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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Alita, Avatar, Coraline and Why I Love James Cameron

Battle One: Rusty Angel
Real quick, if you haven't read the previous Alita post, I recommend doing so because it serves as a foundation for what I'll be talking about in this one. Only, in that post I was talking about the media and cultural significance of the movie, whereas here I want to talk about the movie and production itself.

Also this is a very... optional post. I mean, I know every post is optional to read, but I know a few of you feel the need to read all of my posts out of obligation or something, but I need you to understand that I'm about to go on a 15,000-word monologue about James Cameron movies and Coraline and shit, and I don't expect a lot of people to be interested in that extremely niche topic, so if you normally read all of my stuff because we're friends or family or something, I'm setting you free now. You can skip this one, it's all good. That's why I released this post and Part One of the "Dynamic Story" series on the same day, so that you have something else to read if this type of thing doesn't suit your fancy.

In fact I wouldn't be surprised if half the people who encountered this saw the title, and the length of the post, and noped the heck out of this page as fast as they could. And that's alright, this stuff isn't going to be for everyone.

But if you're cool like me and this kind of stuff interests you, then buckle up Buttercup.

I want to talk more about Alita as a film and how it stands on its own merits, as well as James Cameron's other masterpieces. While I did bring up a lot of important things the movie offers, like the way Alita is executed as a protagonist, it was always tied into how it reflects what people want from movies and how the media coverage of this movie was rancorous and unprovoked. Now I know a lot of people still want more information on the culture war aspect of the movie, so I'll just wrap up one loose end real quick before I continue. Skip the next paragraph if you just want to get to the meat of the discussion.

I decided to actually sit down and watch Captain Marvel last night on a torrent (PopcornTime didn't have it yet, but you can still find the torrent on the web and download it to VLC) and I have to say, I was pretty much spot on except I have to admit that Nick Fury really carried the movie. Some people criticize the de-aging CGI but it actually looked pretty good IMO, and while everything I said about Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) was correct, the movie itself was improved quite a bit just by Nick Fury's presence. There were a lot of jokes that felt flat and unoriginal, but I did find myself laughing at some of their banter, so in a way Nick Fury does make up for Carol Danvers's sh*t personality. I also loved the cat, but the way Nick Fury loses his eye is kind of disappointing. The plot wasn't terrible and the idea of the Skrulls and Kree are a unique concept, but after thinking over the events of the movie it does become apparent that the majority of the plot itself is a plot hole in the MCU. The feminist stuff wasn't always beating you over the head constantly, so I was a little pleased with that, but when it is bashed over your head it's done really conspicuously, so interpret that however you'd like. Also the movie has passed the billion dollar mark, and I'm not sure what to make of that. There is a theory going around that they're buying tickets to their own movie, since every theater has exactly 25 online tickets purchased anonymously that no one ever shows up for, but I'm not sure what to believe. On one hand, Disney went so far to protect this movie and hire people to praise it, that it wouldn't surprise me if they bought out their own theaters to make it look more successful than it actually is, but on the other hand there are millions of normies out there who actually go to these types of movies and will happily spend all their money on any Marvel or Star Wars movie, no matter how much it disrespects its own audience, but the truth is that both scenarios are equally disturbing. I mean if it's the former, that means Disney is so insane that they'd actually go this far to deceive the public into thinking this garbage film was a success, and if it's the latter then there might actually be a massive number of people who will unquestionably buy any Disney product without hesitation. Maybe the truth is somewhere in between.

Alright, moving on to the real discussion.


I finished reading the first four volumes of the manga, or the first two deluxe editions if you want to be specific, and I'm remarkably impressed with how faithful they stayed to the manga in developing the movie. Also Alita has introduced me to manga for the first time and I'm loving it so far. I wasn't pretentious or against manga or anything, I just always assumed it wouldn't be for me. I never liked the idea of comic books or manga 'cause I thought it would ruin the imagination or something, but I couldn't have been more wrong about that. Having read the first few volumes of the Alita manga I can see the appeal; coupling graphic art with good dialogue and story-telling is a pretty great art form in and of itself, and I have a lot more respect for comics and graphic novels now.

