Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Appleseed (Appurushîdo)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 October 2004 at the Brattle Theater (Boston Fantastic Film Festival/Sunday Eye-Opener)

The story of Appleseed involves the difficulty of two breeds of humanity existing side-by-side: Homo sapiens, and its genetically-engineered potential successors, the Bioroids. In many ways, there's a parallel with the production of the movie itself, with traditional animation and its computer-rendered counterpart in the roles of the two strains of humanity. Naturally, I won't spoil the outcome of the story, other than to say that plenty of stuff blows up along the way, but I will say it's well worth watching the movie to find out.

In the movie, Deunan is known as the "Goddess of War" - skilled with street fighting and tactics, smart and gutsy (and hot to boot). In an opening scene whose fight choreography would put a lot of live-action movies to shame, her team is ambushed, but she's rescued by the utopian community of Olympus's ESWAT team, where she's informed that the war she'd been fighting is over and nobody bothered to tell the grunts. Half the population of Olympus are Bioroids, genetically engineered people with a difference - they're designed to protect humanity, unable to reproduce themselves, and have less volatile emotional responses. Of course, despite there being no reason not to like them, there are still terrorists who see the Bioroids as monsters (choose whichever metaphor you like). Deunan's barely arrived in Olympus before she's thrown into the middle of this mess.

As with most sci-fi movies worth the name, there's a fair amount of exposition to be delivered early on and just before plot-twisting. To Appleseed's credit, it delivers it with minimal pretentious philosophizing while throwing a fair amount of eye candy on-screen at the same time, jumping to a more active sequence soon after. Yeah, you've got to wonder whether Deunan's bioroid guide Hitomi would naturally go into lecture mode at that point, but there's pretty cartoon girls and an intricate CGI city to distract you.

The visual style falls into the same "CGI backgrounds and machines/hand-drawn characters" as Ghost In The Shell 2, but is more successfully integrated here. Early on, I wondered if this was simply an all-CGI movie with characters rendered to look like traditional animation (the motion of the characters recalls Kaena or Final Fantasy more than Akira), but it turns out that the animators were simply using extensive live-action reference, if not actually rotoscoping. Combine it with excellent coloring, and the result is one of the best examples of traditionally-animated characters looking at home in a 3-D world yet.

For those where "pretty" isn't enough to get you into an animated feature, it's not all the movie brings. The science fiction is good, while the characters are somewhat thin but enjoyable - likable protagonists, hissable villains. Still, the relationship between Deunan and Briareos (a former lover who is now little more than a brain in a very mechanical-looking body) adds some interest, and the film's ultimate villains have a more interesting motivation than simple bigotry. And there's plenty of action.

As much as this is a relatively smart bit of science-fiction, especially when compared to many of its live-action American counterparts, it is also very much a fun, blockbuster action movie. So a lot of the protagonists are impossibly good-looking women who, as the movie progresses, blow bigger and more destructive things up. Deunan's fighting soldiers hand-to-hand as the movie starts, and is looking to stop gigantic, city-stomping Mobile Fortresses by the end, with cyborgs, car chases, and people in power armor in between. It's quality stuff, too, as the filmmakers follow all the rules for good action that live-action filmmakers routinely ignore, keeping a shot long enough that we can see what's going on, showing scale, showing geography... just basically getting the heck out of the way.

Apparently, Appleseed's American distributor is looking for a "big" theatrical release in early 2005, which would be great - it's a great big action movie and deserves to be treated as one, even if that means a dubbed release so that it will get into multiplexes as opposed to boutique places.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Character Animation is full on CGI done with a cel-shader to look hand drawn. Softimage XSI was used extensively.