A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 404 – Appleseed (2004)

Appleseed (2004) – April 8th, 2011

For some reason or another, while I’ve read Ghost in the Shell and seen the movies and certainly the show, I’d never really gotten into Appleseed. I’m not sure why, since it’s got a bunch of tropes I enjoy, but I never did. So tonight was my introduction to it and I’ve got to say, it’s not the best introduction one could hope for. It’s an uneven movie with a lot of potential, so I’m not writing it off. But it also won’t be high on my repeat viewing list.

The first seven minutes of this movie are action. Not a complaint from me, I assure you. Just stating it. Not a single word is spoken for over seven minutes and I looked at Andy and said “This does have lines, right?” and then someone spoke and we realized we hadn’t turned the subtitles on. It was a little strange, but at the time I thought hey, cool, this is mostly going to be mindless and pretty action scenes. Oh, was I wrong. I should have kept my mouth shut. Because there is far more talking in this movie than action. It is a movie that will talk your ear off. Both ears, in fact. It is the talkiest action movie I have ever encountered.

Of course, some of the reason for all that talking is that the world it’s set in is fairly vast and there’s a lot of background to cover. Enter the car trip of exposition. Two of our main characters, Hitomi and Deunan, get in a spiffy hover car and drive through the utopian city of Olympus. Deunan’s new to the city, having been brought in from the ruins of the world outside the city (where a huge war has been waged for years) because of her fighting skills. Hitomi is one of an engineered race called Bioroids. And while Hitmoi’s got Deunan as a trapped audience, she tells her (and us) all about everything. It goes on and on and on and on and on and on. The thing is, while I’m sure it was all vital background information about the world and the conflicts at hand and so on and so forth, it’s so very static that I sort of zoned out during it. Shot of Deunan, shot of Hitomi, shot of the car, shot of the city, lather, rinse, repeat. For about ten minutes. And this sort of thing happens throughout the movie. There’ll be a tiny bit of action, then more talking. Then the characters will go somewhere else, engage in a little action, then more talking. Or maybe the talking will happen first and then a little action. You know, to keep things interesting.

What’s frustrating is that I can see the potential in all of it. There’s a whole plot going on with the Bioroids being unable to reproduce on their own and they’ve got muted emotions and were designed to protect humankind. And lots of humans don’t like them for one reason or another and want to overthrow them. Olympus is supposed to be a utopia but there are hints that some people don’t find it so perfect. There’s a coup staged by the human army, and a terrorist plot to destroy the Bioroids, and there are betrayals and double agents. Characters have names like Athena and Hades and General Uranus and the main computer is Gaia and you know, I am certain there’s symbolism in there. Then too, there’s background for Deunan and her old boyfriend, Briareos, who’s a cyborg now. And Deunan’s parents were heavily involved in the development of the Bioroids in the first place. So it all figures in. Oh, and Deunan gets a mech suit that can fly. But it’s all tossed in there with long stretches of very unengaging speech-making. Makes it tough to actually care about any of the emotional developments in the movie.

Again, it’s frustrating. I want to like Deunan. She’s super kick-ass and when there is action she gets to do some pretty awesome stuff. And that’s cool. But as a fleshed out character? By halfway through the movie there’s a big revelation about her mother and, well, I found it hard to care to the extent I think I was supposed to. Same for her relationship with Briareos, who is also pretty damn cool but we get so little for him to work with and so little for them as a couple, so their struggle to reconnect now that he’s been given the Robocop treatment doesn’t really have much impact.

I’ll give the movie this much: It’s pretty. It’s a bizarre combination of animation effects, with some of what looks like traditional 2D stuff and some slightly plastic-looking 3D stuff for the people and then some very detailed 3D backgrounds and textures. But I ended up liking it overall. And I like its concept and I like what I saw of the characters. All in all, though, I think it bit off way more than it could chew and ended up spending so much time on the history that the actual movie didn’t happen as it should have. I wanted to care when the giant mobile fortresses started moving, but I couldn’t. All I could do was think of how much better Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex did similar scenes. Maybe that’s why I got into that and not this. Or maybe it was just luck. I don’t know. I’ll have to check out the books and see if they’re as painfully wordy as this was. I sure hope not.

April 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Appleseed (2004)

April 8, 2011

Appleseed (2004)

Here we go again. Another attempt to distill the rambling and convoluted worlds of Masamune Shirow to film. This time it’s his epic work Appleseed, which is more a nebulous achievement in world building than a single coherent work. As near as I can tell Shirow has been writing Appleseed pretty much continuously since the early eighties. You can’t expect something created on that scale and over that amount of time to provide a simple enough plot line for a single movie to work as an adaptation, so there are a few obstacles to overcome in this movie.

