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A sneak peek of Alita: Battle Angel

One of the most eagerly awaited releases this year, the cyberpunk action film, is already being hailed as a movie marvel

By Priyanka Roy

  • Published 9.01.19, 11:47 PM
  • Updated 11.01.19, 4:57 PM
Rosa Salazar as Alita in Alita: Battle Angel.
Rosa Salazar as Alita in Alita: Battle Angel. A still from Alita: Battle Angel

Whether you are clued into manga or not, whether you are a James Cameron fan or not, you would have to live under a rock to not know about Alita: Battle Angel. One of the most eagerly awaited releases this year, the cyberpunk action film, that’s set for a February release, is already being hailed as a movie marvel, both in terms of storytelling and technique.

In the making for a while — it was announced in 2003 — Alita: Battle Angel has become a must-watch just by virtue of the names attached to it; while Cameron — the man behind Holly behemoths like Titanic and Avatar — has not only co-produced it but also penned its screenplay, Alita is directed by Sin City maker Robert Rodriguez and boasts names like Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Michelle Rodriguez and Rosa Salazar, as Alita, in its cast.

Since early last year, Cameron and Rodriguez, along with the film’s producers 20th Century Fox, have been organising closed-door screenings of portions of Alita all over the world. Last week, a select few in Calcutta got the opportunity to watch some scenes at a special screening at the IMAX audi of INOX (South City). t2 was in the audience and the footage shown — about five scenes over a total of 30 minutes — left us wanting more.

The promise that Alita comes with is that even if one isn’t aware of the source material — in this case Yukito Kishiro’s manga called Gunnm — one will get sucked into the narrative, with its blend of an emotional story, jaw-dropping visual effects and visceral action.

One of the first scenes is what we have already seen parts of in the trailer. Dr Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) chances upon a disembodied core and assembles it to give form to a cyborg called Alita. Alita wakes up in what is a post-apocalyptic world with no memory of her past and Dr Ido, in the presence of his trusted aide Nurse Gerhad (Idara Victor) hands over an orange to her to test whether her taste buds are functional. Salazar portrays Alita through the technique of motion capture. Alita arrests attention — and captures your heart — from the get-go, especially when her eyes widen in wonder when she bites into the orange and likes how it tastes.

The next few scenes rank high in action. A bird’s-eye view of Iron City will make your jaw drop. Iron City was built over an area of 77,000sq ft in Austin, Texas and as Alita walks through its crowded streets, the film shows how humans and cyborgs co-habit in ease in this futuristic world. It’s here that Alita meets a human called Hugo (Keean Johnson).

Hugo introduces Alita to the gladiator-style sport called Motorball, an important element in the original manga that plays a big role in Alita’s character development. Bullied at first by Hugo’s fellow players, Alita quickly masters the sport and even beats some old hands at the game very easily. Motorball features in another scene that we were shown. Playing out in a stadium, it showed Alita getting ready to play the game professionally before quickly realising that she has to brace herself for more than just the game. What follows is a stunning action sequence.

The best bit of the 30 minutes screened was that it was a blend of intimate and emotional moments — Hugo touching Alita’s robotic hands and the two leaning in for a kiss will make you smile — and dizzying action sequences.

Everything is larger-than-life in Alita — props to sets, costumes to action — but it doesn’t take away from the innocence that forms Alita’s core as she looks at the world with fresh eyes. And aah, what eyes those are!

Hollywood has used motion capture very effectively in quite a few films — the most recent example being Mowgli — with the technique used in Alita being of the highest standard. There will be many moments in the film when you will forget Alita is a cyborg. Well, co-producer Jon Landau has gone on record to say that Alita has more pixels in one eye than the whole of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings!

What also worked was the introduction — on screen, of course — that Cameron and Rodriguez gave before the scenes, with Rodriguez promising “a visual spectacle” and Cameron lamenting that he had to give up on directing Alita because the Avatar sequels were taking up too much of his time. “I think I will be making the Avatar films for many, many years to come,” joked the man. Looks like Cameron hasn’t lost his sense of humour. Will his magic touch also extend to Alita: Battle Angel? We will know on February 8. And yes, the film releases in India a week before the US! 

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