Just as an FYI there won't be any spoilers in this post except for one part about Hugo (Yugo) which I will provide a spoiler-warning for.

Do keep in mind that the movie is intended to be a new series, and the end of the movie is just the beginning of the story. Like James Cameron said in his interview, he wants it to be a trilogy:

Alita: Battle Angel, Alita: Fallen Angel and Alita: Avenging Angel, or something along those lines.

Since the movie has passed $400 million, and Disney will owe James Cameron for making a continuation of Avatar, a sequel is very likely, and even if Disney doesn't want to make it, Jim could just go to Paramount for a sequel since they're the ones making his new Terminator movie, Terminator: Dark Fate, and he has a good relationship with them. Universal Studios would also be a great studio to go to with an Alita sequel, and it's not too far-fetched for him to consider a Chinese studio either, where the studio and production team involved would get to keep a larger percentage of the profits since the movie is such a hit there.

But what I find interesting is how the movie compares to other James Cameron movies, and even a couple of movies that he had nothing to do with. There's a lot of interesting themes that he likes to explore, and the dynamic between Jim and director Robert Rodriguez is something that I haven't seen since Coraline came out in 2009.

The first thing I want to talk about is the way these two people worked together and how their styles blended, but first let's talk about Coraline for a second because you'll find the similarities quite strong.

Coraline is a stop-motion film based off of Neil Gaiman's book of the same name (2002), and Neil Gaiman really wanted it to become a movie, but there was a problem.

While he was working on the manuscript in 2000, he realized that a live-action movie would be terrible. He had already snagged Dakota Fanning to play the role of Coraline, but everything else was a disaster.

Especially the black cat, which, if you've ever watched an early-2000's-talking-animal-movie, would look stupid as hell and would completely undermine the dark and serious tone of the movie.

That's when he decided it would probably be better as an animated feature, but he didn't want it to be a cartoon because that wouldn't work well either. Basically both options sucked.

Meanwhile, Henry Selick, the mastermind behind James and the Giant Peach and The Nightmare Before Christmas, was in the opposite situation. He desperately needed a new movie, because every script coming his way was unusable and he hadn't finished a movie in quite some time, considering James and Jack Skeleton came out way back in 1996 and 1993. He had worked quite close with Tim Burton for his previous movies, but they had gone separate ways and now Henry was left hanging with no script.

One day Neil Gaiman re-watched The Nightmare Before Christmas, and that's when he realized that stop-motion would be a perfect fit for Coraline. And in my humble opinion, Coraline is the crowning achievement of stop-motion and what it's capable of. Every scene looks nearly flawless.

So it was then that he reached out to Henry Selick over email or something, whatever was the fad in 2000, and Henry Selick was absolutely thrilled. When Neil sent him the unfinished manuscript, he began concocting all sorts of dark and evocative images of what the movie would look like. He hadn't had his imagination run this wild in years.

Henry Selick, championing his doll.
And, oddly enough, their styles perfectly complemented each other. The way Selick brought dark stories to life in James and the Giant Peach and The Nightmare Before Christmas was the exact same style that a morbid children's book like Coraline demanded.

The dark yet wildly creative and imaginative story with its vivid imagery and heavy themes was practically written for Henry Selick to direct.

Neil being Neil.
One term you might be familiar with is the romantic notion of a "match made in heaven," or the power couple. I think what's interesting is that this concept extends itself beyond romance and into even business relationships. Because if there were any two people who were destined to be an unstoppable duo in the movie industry, it was these two geniuses. Neil Gaiman, the British author with some of the darkest and most creative stories ever written for children, and Henry Selick, the artistic genius who specialized in giving twisted, creepy life to these types of stories with claymation. And they invented a new style of filming in the process, because Coraline was the first stop-motion movie in history to be filmed in stereoscopic-3D. It was no easy endeavor, and it required a ridiculous amount of work and took ages to film it that way. To catch a glimpse of the amount of creativity that went into making Coraline, I'd encourage you to watch this; it's actually really interesting. My favorite part is the cherry blossom forest made of popcorn.

But this was a long time ago.

While Coraline came out in 2009, it took an eternity to make and film. The filming alone took 20 months, and the beginning processes of production started as early as 2000, meaning this was essentially a 9-year project just for a 140 minute movie.

All of this went down between 19 and 10 years ago, and in the present day we got to see this type of thing happen again with yet another two geniuses, Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron.

The first volume of Battle Angel Alita came out in 1990, and Jim read it when it first launched. A lot of people wouldn't have known from Terminator and Avatar, but James Cameron is a huge manga nerd. In fact you can pick up almost any major manga series from the last 30 years and find Jim's review on the back cover. On the back of Battle Angel Alita he wrote, "Just a great, kick-ass story."

He bought the rights to Alita in the '90s and told Moviehole in 2003 that he had signed a deal with Fox securing the funding for a movie. The author of the manga, Yukito Kishiro, is a bit old now but had been working on manga ever since high-school and won several awards at the age of 17 for his uniquely creative style and execution. His art just looked badass and his stories dripped with originality.

He was more than happy to let Jim buy the rights to Alita because he loved Terminator and Aliens, and trusted he would do good with it.

The problem was, Cameron didn't have the tech to make the movie work. If he tried making the movie's special effects with 2000's technology, and tried to render it on Windows XP or something, it would look atrocious. They simply didn't have the means to make the movie without completely sacrificing the overal visual quality. This is quite similar to the situation Neil Gaiman was in during the same time period when he was looking for a studio that could make Coraline.

Similarly, it was the same case with Avatar. Jim wrote the 80-page script for Avatar way back in 1984 while releasing Terminator, and wanted to release the movie in 1999 right after Titanic in 1997, but like he would later lament with Alita, the tech wasn't good enough. It's kind of sad that Cameron had all these movies in his head that he knew would be amazing, if only he could make them, but wondered if he'd even live long enough to see the tech catch up.

But that wasn't going to stop him from at least starting.

He started developing the motion-capture technology for Avatar right after Titanic was finished, and this is what makes James Cameron so great. He often has the tendency to make entire movies just to focus on a single image. He once said in an interview about Terminator that the entire movie stemmed from one, single image in his brain. He was daydreaming and imagined a demonic robot standing in flames as the world burned down around him, and the entire idea of Terminator came from that.

And Jim has this bad habit of reinventing the wheel for each of his movies. (I'm being facetious, of course.) Every time he wants to bring his image of a movie to life, he doesn't wait for the technology to catch up. Instead he and his elite team of designers create the new technology that they need. He'll go to great lengths and spare no expense inventing the absolute best tech possible just to make a movie about a single image he imagined in his brain one time.

Instead of waiting for technology that could make Avatar possible, he invented the technology himself. They designed suits and cameras that could be worn over your entire body, that would capture the precise movements of the person wearing it, and they used the existing computer programs to the best of their ability to chart and render the movements in a 3D model. (I'm not sure how much of the tech already existed and how much of it was by his own design, but he was one of the first to use these motion-capture suits in any capacity).

While the first Terminator movie wasn't anything super revolutionary in terms of CGI, as the Terminator series progressed you could see a massive growth in the special effects that outdid other movies that came out in the same year- for example, the second Terminator came out in 1991 and definitely looks better than most 1991 movies. It wasn't amazing and by today's standards they wouldn't pass well, but compared to its peers it was very impressive. To put into perspective, the first Super-Mutant-Ninja-Turtles movie, The Naked Gun 2.5 and Toy Soldiers were the other 3 big movies that came out that year, and suffice to say Terminator Judgement Day blew their effects out of the water- except the lightning, the lightning still looked like it belonged in the '80s, but the morphing effects and what-not were a definite improvement. It's interesting seeing how Cameron's expertise grew over the years.

In a way, James Cameron accidentally typecast himself as the go-to expert on integrating computer-generated models with real effects. And while Avatar didn't completely exceed in capturing true photo-realism, it was but a glimpse of what his technology and methodology was capable of, and with Alita we actually got to see his talent realized; because Alita and the other cyborgs of Iron City are so photo-realistic that, despite being completely CGI, you can have one of them or Alita stand next to a real actor on-camera and they'll be integrated seamlessly. It's mind-blowing that you can have a CGI-cyborg-character designed and modeled in a computer program stand next to Cristoph Waltz in the same frame and not be able to tell that there's a difference. That's how remarkably seamless Weta Digital's work is.

And it's not just that Alita and the other CGI designs are remarkable, it's that they and everything on the set behind them looks gorgeous. I remember in his review of Kara no Kyoukai, or The Garden of Sinners, the YouTuber UnderTheScope said, "Every frame is so beautiful that you can pause any scene and print it out and make a poster out of it, that's how beautiful it is." Garden of Sinners truly is that beautiful, and very few movies / shows have the ability to pause literally any scene and make a cool poster out of it. But Alita manages that- I can't think of a single scene that wouldn't make for an awesome poster or wallpaper. At no point in time does the visual quality drop, nor is there any time when there isn't something cool and interesting happening on-screen to enjoy.

Example 1: Think of how much time they spent just making realistic hair.
Example 2: Stolen from my previous post
Jim wanted to make Alita with this new motion-capture technology around the time he started Avatar, but it wasn't quite there yet. He had bought the rights to Alita and finished his Avatar script almost simultaneously, and he loved them both and was torn between which project to pursue, until he finally settled on doing Avatar first for very wise reasons. As he put it, Alita had to look photo-realistic, but the Na'vi did not. According to Jon Landau, Cameron said, "Alita had to look real, but Avatar takes place on Pandora, and no one can tell me what is and isn't real on Pandora." I really like the reasoning behind that. I decided to revisit Avatar right after watching Alita, and after seeing Battle Angel, it does looks a bit cartoony by comparison. But it's okay for the Na'vi to look a little cartoonish because they're alien lifeforms on another planet, and it isn't obvious that they look cartoonish because of their blue skin and giant, yellow eyes. Had they looked just like humans, it would have looked much worse because the almost-real-but-definitely-not-real 3D rendering of the people would fall squarely into the uncanny valley.

For those who are unfamiliar, the uncanny valley is when something tries and fails to pass for human, like whenever scientists come out saying they invented a near-human robot but it looks like a creepy sex-bot instead.

I'm way more terrified of S.O.P.H.I.A than Terminator.
Now, Alita doesn't quite look like a real person, but she looks like a real cyborg. Really her eyes are the only thing that don't look human. In other words, she isn't supposed to look identical to a human, she's supposed to look identical to a near-human cyborg. Because it's not just her limbs that are cybernetic, but her entire body from head-to-toe, including her face and eyes. She is a human brain in an android body. And I think they completely nailed the look, because she looks very photo-realistic and the eyes are the only thing that make her look not quite human. But even with giant anime eyes, Alita looks more human than any robot or other CGI person I've ever seen in a movie before, and because of that she's able to avoid the uncanny valley and enter a new phase of photo-realism.

And if you look close enough, the way her face is rendered is strikingly similar to how the Na'vi are rendered, implying that Cameron used a much more advanced version of the same motion-capture technology that was used for Avatar. It's the same type of motion-capture, but new and improved for better overall realism.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Jim told their journalists that it took the team at Weta Digital 6 months just to make her eyes. The amount of work that went into both the CGI and the world itself is staggering, and like Coraline, it contains an unfathomable amount of detail. Every nook and cranny, every wrinkle on Alita's face, every little expression and movement, every nut and bolt and carving on her arms and the limbs of other cyborgs, had to be designed over the course of thousands of hours with incredible craftsmanship. In my post about Little Details, this is precisely the kind of thing I was talking about.
Also, their eyes are the same size.

