Alita: Battle Angel Review
Alita: Battle Angel is set several centuries into the future with the abandoned Alita (WETA digital enhanced Rosa Salazar) having been found in the scrapyard of Iron City by Ido, a cyber-doctor (a miscast Christoph Waltz) who takes cyborg Alita to his clinic. When Alita awakens, she has no memory of who she is, or any memories of the world she finds herself in. As Alita acclimatises to her new life and the dangers of Iron City, she runs afoul of those that would like to exploit her or worse still, destroy her.
Alita is an adaptation of the Manga ‘Gunnm’ or ‘Battle Angel Alita’ by Yukito Kishiro and by all accounts is very faithful to the source material. The film, written and produced by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis and directed by Robert Rodriguez has been in development since 2003, with various people attached along the way, including Cameron himself. This really is a cyberpunk Pinocchio Story, with Salazar playing Pinocchio and Waltz as Geppetto, but obviously with a high tech infusion. The cast on paper are stellar, but many feel miscast, including the aforementioned Waltz as Udo. Udo’s ex wife Dr Chiren (a passive Jennifer Connelly) finds herself wrapped up in Alita’s life, but does very little but stand on the periphery for the majority of the film. Also out to make trouble is Vector (Mahershala Ali), but again he shows very little of what he is capable of as an actor. The big bad is offscreen for the majority of the piece, overseeing it all, this is Nova - high above in Zalem (Ed Norton - looking very much like Cameron himself - which was probably intentional.)
I originally saw this at the world premiere and really didn’t like it, and even on the second viewing my opinion hasn’t changed, although I find myself liking it a bit more knowing all of its flaws already, such as still finding the story undercooked and the actual world building and performances completely bizarre, especially from Waltz, Connelly and Ali. The younger cast members don’t fare too much better, with the Hugo character being as cut out cardboard as they come and his relationships with his friends ringing false at every turn. Salazar is the only one that really 100% shines but despite the motion capture/digital work of Alita being impressive, the story lurches from set piece to set piece and a lot of it doesn’t make sense, almost like a pair of scissors was taken to the film in the editing room. The first viewing really felt like I was watching a B grade action movie from the mid 90s, just with better special effects, but on second viewing it cemented my feelings that I was watching a B grade action movie from the mid 90’s , knowing that, and not that it was the next generation of filmmaking, it was all the better for it. Unrecognisable turns by the likes of Casper Van Dien, Jeff Fahey, Michelle Rodriguez and Jackie Earle Haley only add to that B movie styling.
A lot of the criticism at the time of release of the film fell on the main character having huge eyes, which I still don’t quite understand, there were many more fundamental flaws on view here, who cares about the eyes when the criticism should really fall on the actual storytelling feeling like it was written by untested untried teenagers, but then much of Cameron’s writing tends to feel like that, you would just expect a script that had been around so long to be a bit tighter, that’s all.
While the flaws are still very much apparent, the home version of Alita: Battle Angel is very impressive to look at and listen to. Coming in a 4K, 3D and Blu-ray package (unheard of in this day and age) the formats themselves all have a lot going for them. The 4K is the first to utilise not only Dolby Vision but also HDR10+, so whichever format your home set up aligns itself to, you are catered for and the quality of the image does make the film eminently more watchable for it. With 4K discs, Dolby Atmos is almost a given, and it’s no different here, this track is robust and really does the separation and overhead sounds Justice. The other formats are no slouches either. The 3D format is thankfully included for us 3D nuts, and while the cinematic 3D experience of the world premiere was underwhelming to say the least, 3D really gets to shine in the home cinema set up. It’s all about depth with Cameron style 3D but it actually works at home where it did not at the cinema. Both this version and the normal Bluray version have to make do with a 7.1 DTS audio track but it’s still not bad at all.
Extras wise, we have various short featurettes looking into Alita’s World, which is back story to the film, played out in semi animated stills, how the film evolved in Evolution of Alita, From Manga to the screen with a lovely interview with Yukito Kishiro in. There’s a Scene Deconstruction featurette, which is actually really cool as you can jump between the original mocapped up Salazar, initial animation and the final sequence. A 2005 Art Reel - showing concept art, A dive into the Motorball experience, a Rodriguez 10 min cooking class (make your own chocolate) and the London Premiere Screening Q&A, which unfortunately back at the premiere and now are still a complete snooze fest, with just a lot of back slapping ‘aren’t we great’ congratulations, and not much else.
I wanted to like Alita: Battle Angel more on both viewings than I did, but I just couldn’t get past the woefully underwritten script or the strange performances. This was a script, a project in development for 10 + years before it came to the screen. You think a bit more work could have been done to the foundations, but no, the back slapping that litters this disc still makes that part of the film grate. For something with this kind of spectacle and this kind of pedigree to not have the story sorted all seems a lot more odd than those eyes. I like Alita for those B movie trappings, but this could of and should have been so much more.
- 4K & 3D Blu-ray