Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Review: Alita: Battle Angel

Release date: February 14, 2019
Running time: 122 minutes
Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly

Alita: Battle Angel is based off of the Yukito Kishiro cyberpunk manga series from 1990.  This is not that manga's first movie adaptation; two of the volumes were turned into two original video adaptations titled Battle Angel Alita.  The story follows a cybernetic girl who has lost her memories, but is drawn to conflict and using her fighting prowess to right the wrongs of the world she wakes up in.

Alita: Battle Angel is more than just based on that manga series, the filmmakers clearly loved that source material as many aspects of the manga make their way into the movie.  The most noticeable (and probably polarizing) aspect of this is Alita herself: the character's eyes are roughly twice what they should be, a clear callback to the manga and anime character's propensity to have disproportionately large eyes.  Additionally, the characters will occasionally have overblown and exaggerated reactions, something that is common in anime.  I'm sure many moviegoers will think this is poor acting or writing, but I appreciated the authenticity that the filmmakers were going for.  Additionally, some of the dialogue is likewise confusing and out of order, again what I think is a callback to how the original Japanese would have been translated.  These small touches would probably be ignored by most of the target audience, but I loved seeing them in a major studio film.  

The first thing you will notice about this film (and probably the reason many people are going to see it) are the special effects.  The CG is unreal in this movie.  As with any computer-generated character, the risk of falling into the uncanny valley is very high, but the filmmakers used some innovative video game-inspired techniques to turn Alita into a lifelike member of the cast.  Rosa Salazar filmed the movie in a motion capture suit (to record her body movements) with two high definition cameras aimed at her face (to record her facial animations).  The result of all this effort is a clearly computer generated character that moves and emotes like a regular actor.  

Alita: Battle Angel does have several flaws, so make sure you know what you are getting into.  The movie is fun and exciting, a great summer popcorn flick.  But the movie is not going to win awards for complexity or easy to follow plot.  Several details are left unexplained and the ending is unsatisfying, clearly setting the movie up for a follow on sequel.  And for those that don't appreciate some of the anime influences, the dialogue and character reactions can be unsettling.

That being said, Alita: Battle Angel is a special effects force that should be seen in theaters to fully enjoy.  The animation and sound are awe-inspiring, and the effort that the filmmakers went to to realize this world is great to see.  Despite its flaws, this is movie you will want to see in theaters to really take in everything it has to offer.  

Watch it

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