3 reasons why I couldn’t get into Alita: Battle Angel
1. Blue Blood
“Oh hey, let’s conveniently use the fact that they are cyborgs and use another color for blood! That way, we can avoid an R rating!”
“Right, let’s call it robotic fluid, and make it black, like oil.”
“No, the rating boards might still think that it’s blood, just darker. Let’s make it blue!”
“Sure, great idea!”
No, it’s not a great idea. I won’t try to justify that cyborgs still need blood to irrigate their brains because someone can always say that in the future there will be this fluid that is compatible both with humans and machines, even though the original manga and anime showed normal blood.
I will simply say that it looks stupid, and not as powerful as seeing red blood.
2. Uncanny Valley Faces
“The cyborgs, they will have lots of mechanical parts, right?”
“Well, there will be a lot of CGIs involved. Since we will make 3D models anyway, why not use CGI faces? That way, we won’t have to go through the hassle of mixing live faces and mechanical bodies.”
No, that was awful. Even if it was to become a full-CGI movie, the realistic approach of the designs was already stepping into the uncanny valley: that weird spot when you see the characters as very close to human, but something still feels off and unsettling. They made it worse in Alita: Battle Angel by showcasing live actors along with characters with a CGI face, making the difference all the more glaring.
It’s fine for anime or cartoons to have stylized proportions, but it then it feels odd when going for a realistic look. Alita has freaky big eyes, and I could often feel the floatiness of her movements, as if she was completely weightless and not subject to the gravity of the world around her. Her head was like an inflatable balloon!
Besides Alita, some of the other cyborgs have CGI faces that scream “cheap video game cutscene”. The lightning, shadows, and details seem off, the focus and sharpness of the details is not exactly like how a camera captures real skin, sometimes there is a weird glow, and for some minor characters, the skin is completely spotless, once again obviously not looking like it is part of the real world.
What makes it even worse is that Zapan looks fantastic. I would be surprised if his face was CGI, for once it seemed very real. Not only does it highlight how bad the other faces are, but it also contradicts the hypothesis that cyborgs have CGI faces while only normal humans are represented by live actors. If all the cyborgs (including Alita) had real faces like Zapan, I would have been able to enjoy the movie a little more.
3. Dialogues and lore
This one is harder to pin exactly, but there were often dialog lines that completely took me out of the story.
In terms of narration, Alita is suffering from amnesia and we discover the world through her eyes. Since there are no clues that tell us otherwise, we know as much as she does, we experience what she lives through. But then there are lines that hint at conversations that we have not witnessed! The worst offender is Alita’s speech in front of the Hunter-Warriors, in which she says that she heard that they were the heroes of Iron City (instead of the Motorball stars?) and that Grewishka is their common enemy. While I could discard the first assumption on the count of Alita flattering them to serve her argument, the second assumption is the argument itself. But we have never been introduced to the fact that Grewishka is a problem for other Hunter-Warriors than Ido and Alita! There are several lines like that all throughout the movie, and each time it stopped my thoughts and pulled me out of the experience of the movie.
Maybe these lines are referring to scenes that were cut to make the movie shorter. I don’t know, but it bothered me a lot. One way to alleviate some (not all) of this criticism would have been to add more scenes that show the passing of time without the viewer being privy to all the details.
And finally, there are lots of strangely artificial or naive discussions, including a few that seem to be here only to deliver exposition, such as when Alita pulls her heart out for Hugo. Similarly, let’s not forget how conveniently poorly Hugo defends himself against Zapan’s accusations, despite his life being on the line. This alone wouldn’t prevent me from enjoying the movie, but it added to all the other moments that broke my immersion.
4. Bonus: What is wrong with Hugo’s face?
Now here, CGI would be warranted!
With all of its $170,000,000 budget, it is no surprise that the movie wouldn’t be rated R and targeted for adults… which explains the blue blood. Also, CGI faces are probably a lot more appealing to kids. Combining the CGI-fest, fake blood and naive dialogues led me to think that this is a movie targeted at kids, and I can understand why they would find Alita: Battle Angel cool and edgy (it sometimes has a little taste of red blood!). But as an adult who enjoys the darker aspects of movies, manga, and anime, I really couldn’t get into Alita: Battle Angel. Still, it was a better watch than the insipid Ready Player One.
P.S.: In my last article I said that something was coming; I have started this project and could show it already, but I will wait a few more weeks until I have some more content. Still, it won’t be much, I wish I had more free time!