Alita: Battle Angel is a visual feast and as exciting and entertaining a film as there has been this year. It serves as an effective world-building coupled with a rich story (that has plenty of bits and pieces you’ll recognize from other science fiction films) and delivers a rousing spectacle of a movie that you’ll want to watch again and again. The combination UHD/3D offering here, courtesy of Producer James Cameron’s clout, is a welcome reminder of the power of both formats.
The Production: 4/5
“This is why you’re drawn to conflict without hesitation. It’s part of your training. You are not just a warrior, Alita. You’re an URM Berserker. The most advanced cyborg weapon ever created. And that is exactly why I will never unite you with this body.”
The year is 2563. The earth, largely ravaged following a great war known as the fall some 300 years earlier, has forced its surviving inhabitants into large cities beneath idyllic floating cities in the sky. The earthbound cities operate around large scrap heaps created from the refuse dropped from the city above. In Panama City, around the metal junk scrap heap, Dr Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) forages for parts he can use in his clinic beneath the floating city of Zalem. He discovers a relic from the past, an advanced cyborg from the Great War. He restores her, gives her a new body, and though she has no memory of who or what she is, Ido cares deeply for her and names her Alita. Learning quickly, Alita begins to understand what she is, and her existence becomes a threat to the state of things. Destiny is calling.
Alita: Battle Angel was a longtime passion project for James Cameron (Aliens, Avatar). For over 20 years Cameron’s name was associated with this property, including as a vehicle for him to direct, but his commitment to Avatar (and other projects) kept him too busy. Based on Yukito Kishiro’s manga series Battle Angel Alita (also known as Gunnm), a copy of which Guillermo del Toro had given Cameron years ago. Cameron’s television series Dark Angel (2000) was inspired in part from the manga.
As an adaptation of the enormously popular Manga, Alita works in important ways. From a purely cinematic perspective, the film is filled with exquisite design, beautiful and refined cinematography that deeply understands the digital creative hybrid of this film. The visual effects work is also stunning. Complex and richly detailed environments, impressive cyborg character creations, and the piece de resistance, the character of Alita herself. Rosa Salazar performs Alita, a character realized onscreen through a combination of fine capture and the digital mastery courtesy (largely) of Weta Digital. Salazar imbues Alita with boundless humanity and the result is impressive and compelling. Without this central character endearing herself to us, the entire premise falls apart. Thankfully, the marriage of technology and Salazar’s emotive performance create for us a character we are immediately and utterly invested in.
In addition to Salazar, the rest of the cast is solid. Christoph Waltz as Dr. Ido delivers a memorable, likeable character. He’s able to bring a vulnerability and a believable strength by turns. Jennifer Connelly enjoys a good character arc as Chiren, Ido’s former wife. Alita’s love interest, Hugo, played by Keean Johnson, is better than expected character with a more interesting path in the film than a traditional suitor. While we only get to see the main villain very briefly (and that role is played surprisingly by a terrific actor who I won’t spoil here) the villain’s proxy comes in the form of the endlessly fascinating to watch Mahershala Ali as Vector. Ali delivers a calculating turn as the selfish man standing on the hopes and desires of the less fortunate; a man happy to be a big fish in the small pond so long as he has wealth and power. The remaining cast is filled with solid talent and recognizable faces, including Jackie Earle Haly as Grewishka, Ed Skrein as Zapan (an impressive assassin), Jorge Lendeborg, Jr., as Tanji, Jeff Fahey as McTeague (though I found him mostly unrecognizable), Leonard Wu as Kinuba, Casper Van Dien as Amok, and many more.
There is much to enjoy and appreciate in director Robert Rodriguez’ approach to the material here. His earliest films, from El Mariachi and Desperado though From Dusk till Dawn and The Faculty, demonstrated his core style, one that supports, rather than supplants substance. Not every project worked out, but his craft has grown and with Alita, his largest film to date, he firmly demonstrates a keen grasp of the scale and scope of the production, and shows a refinement of his more cavalier side which I suspect was honed in part through his partnership with James Cameron.
