Alita: Battle Angel

Feb 3, 2019 // 6 minutes

It’s a respectable 24.7°C on this slightly humid summer day and I had the contradictory idea of picking up a nice hot pizza. Doubly so, because once I’ve eaten about 2 slices, it will then linger in my fridge until the end of time.

On my way back from the pizza store, I was marvelling at a video billboard for the upcoming Marvel film starring the hit character Captain Marvel: the appropriately titled Captain Marvel. Specifically, it got me thinking about movies. Perhaps I could spend money to see a series of moving pictures synced up to audio?

Ok, what actually happened is that a few days earlier, I had bought a ticket to upcoming Alita: Battle Angel film. For the uninitiated, it’s based off of the manga Gunnm by Yukito Kishiro. Outside of Japan, the series was given the title Battle Angel Alita, which was the name I knew it by growing up.

I still remember the first time I came across Volume 1 as a kid. It was sitting in the Teenage Graphic Novel section and featured a cover I would struggle to call “designed”. The almost bland font featuring a thick red outline, yet also containing a gradient running from black to white? An illustration randomly boxed in by the kind of pattern I’d expect on a kitchen bench? Everything about it is just jarring.

Skimming through the pages was probably one of those few memories that sticks out clearly in my mind. There’s some really graphic shit in there that an eleven year old should not be seeing. Here’s an excerpt from the plot section for the villain Makaku:

Makaku was unable to get his endorphin fix in time and went on a rampage, grabbing random people nearby and cracking their heads open to suck their brains out.

As disgusting as that may seem, he has a pretty tragic backstory. I won’t go into details (but you should check it out), but surprisingly you end up feeling pity a character who, just a few chapters ago, was nothing more than an insane serial killer.

Don’t think I’m here to try and sell you on this series. It’s part of my childhood but when I first heard that James Cameron wanted to adapt Alita about 10 years ago, it made me wonder… why?

Don’t get me wrong, I was excited to hear it but of all possible franchises to adapt? Surely there’s something more lucrative for those film execs? For James to want to adapt Alita, he must be a big fan!

A whois search for reveals that it was registered on March 30th, 2000, indicating a development cycle spanning almost 19 years. In recent interviews, Robert Rodriguez pins down 1999 as the year that Guillermo del Toro first brought Alita to the attention of Cameron.

The film rights were secured but nothing was announced publically about until 2005 when Cameron lifted the covers on two upcoming trilogies.

“I have two franchises, if you will, or films that play out over an arc of a number of films that I am going to be making. [I won’t make them] back-to-back, but one after another. They, in turn, might spawn back-to-back sequels. It all depends on how the first one does.”

“We’re going to do ‘Avatar’ first, and we’re in active pre-production on it right now. I’m directing it; I’m directing all these films.”

“And with ‘Battle Angel’ also, we’ll do the same thing. ‘Battle Angel’ is actually designed as a three-film cycle. So the logic there is to make one and, if it hits, boom-boom on the other two.”

Avatar made it to the finish line first so it seems like an obvious target for Gunnm fans to blame. An update in 2010 would seem to suggest perhaps Avatar served as more of a testing ground for Alita:

“We had a wonderful writer who came in and collaborated with Jim, Laeta Kalogridis, who worked on it; Laeta brought to our attention that there was much more to this world of Battle Angel than we ever knew,” explained Landau. “We were familiar with the anime that had been produced, we were familiar with one of the main books. But she opened us up to the other nine books that exist, and how rich that world is.”

“We really wanted to take our time in developing a large arc-ing story that really encompasses the whole world,” remembered Landau. “We were very close to doing that movie before we did ‘Avatar,’ and I think you’ll see that resurface. That’s a story in our minds about: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to fall in love? Are you human if you have a heart? Are you human if you have a mind? Or are you human if you just have a body? It’s a journey of self-discovery for a young girl.”

Time passed with no significant news until 2015 brought us the announcement of Alita: Battle Angel with Robert Rodriguez directing and James Cameron producing.

I wasn’t really sure what to make of that but at least it was news. I’m not the kind of person who thinks a bad live action movie is a stain that will forever ruin a franchise. If Alita isn’t that great, then who cares? The source material is still great and eventually we might even be able to appreciate the source elements that did successfully transfer onto the big screen.

The first trailer released 2 years later and that’s when things got kinda weird.

A lot of first impressions of this franchise was robot girl with massive anime eyes. Cool. Christoph Waltz as Daisuko Ido is real good stuff though. I swear there were those “dream movie cast” videos on YouTube back in the day that predicted this decision. Whoever made that casting call, big ups to you!

Anyway, all of this is to say: I’m pretty excited to see what they’ve cooked up. There aren’t that many times I get to see something I’ve been invested in for years now, translated onto the big screen. Sure, there was Ghost in the Shell, Dragon Ball Evolution and all that but I never had the sense that those were going to be handled properly.

In this case, there’s the budget, the passion and the dedication to stick with the idea after all these years. Cameron had reportedly written a 186-page screenplay along with 600 pages of notes so it’s not like he was half assing it.

I’ll write some more once I actually see the darn thing.

My actual impression of the film (not that I’m a reviewer by any means) will continue here once the thing actually comes out