand after this. If there’s any justice in the world, awards will follow in abundance also.
The protagonist, Alita, is a cyborg with “a very human brain” according to Doctor Ido (Christoph Waltz) the man who builds her a new body after finding her disembodied head in one of the scrapyards of Iron City. Early scenes begin a heart-warming rapport between the pair and are superbly acted by both. Their relationship, both touching and sweet, is portrayed akin to that of a teenage daughter and of a loving, if protective, father figure.
This relationship builds very nicely and gradually until the inevitable bust up, wherein Alita throws a temper tantrum that Harry Enfield’s Kevin would be proud of, and declares to Ido (in a sort of reverse Empire Strikes Back moment) – “You’re NOT my father!”, subsequently storming off in search of her roots and memories of her former life.
We saw some setup scenes with a multitude of characters including potential romantic interest, Hugo, and a dog which long term fans will recognise as iconic. There were other action sequences, including a longer version of the battle with Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley) and the street fight with a mysterious ‘woman’ that feature beautiful martial arts choreography that has to be seen to be believed. There are moments where Alita, despite the non-organic body, sheds the occasional tear or two, and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be similarly moved by her story and some of the more tender elements or events contained within.
The audience also witnessed two versions of the ‘Motorball’ sport that were equally fun, albeit completely different ways. The first, being a street version with a group of teenagers playing what appears to be a mash-up of Roller Hockey and Basketball. The way it’s shot has Alita portrayed like the new kid in class, with her quickly coming a cropper to a bully. This is in extreme contrast to the vicious professional version later wherein Alita is still the most vulnerable participant in the game, but now the stakes are far greater. She’s in real danger of being smashed to bits or carved up physically as now she’s on a racetrack competing with cyborgs hell bent on destroying each other. It’s an exhilarating sequence that has the viewer fearing for Alita’s survival at every turn. You are literally on the edge of your seat and it looks absolutely eye-popping to behold in IMAX 3D.
The footage screened looks simply amazing and so much time, effort, care and detail has clearly gone into the making of this on every level. It’s been such a labour of love you can see it dripping with photographic beauty in every single frame. I have never seen anything quite like this before and it looks like an absolute delight!
In conclusion, I would say this film is set to be a cyberpunk Pinocchio, written by James Cameron, and directed by Robert Rodriguez, that is easily my most eagerly anticipated film of 2019. What’s not to like?! Take My Money.
Alita: Battle Angel is released in the UK on 6 February 2019. Bring handkerchiefs for your eyes and ensure you watch it in IMAX 3D on the biggest screen you can.
Here is the Q and A from YouTube
Also, here’s the film’s trailer again for people