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Byron Shire
May 18, 2021

Cinema Review: Alita: Battle Angel

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by  Charles Boyle

In the year 2563, the earth has been devastated by a catastrophic war. While foraging through a junkyard in Iron City, Dr Dyson Ido finds a damaged female cyborg. He rebuilds the cyborg as a young girl and names her Alita after his deceased daughter. Alita has no recollection of her past, but we come to realise that she is a 300-year-old warrior cyborg and is the last of her kind. Alita is kind and loving, but when challenged, she is a warrior without equal – a girl superhero. This US cyber-punk anime sci-fi action film is based on an original manga series by Yukito Kishiro.

Co-written and co-produced by James Cameron, it takes the animation/live action technology developed in the Avatar  films to the next level. The hero Alita is a computer-generated animated image that looks convincingly real and interacts seamlessly with real actors. Alita’s movements and expressions are VFX based on actor Rosa Salazar, using facial and body movement recognition systems developed by Cameron. The result is a doll come to life, almost but not quite human, and so real it’s deeply disturbing. Cameron has achieved a great leap forward in film technology and the result is astounding. It’s official: you can no longer believe what you see in pictures.

Cameron chose director Robert Rodriguez whose deft direction has manifested the essence of anime, while supporting cast Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, et al compellingly fill the picture.

The film is made primarily for teenagers, but will also satisfy older sci-fi action viewers and gamers with relentless high-speed action and stunning imagery interspersed with predictable narrative. The politics are very positive, encouraging young women to be confident, strong and unafraid. But while visually breathtaking, the picture suffers from an inconsistent and at times clumsy script. The first fifteen minutes are tedious, but when it finally hits its stride the ride is thrilling.

This project cost $170 million and in a few days has recouped $44 million. It is bound to be a teen cult classic and the planned sequels are obvious.

The convincing female superhero has arrived. This is not just about James Cameron – fifteen thousand people worked together on this movie to achieve something wonderful. Watch it with your teenagers just to see how the future looks – it’s an exhilarating trip.

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