It starts off well. There’s a good solid ten minutes or so at the start of this movie that’s just solid action. We get introduced to our heroine Deunan as she is hunted through the decimated streets of a post apocalyptic city by creepy cyborgs. It shows off both her abilities as a super warrior and this movie’s cool all-CGI aesthetic. We were kind of shocked when, after about ten minutes, the first dialog in the movie starts. (This is when we realized that we had unintentionally left the English dub on, so I had to quickly pop into the DVD menu to turn on subtitling and the Japanese soundtrack.)

Once the characters start talking, though, they don’t stop. I understand why – it’s because volumes upon volumes of material have to be communicated to the viewer in a relatively short time – but it certainly does bog the movie down an awful lot. First Deunan has to be introduced to Olympus, the futuristic utopian island of peace in the vast desolate war-torn expanse that is the world of the future. Here she catches up with her old friend and companion Briareos, who is now a buff rabbit-faced cyborg. She also befriends the frighteningly perky Hitomi, who explains to her all about Olympus and the delicate balance of power there.

Half of the population of Olympus is not actually human. They’re manufactured clones made from artificial genetic stock called Bioroids. They’re kind of like all the best aspects of humans, without all the baggage of emotions and such to drive them to passionate acts of violence. They help to keep the city running and safe for all to live in. Many humans fear that the Bioroids will ultimately replace them as the dominant species on the planet – which is why the Bioroids have been engineered with no reproductive drive. There are a number of factions involved in running the city. There are the army, who are of necessity mostly human since fighting is not inherint to Bioroid nature. There is a human splinter group of terrorists bent on destroying the Bioroids. There’s a bunch of elderly humans on floating orbs who act as a wise council and help govern the city. There’s a nebulous A.I. that inhabits the ‘net in the city called Gaia who represents the Bioroid viewpoint in the council. There’s Athena, one of the first Bioroids, who acts as a kind of senior administrator, keeping the city running. And there’s the local police force, eSWAT, who seem to be mostly pro-Bioroid, are commanded by Athena (I think,) and maintain law and order.

All of that is explained in a single lengthy speech by Hitomi. And I’ve given you the condensed version. If it seems a bit ponderous than you might be getting some notion of just how dense this movie really is. I was not in the mood for dense tonight. I was in the mood for pretty action. I remembered there being some really great action scenes in this movie, and there are, but somehow I had glossed over the interminable plot exposition that makes up the vast majority of the movie.

Here’s how it goes: There’s the opening action scene. Then there’s the orientation course from Hitomi. Then there are some cool whip-wielding cyborgs who try to kill Deunan. Then there’s some exposition about what the various rival groups in Olympia want and what the Bioroids are. Then there’s an attack on the Bioroid breeding facility by the terrorist splinter group. Then there’s more plot exposition. Then the movie fakes you out by having Deunan sent on a mission to retrieve some essential data needed to save Hitomi and the other Bioroids. You might expect some action here, but you’d be wrong. There’s a flash back, a bunch of people pull out guns, and then they talk at each other for about ten or fifteen minutes. Exposition, exposition, exposition. A couple people get shot. Then before we can finally get to the (admittedly very cool but somewhat contrived) final action scene there’s… yes… more exposition as the masterminds behind the whole plot of the movie and their nefarious plan are revealed.

I was somewhat tired before this movie started. I am utterly exhausted now, and I have to admit that at times my mind wandered as I was watching. It’s a pitty too, because I really like the two main characters of the Appleseed universe. Deunan is a kickass female warrior and Briareos is an affable and indomitable lug. The two of them in the manga are a fantastic couple always flirting with each other and saving each other’s hides in the constant battles they find themselves thrust into. I don’t particularly like where this movie takes Briareos as a character, and I miss some of their closeness which is hinted at in the movie but not really shown. (In the manga they have a much more domestic feel to them. Perhaps because we first meet them as they gather food together in the wasteland, living alone with only themselves for company.)

I also really like the aesthetic of this movie. It is entirely computer animated but it uses a cell-shaded approach for the characters which makes them look somewhat hand-drawn. It’s a striking look and very cool. It manages to look more anime than the average CGI animated film, while at the same time having a distinctly 3-D look to it. (Come to think of it, I wonder if anybody has floated the idea of re-rendering it into stereoscopic 3-D. I wonder how many of the original data files it was rendered from are still available.) Anyhow, it is a very pretty movie with some slick action scenes and the cool tech that Shirow is known for, but it drives me to distraction with all the scenes of characters explaining at length to each other what is going on.

With apologies to Yahtzee I’d like to quote Elvis: “A little less conversation – a little more action!”

April 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment