Alita: Battle Angel 4K Blu-ray Review

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Robocop meets Ghost in the Shell

by Casimir Harlow Jul 23, 2019 at 11:08 AM

  • SRP: £24.99

    Alita Film Review

    Robert Rodriguez's James Cameron-produced adaptation of the manga Alita is a flawed but still fun sci-fi actioner.

    In the context of manga adaptations - and perhaps most saliently the recent film version of the seminal Ghost in the Shell series - Alita should be regarded as something of a strong success, commercial returns notwithstanding. It finds a way to forge a solid origin story within a rapidly expanding sci-fi sandbox environment, whilst finally traversing that uncanny valley on the effects front to deliver an almost flawlessly realised CG protagonist.

    Its far-in-the-future-scape of a post-apocalyptic world (after "The Fall") - with its hierarchy of largely gutter echelons struggling to survive as the richer populace enjoy omnipotence from an impossibly high city in the clouds - is undeniably familiar on paper, but also wonderfully fresh in realisation, as giant metal tentacles sweep up from the Blade Runner-esque neon alleys to feed this futuristic sky city. The underbelly of cyborg Hunter-Warriors who track down other cyborgs that are on a wanted list should, in theory, make you wonder why they didn't just call them Blade Runners, but there's such ingenuity in the crafting of this motley group of part-humans - each unique in their 'enhancements' - that you barely give it a thought.

    And the protagonist - her human brain saved from the wastelands and transplanted into a cyborg body by a thoughtful tech doctor, slowly discovering the truth about herself through hidden memories triggered by violent confrontation - could easily be a Young Adult era reinvention of Robocop (replete with ED-209s), carrying with it plenty of undertones from the aforementioned Ghost in the Shell series. However, this - visually - wondrously realised female warrior-in-the-making at least feels unique in the burgeoning landscape of sequels and remakes; a veritable original property that, unsurprisingly, has some unquestionably rough edges, but ultimately only really falls down when it reveals a fatal presumption that it will inevitably become part of a much bigger franchise, and consequently refuses to afford this first chapter a conclusive ending.

    Alita should be regarded as a success, commercial returns notwithstanding. It finds a way to forge a solid origin story within a sci-fi sandbox environment, whilst traversing that uncanny valley to deliver an almost flawlessly realised CG protagonist

    Robert Rodriguez takes everything he has learned in his years dabbling with limited budgets and heavily stylised, properties - whether bringing the striking modern pulp noir edges of the Sin City graphic novel series to life, or enjoying the family friendly hijinks of his Spy Kids franchise - and he uses that experience here to startling effect (with the backing of James Cameron, who ditched the project after years of pre-production, so that he could make the ninety-six Avatar sequels that the public have been tirelessly campaigning for over the last decade). It's his biggest film by far, and something of a surprise coming off the disappointing flop sequels of Machete Kills and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, but he takes the opportunity and runs with it, delivering a vibrant - but surprisingly dark and unforgiving - future cityscape which is very well realised, world-building into it a number of colourful characters who mostly take the form of violent cyborgs.

    His biggest success is Alita herself, mo-capped by Rose Salazar (the Divergent series, the Maze Runner series, Netflix's Bird Box), but brought to life with pure CG, and - with little fanfare - veritably bridging that uncanny valley in such a spectacular way that it's impossible not to root for her when she gets into tough situations. Yes, she's got crazy big eyes (faithful to the Japanese manga, and far from the first to also peddle those uncomfortably perfected 'teen' bodies for their veteran warrior protagonists - see Ghost in the Shell again) and there are a couple of early scenes where the dialogue doesn't seem quite matched to the lip movement, but it's a staggering advance in effects, and Salazar does well to push through that and actually translate it into a kick-ass lead who we unquestionably want to see more of (the single F-bomb moment is fist-pumpingly good).

    Despite being gifted an unforgiving romantic arc (with boy band wannabe Keean Johnson, channelling a young Colin Farrell) which involves little chemistry and much contrivance, and despite going on a Rollerball/Tron: Legacy journey through the landscape which could have easily just descended into the film's very own 'Pod Race' scene (but thankfully doesn't, and instead becomes a high point on the action front), and despite working with a number of largely wasted 'big name' supports - from Mahershala Ali (Green Book, True Detective), now, in hindsight, clearly auditioning for the Blade role he has just won, to Jennifer Connelly, with only perhaps Christoph Waltz endearing as the robot body doctor who rescues her - Alita somehow still remains a wonderfully realised character who you just want to see more of. Her battle scenes - although somewhat overpowered at times, she comes up against some tough opponents - are memorable and impressively staged, and her backstory is frustratingly intriguing. A better filmmaker would have delivered more on this front and closed out the film satisfyingly, whilst also leaving the universe open for expansion. This is the biggest nagging bitter aftertaste of the whole affair since it'll take some record breaking home rentals/purchases to push this baby into the green. Fingers crossed though, because more from Alita and her Battle Angel universe would only be very welcome.

    Alita 4K Picture

    Alita: Battle Angel Alita 4K Picture
    Alita: Battle Angel comes to UK Ultra HD Blu-ray courtesy of 20th Century Fox, marrying up to their likely identical US release which is - for once - released after the UK set (albeit by one day!).

