Alita Battle Angel – The Movie

Two weeks ago, I shared my thoughts about the Robert Rodriguez film, From Dusk till Dawn. This past week, I watched Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of the manga Battle Angel Alita, which I discussed here at the Web Journal back in December. There was a lot about From Dusk till Dawn that suggested Rodriguez would be a good director for this manga. He clearly had a good sense of both character and action, both of which would be essential for adapting Alita for mainstream American audiences.

The American movie adaptation largely follows the plot of the first two volumes of the Alita manga. Set in somewhat grungy city under a pristine floating city, Dr. Ido finds Alita’s cybernetic head in a scrap heap and attaches it to a new body. We learn that Dr. Ido supplements his income as a bounty hunter. While following Dr. Ido, Alita unlocks some of her latent combat abilities. She also decides to become a bounty hunter. As all of this is going on, she meets a young man named Hugo who teaches her about life in the city. He also shares his dreams of traveling to the floating city, Zalem. In the film, Hugo takes Alita to a fallen spaceship from an ancient war, where she learns more about her past. He also introduces her to a futuristic, rocket-propelled version of roller derby called motorball. These last two elements weren’t in the first two volumes of the manga, but I gather are introduced in later volumes.

Overall, the movie felt like a faithful adaptation of the manga. It stayed true to the story of Alita and her journey of self-discovery and independence. It also kept the manga’s spirit of fighting for justice even when the odds are against you. I liked how even though we’re presented with something of a dystopia, the film’s “Iron City” didn’t seem an entirely bad place. You could get chocolate, make friends, and find moments of joy.

One element of the script that bothered me was the need to change and anglicize some of the names. The manga came from an era when anglicizing names was common. For example, Alita’s name in the original manga was Gally. However, in the movie, they change Dr. Daisuke Ido to Dr. Dyson Ido. They also change Yugo to Hugo, which doesn’t bother me as much since they sound similar. Still, it seems anime and manga translation has largely moved past the need to anglicize Asian names for American audiences. It’s time for more mainstream movies to follow suit.

I have mixed feelings about the movie’s choice to give Rosa Salazar’s Alita large eyes reminiscent of the style seen in anime and manga. On one hand, it’s an interesting nod to the story’s artistic roots. Also, it makes some sense that a battle cyborg might have enhanced, larger eyes to take in more than ordinary human eyes. The large eyes serve to emphasize that Alita isn’t human. However, that’s where I think the filmmakers missed the mark somewhat. Alita is supposed to be very human despite the fact she’s manufactured. Also, in manga and anime, the large eyes are something of an artistic style designed to emphasize the role eyes play in conveying emotion. It seems unnecessary to give one character literal anime eyes. It also had a tendency to remind me I’m watching a “special effects movie” instead of letting me disappear into the story.

So far, Alita: Battle Angel is my favorite American live-action adaptation of an anime. It may be flawed, but it largely stayed true to the source material. It gives me hope for better adaptations in the future and if it introduces some new readers to the source material, so much the better.

From Dusk till Dawn

From Dusk till Dawn, directed by Robert Rodriguez, is a movie set in the borderland region of West Texas and Northern Mexico. It’s been on my radar for some time, but it’s taken me a while to finally watch it. Released in 1996, this movie tells the story of two brothers on the run from the law. At a motel, they take a family hostage and flee across the border to Mexico. The brothers go to a strip club to wait for their contacts only to find the strip club is, in fact, home to a nest of vampires. The exact fictional settings are a little vague, although it’s implied the motel is in El Paso. Much of the film was made near Barstow, California, where I was born. The edition of the film I watched included the bonus movie Full-Tilt Boogie, which is a documentary about the making of From Dusk till Dawn.

One of the things that makes this movie interesting is that it takes its time introducing the horror elements. As noted in Full-Tilt Boogie, a lot of horror movies get right to the scary parts, but the best horror novels often give you a chance to become acquainted with the characters before throwing them into the horrific situation. This allows you to care more whether or not the characters make it out the other side. The mix of characters was interesting, because the Gecko brothers were not sympathetic at all. Both of them are murderers and one of them is a rapist. However, the family they kidnap is relatable. We meet a dad and his two children. The dad is a minister who recently lost his wife and suffers a crisis of faith.

Once the vampires are introduced, the movie is mostly about action as the human characters fight to survive the night. I thought the strip club was an interesting front for a nest of vampires. It allows vampires in their sexier human form to lure the unsuspecting into their trap. Beyond that, we learn little about the vampires themselves until a compelling hint about their origins and how it might be tied to history and mythology is dropped in the movie’s last scene. I won’t discuss the specifics in case that would spoil it for anyone, but I gather the hint is developed in the made-for-TV sequels and TV series. The vampires themselves are portrayed as pure monsters and they take many different forms.

Although it’s ostensibly a vampire film, the plot structure involving sympathetic characters mixed up with gangsters followed by a frightening second act reminded me most of my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt, which is also set in the borderland region. You can learn more about that novel at: http://davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt.html.

Even though my Scarlet Order vampires are not outwardly monstrous, they do have ties to history and world lore, including Native American cultural lore. I would have enjoyed more exploration of these ideas in From Dusk till Dawn and may have to watch at least some of the TV series to see how they explore it there. The best place to see these ideas explored in my writing is in my novel Vampires of the Scarlet order. Learn more about it at: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO.html