Alita: Battle Angel is a wonderful example of cinematic world-building and the marvels of technology that filmmakers have at their disposal. While the film is full of story, perhaps too much to satisfactorily flesh things out, and too full to give a great sense of how the world we see got there (sequels and prequels, should we be lucky enough to get them, would do well to dig a little deeper for us), the entire affair is a thrill nonetheless.
3D Rating: 4.5/5
Fox brings Alita: Battle Angel home in fine form with a release that packages two of the most exciting home video formats – 3D and 4k UHD.
The film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2:39.1. The UHD is replete with extraordinary detail. The rundown city and complex cybernetic creations are filled with authentic details and skin tones, even those created digitally (on Alita in particular) are impressive. The colors are wonderfully contrasting, with the palette hueing on the warmer sides of greys and browns, with bursts of color here are there. The HDR improves the contrast and brings out the color and shadow details to a greater degree. It’s a simply wonderful looking disc.
The Dolby Vision (HDR 10 also available) serves to deepen the colors and the shadows. The higher resolution courtesy 4K already impressive with the clarity and detail on offer, but the HDR added adds a little more punch.
The 3D offering here is solid. Generally, there is a pleasing amount of depth at play and the bright daytime scenes really add to that sense. There are limited ‘pop outs’ but when that technique us used, it’s a blast. It has been well over a year since I last watched a movie in 3D on my home display, and it was Cameron’s Avatar that I watched when I did. That film is my go-to example of what 3D can and should look like in a film. Alita doesn’t match those heights-there are moments where the 3D effect is slight-but fans of the format will be more than pleased with the result.
Personally, the 4K version is my preferred format but both present serious benefits for fans.
Alita: Battle Angel comes with a Dolby Atmos track (thankfully) that will default to a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track for those not Atmos enabled. The 7.1 is also the track available on the 3D version of the film.
The audio is astounding. It’s the kind of film and audio track your home theater dreams of with delightful separation, thunderously effective base an LFE, and a wonderful sense of aural immersion on offer. Dialogue is nicely balanced mainly in the center channel, and Tom Holkenborg’s score, among his most thematic and nuanced, is given real breathing room.
Special Features: 3/5
While not as comprehensive as this film deserves, the collection of special features on offer here does cover quite a bit of ground. The world of Alita is given a cursory examination in Alita’s world, while features like From Manga to Screen, Motorball and Evolution of Alita cover the origins, in-film game, and title character in depth.
Additional options provide a nearly 27-minute Q&A, recorded in London and a scene deconstruction with a neat feature allowing you to toggle between layers of rendering.
The special features don’t appear on the 4K disc (as usual) and can be found on the included Blu-ray disc.
- The Fall
- Iron City
- What It Means to be a Cyborg
- Rules of the Game
From Manga to Screen
Evolution of Alita
London Screening Q & A
10 Minute Cooking School: Chocolate
2005 Art Compilation
- I Don’t Even Know My Name
- Just an Insignificant Girl
- I’m a Warrior, Aren’t I?
- Kansas Bar
3-D Version of the film
Blu-ray version of the film
Digital copy of the film
Alita: Battle Angel is a terrific piece of filmmaking and a compelling opening salvo in what, with some good luck at this point given the borderline box office take, could develop into a captivating film series. While this isn’t a superhero story, it does follow the structure of an origin film as we get to know both the future world and who Alita is. Where the story can go from here is as exciting and intriguing as this film turned out to be. Performances are all strong, the direction some of the best from Robert Rodriguez, the score pleasing, and the visual effects and action sequence staging top notch. Despite not being able to service all the dangling threads on offer (another reason I am clamoring for a sequel), Alita is eminently watchable and engaging entertainment. Recommended.02454352017780