    The disc presents a 3840 x 2160p resolution image utilising the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 2.4:1. It uses 10-bit video depth, a Wide Colour Gamut (WCG) and High Dynamic Range (HDR) in the form of both Dolby Vision and HDR10+, and is encoded using the HEVC (H.265) codec.

    We reviewed the UK Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Alita: Battle Angel on an LG 55B7 Dolby Vision 4K Ultra HD OLED TV with an LG UP970 Dolby Vision 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

    Whilst initially looking like it would never achieve reference excellence, Alita leaves the ring a demo contender

    Unsurprisingly upscaled due to the inherent technical limitations of its 2K Digital Intermediate, Alita still largely impresses, bringing all manner of other visual tools into play in order to wring as much detail, texture and depth out of the image (it's a relatively rare release which comes packaged with the 3D version, but even in 2D 4K there's a decent amount of object-based pop). Whilst afforded a hefty budget in comparison to the majority of the director's other efforts, considering the seemingly limitless grand scale sci-fi blockbuster landscape that it seeks to paint a portrait of, there's no question that this one was turned in for a reasonably limited price tag, and, consequently, it's unsurprising to find a few softer shots around the edges, as early effects work isn't quite as polished, and not every character movement - or, as previously mentioned, lip movement - quite rings true, but all-in-all, this is a beautiful looking piece of grungy sci-fi spectacle.

    The Sky City may be the stuff of CG dreams, and never fully realised, but the dirty streets below are wonderfully textured, with a noticeable uptick in detail over the 1080p Blu-ray counterpart, not least thanks to the implementation of not only HDR and WCG but Dolby Vision (or, for those enabled, HDR10+ instead). Of course it's Alita herself who gets the biggest visual benefit, with her compellingly unusual visage granted every iota of resolve, and absolutely flawless (referring again to that uncanny valley) particularly in some shots like where she pops out from being under the water to investigate the dark depths of the crashed ship, and beads of waters perfectly peppering her skin.

    The colour scheme naturally renders the grungy depths, and brings the inky shadows to life with supreme shadow detail (that's the Dolby Vision at play there), whilst brighter neons and enhanced energy weapons afford an intense glow that is leagues beyond what SDR could offer. Whilst initially looking like it would never achieve reference excellence, Alita leaves the ring a demo contender.

    Alita 4K Sound

    Alita: Battle Angel Alita 4K Sound
    The aural accompaniment comes in the form of high definition 3D immersive audio of the Dolby Atmos variety, enjoying the eventful and frequently hard-hitting impact of this action-packed sci-fi beast, whilst relying on the underlying backbone of Junkie XL's (Mad Max: Fury Road) frequently intense score.

    It's not quite Tron: Legacy levels of mastery, but Alita does well to strive for such a lofty standard, and an utterly reference aural accompaniment goes some way towards accomplishing that

    Dialogue remains well-prioritised across the piece, but you really come here for the effects and score, with the latter enjoying some perfectly-toned accompaniments to the key action setpieces (it's surprisingly brutal, and unforgiving at times), and thrumming with LFE intensity that pervades the blockbuster runtime. Effects enjoy all of the tech play at work here, which helps gives Alita's cyborg body some added level of life, whilst tech weapons abound - the thruster-anvil; the energy-infused Damascus blade; the chain-tentacle fingers - and expand out across the dynamic sound array, each gifted purpose as they slice, splay, and smash your living room. There's plenty of LFE here too, and Alita herself is something of a marvel (moreso than perhaps the other Marvel), as she literally punches above her weight, breaking metal, thundering through mortar, and energising this intense battlescape.

    It's not quite Tron: Legacy levels of audiovisual mastery, but Alita does well to strive for such a lofty standard, and an utterly reference aural accompaniment goes some way towards accomplishing that.

    Alita 4K Extras

    Alita: Battle Angel Alita 4K Extras
    Disappointingly, there's nothing ported over to the Ultra HD Blu-ray disc itself (which is, itself, an indication of the further disappointment that there's no Commentary here from the normally enthusiastic Rodriguez, who generally always has a lot to say about his productions), but thankfully the accompanying Blu-ray disc has a strong enough selection of alternatives.

    A strong enough selection

    Mainly Featurette-driven, we get a look behind the translation from page to screen, several mini-Featurettes on key elements of this world (The Fall, Iron City, Cyborgs and the Games), as well as a dedicated piece looking not only at the acting necessary to bring the protagonist to life, but - arguably in this case even more importantly - the CG technology used. There's also a Q & A and a brief segment on Rodriguez making chocolate (we've fallen a long way from his film school 'classes'). The disc is rounded off with some scene deconstruction Featurettes and Concept Art.

    Alita 4K Verdict

    Alita: Battle Angel Alita 4K Verdict
    It'll take some record breaking home rentals/purchases to push this baby into the green

    There's much to admire about Rodriguez's Jim Cameron-championed adaptation of Alita, although the feverish world-building and commercial open-endedness leaves you desperate for more, which - with poor Box Office returns in the shadow of Captain Marvel - may never come to fruition.

    Nevertheless, perhaps an enthusiastic home cinema following will do the trick, and Fox's largely stunning 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray will certainly help, affording the sci-fi punk actioner superior Dolby Vision and HDR10+ enhanced video, tremendous Dolby Atmos-enhanced audio and a decent selection of background extras into the making of the feature. It comes recommended.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.99

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