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Alita: Battle Angel (2019)


20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

4K UHD Released: 7/23/2019


All Ratings out of

Movie: ½





Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/2/2019


Alien Vs. PredatorFreddy Vs. Jason Godzilla Vs. ________.  We get very excited when two famous characters team up on-screen.  (Hey, what happened to the Men in Black and 21 Jumpstreet crossover?  (It’s real.  Look it up.))  But, do we have the same level of enthusiasm when titans join forces behind the camera?  James Cameron invented modern-day science-fiction with landmark films like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Aliens.  Robert Rodriguez re-defined low-budget roots with El Mariachi and spread his talents across ultra-violent and family fare.  What it be like when the two get together to tackle a sci-fi manga classic.  Let’s check out Alita: Battle Angel and see.


It’s the 26th Century and the Earth has been scarred by an intergalactic war.  The denizens of Iron City scramble to make ends meet while the elite live in a city suspended high above.  While scouring the scrap heap beneath this floating metropolis, Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finds the torso of a female cyborg, whose human brain is intact.  He takes her back to his office and melds her with a body.  When she awakens, the cyborg (Rosa Salazar) has no memory of her past, so Ido names her Alita.  Alita is very alert and curious and can’t wait to learn more about this world.  She meets Hugo (Keean Johnson), a young man who runs errands for Ido, and he introduces her Rollerball, the savage sport of the future.  Alita also learns that the streets of Iron City can be dangerous and that Hunter-Warriors walk the streets seeking criminals.  As Alita learns her way around, her biggest lesson is that it’s impossible to tell who you can trust.


There’s a lot of unpack in Alita: Battle Angel, the least of which is the story.  The film condenses the original multi-volume manga into a two-hour movie, jamming in multiple characters, many ideas about life in the future, as well as a multi-layered plot.  The movie uses Alita’s amnesia as a jumping-off point and leads the viewer through this futuristic world.  Cameron co-wrote the screenplay, so it’s no surprise that we get strong female characters, evil cyborgs, and an evil corporation at the center of everything.  There are twists, double-crosses, and multiple revelations, as the story progresses.  The problem is that none of it feels the least bit original.  I’ve not read the manga and perhaps other things which I’ve seen have stolen ideas from it over the years, but nothing in Alita: Battle Angel carries even the slightest hint of something new.  From the cyborg searching for their humanity to the post-apocalyptic setting to the yearning to move off-world, it’s all been done before.  And don’t get me started on “Motorball”, which is just another version of “Rollerball”, as seen in the 1975 film of the same name and the 2002 remake.  (What is it with this sort of sport in the future?)


So the story isn’t original, two veteran filmmakers like Rodriguez and Cameron will still deliver something intriguing, right?  Not really.  The film moves along at an acceptable pace and it doesn’t feel as if it wears out its welcome at 2 hours, but it’s never very compelling.  The lack of originality combined with the somewhat (ironically) two-dimensional characters makes for a film which we are watching, but we are never really feeling.  Things are further complicated by the overall unsatisfactory feel of the story.  A key mystery is never solved, the third act is very dark, and the ending is anticlimactic.  It almost feels like Cameron is saving things up for a sequel which is probably not going to happen.


The only thing with which we are left in Alita: Battle Angel are the visuals and they are quite impressive.  As Rodriguez has become known for shooting movies in his personal studio in Texas, I was interested to see what he would do with a film of this scope and it’s clear that he let Cameron pay the bills, as we get some sumptuous sets here.  Of course, the true center-piece of the is Alita herself, as a CG creation has been placed over Salazar’s motion-capture performance, which was, in turn, placed into scenes with real actors.  The effect is fairly seamless and why we are never told why Alita has such huge eyes (other than the fact that this came from a manga), the result is unique.  The only issue here is with characters like Zapan and Grewishka, where it feels that the faces of real actors – Ed Skrein and Jackie Earle Haley respectively – were haphazardly slapped onto CG robots.


Given the ambitious nature of many of his projects, I’m sure that James Cameron wanted Alita: Battle Angel to be something which would set the standard for future science fiction films.  Unfortunately, what we get is a movie which looks too much to the past and brings us ideas which feel more like homages then something trendsetting.  The visuals are impressive, but the emotionless and hollow story will leave you feeling cold and machine-like.


Alita: Battle Angel would enthrall Margaret Keane on 4K UHD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.  The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at an average of 45 Mbps.  The image is impressively sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials.  The colors look fantastic and the image is never overly dark or bright.  The great crispness of the image gives it a nice amount of depth (even in this 2D version) and the level of detail is noteworthy.  Overall, this would make a nice reference film.  The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 6.0 Mbps.  The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  This is an active track, as the action sequences deliver nice surround and subwoofer effects.  The audio from the rear channels make its presence known and provides some individual sounds at times.  The subwoofer emphasizes each punch and explosion and the stereo effects keep us abreast of sounds occurring off-screen.  This set also includes a Blu-ray 3D which has the film letterboxed at 2.35:1 and contains an MVC transfer which runs at an average of 25/16 Mbps.  The 3D effects are pretty good, providing nice depth in most shots.  We don’t get many moments in which objects seem to leave the screen, but the image is always sharp and avoid the blurring and darkness which can hamper 3D movies.  This Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.0 Mbps.  This track sounds pretty dang good, coming in as only slightly less detailed than the track found on the 4K UHD.


The extra features for Alita: Battle Angel are found on the Blu-ray Disc included in this set.  “Alita’s World” is broken into four parts, all of which are like animated comic books.  “The Fall” (5 minutes) examines the war which changed the Earth and it’s landscape.  “Iron City” (3 minutes) provides an overview of the city and its neighborhoods.  “What It Means To Be A Cyborg” (2 minutes) offers an inside look at the melding of organic and machine.  “Rules of the Game” (3 minutes) delivers an explanation of Motorball.  “From Manga to Screen” (21 minutes) examines how the original graphic novel was transformed into a movie.  Featuring comments from Alita creator Yukito Kishiro, as well as the team behind the film, the piece offers a nice amount of panels from the original work.  “Evolution of Alita” (20 minutes) explores Salazar’s transformation into the character, from casting to training to motion-capture acting.  “Motorball” (6 minutes) takes another look at the violent sport from the film.  “London Screening Q&A” (27 minutes) is a discussion Cameron, Rodriguez, Salazar, Watlz, and Connelly.  “10 Minute Cooking School: Chocolate” (5 minutes) has the director making sweet treats.  “2005 Art Compilation” (14 minutes) is a reel of concept art accompanied by narration which explains the story.  “Scene Deconstruction” (11 minutes) offers three looks at some scenes to see how the visual effects were layered.

Review Copyright 2019 by Mike Long