In six months, on July 20th, 20th Century Fox releases the long-awaited Manga adaptation Alita: Battle Angel. The synopsis, while simplistic, is as follows:
Set in the 26th century, an amnesiac female cyborg is rescued from a scrapyard by a doctor, who names her after his deceased cat. The rebuilt Alita, remembering only her training in a deadly martial art, becomes a hunter-warrior, tracking down and eliminating vicious criminals. She goes on a journey of self-discovery and finding love.
Based on the Manga series Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro, the film has been in development for some time as James Cameron purchased the rights in 2000 after he was introduced to source material by Guillermo del Toro. The original series lasted 9 volumes between 1990 and 1995 and spawned an animated show called “Battle Angel”.
The series, which is set in the post-apocalyptic future, focuses on a cyborg named “Alita” who is found in a garbage dump by a Dr. Daisuke Ido , a cybernetics expert, who rebuilds her humanoid body and protects her. Most of her memory has been lost save that of another cyborg named Panzer Kunst. This leads her to become a bounty hunter and attempts to rediscover her past.
The story takes place in the 26th century in the United States. And while film will employ many of the same elements of the Manga series, Cameron’s and Rodriquez’ version will focus on only a few of the main characters namely “Alita” and “Ido”.
In an interview with Collider, James Cameron has stated:
What I’m going to do is take the spine of the story and use elements from the first four books. So, the Motorball (sport) from books three and four, and parts of the story of one and two will all be in the movie.
When James Cameron became too busy with the Avatar films he enlisted director Robert Rodriguez in 2015 to help get the film completed with a script written by Cameron, Rodriguez and Laeta Kalogridis. Casting was underway at that point and they eventually landed on Canadian Rosa Salazar who has been acting since 2010 and plays “Brenda” in the Maze Runner series of films. She beat out fellow actresses Zendaya, Bella Thorne and Maika Monroe for the lead role. The only other hold over from the Manga version is “Doctor Ido” who is being played by German actor and award winner Christoph Waltz.
The rest of the main cast is as follows:
- Jennifer Connelly as “Chiren”
- Eiza Gonzalez as “Nyssiana”
- Michelle Rodriguez as “Gelda”
- Ed Skrein as “Zapan”
- Mahershala Ali as “Vector”
With a rumored budget of around $200 million this film will have to find its audience the old-fashioned way, with a strong word of mouth. Clearly hoping to tap into the Asian market, Cameron who’s obviously done well overseas with Avatar and Titanic, will rely solely on brand recognition as he curiously has not casted any Asian actors to play pivotal roles. The popularity of this series in North America remains to be seen but it will likely struggle if the reception of the more popular The Ghost in the Machine staring Scarlett Johansson is any indication. That film was harshly criticized for its “white washing” and ended up losing money for Paramount performing poorly at home and abroad.
The release date of July 20th is problematic as well as the summer season is a typically loaded affair and this upcoming one is no different. Alita will have to contend with titles such as Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! and Mission: Impossible 6, a daunting task for any release.
Seemingly not off to a good start, Alita’s appearance in the trailer, in particular her big Manga style eyes, caused mixed and sometimes confusing reactions from audiences. In an interview with Empire magazine late last year, Rodriguez stated:
It was always Jim’s (Cameron) intention to create a photo-realistic version of the manga eyes that we’re so accustomed to seeing. We really wanted to honour that tradition and see that look standing next to any human character. To have the right person to emote behind it was really essential. Her origins are in the film and you understand why she looks that way. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, we have some pretty big windows. You can see a lot going on in there! When it gets to the emotional scenes it’s really uncanny and striking. And captivating!
I’m willing to take Rodriguez’ word for it and admittedly the eyes haven’t bothered me as much as some. There’s nothing in his resume to indicate he’s ready for this big budget, sci-fi style of film having directed films such as From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, Sin City and the Spy Kids films. But he does have a stylistic approach to his films with a strong focus on character sensibilities so perhaps Cameron was right to hire his friend for this long-awaited project.
Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL is providing the music for the film and seems like a great choice based on his recent work on films such as Mad Max: Fury Road, Deadpool and Batman v Superman. His cerebral esthetic and harsh atmospheric tones should suit this futuristic dystopia very well.
Whether or not fans of the source material (myself included) will give Cameron and Rodriguez a fair shake remains to be seen but this title seems likely only appealing to a select few. Cameron’s production company Lightstorm Entertainment is putting up the dollars for this along with 20th Century Fox so its unclear if the recent sale of Fox to Disney will change any part of the arrangement at all.
The images and trailer are visually appealing enough to warrant a ticket purchase in my mind and there’s enough talent in front of and behind the camera that it should be a fun ride regardless of the outcome.
Till next time…