A lot of people watch these types of movies a little too casually. They see something like this and say "Yeah, the CGI was pretty good," but when people actually pay close attention, it's impossible not to see just how groundbreaking it is. I think the problem is that a lot of people go into movies and shows just expecting to be minimally entertained, looking for a quick and immediate remedy to their boredom, and for that reason a lot of people watch movies and TV shows without actually digesting them.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with passively enjoying some movies and shows. I think a lot of movies and shows are good because of their lack of intensity, especially comedy. Normally, when a movie or show is too stupid to be taken seriously, it fails because no one in the audience can enjoy it, not even casually. But some movies are so unabashed by their own stupidity that they somehow work. I don't know a single person who doesn't like Mean Girls, White Chicks or Rat Race, even though all of these movies are totally stupid and unrealistic. But of course you don't go into these movies expecting tons of craftsmanship or amazing story-telling or anything, you just go in expecting to be entertained and that's what you get.

And that's fine, I love all of those movies. Some of my favorite movies even take it to another level of stupidity, like Rubber, which follows a sentient, murderous tire who rolls around making people explode, or Six String Samurai, which follows Buddy Holly in a post-apocalyptic nuclear Las Vegas wasteland as he goes around playing rock-and-roll and hacking commies to pieces with his katana-guitar while 50's music plays in the background. And don't even get me started on the amazing abomination that is Sharknado. Some say they don't like the Princess Bride because it's stupid, but the Princess Bride is one of the most beloved classics of all time.

I hate that I like this movie.

I'm not saying that we should eliminate passive or easy-access entertainment, I'm only saying that we shouldn't go into all movies with the same mentality. It's fine to enjoy those types of movies, like I do, but we should be able to spot the difference between a casual movie / book and a passion project and adjust our expectations accordingly. Alita is a great movie, but the script is very bare so every scene is completely vital. There was one guy at my theater who went to the bathroom and was only gone for like, 2 minutes, and when he came back he might as well have missed the whole movie because the entire plot moved on without him. If you miss two minutes of Rat Race it isn't going to make the rest of the movie impossible to follow (since there's no real plot anyway).

I see the same thing with Avatar (the part about expectations, not the part about the script being very bare). It wasn't until Alita came out that I discovered that, apparently, a lot of people don't like Avatar. I found that surprising because it's Avatar- how can you not like Avatar?

I had assumed that everyone loved Avatar, but apparently it has a pretty strong 50/50 split and there's almost no one on the fence about it. Everyone either loves Avatar or they think it's completely stupid.

So in that regard, I'd say if you're the type of person who loved Avatar, then you'd love Alita. But if you hated Avatar, then you'll hate Alita too. Also, I think you're heartless.

A lot of the people who disparage Avatar say that the visuals were good, but leave it at that. I've read critic reviews that labeled Avatar as "visually nice, but an irreparable mess." Funny enough, that exact same thing was said almost word-for-word about Alita just recently. Click here for a source on that if you want to see just what some of these people are saying.

Now, I can kind of see where they're coming from, I don't think it makes them right but I can understand why they might think that.

If you really think about it, Avatar isn't that unique a story, at least plot-wise. Man meets woman of a different kind, tries to assimilate with her native kind, likes their kind more than his own, big battle ensues. It's basically Pocahontas with blue people.

But I absolutely love Avatar. It's all about execution. I don't think anyone is saying Avatar is great because it's the most unique or original story every written, they love Avatar because it has heart and soul, because, just like with the Terminator standing in the flames, James Cameron envisioned something and wanted to breathe life into it.

We applaud the brilliantly creative biology of the Na'vi people, their unique methods of communication and their rich history, the lore of the world and the way they interact with the "sky people" and the other animals in the Pandora ecosystems. I'd say one of my favorite parts of the movie is when Jake goes to visit the other tribes and we get to see how all of their regions differ; some are horse-back-riding clans who live on the plains, others are fishing tribes that live on the ocean shores, and the Na'vi tribe lives in the forest. Is the concept of different tribes a completely new and original concept? Of course not, but seeing how it works on Pandora is a unique way of exploring it. How many movies are about tribal rebellion against corporations on Pandora? James Cameron's Avatar is the one and only.

I'd say the single, biggest misconception at play when someone harshly judges Avatar's story is the idea that plot alone makes for good story-telling.

Of course, it certainly plays a role, and having a unique plot is always a good thing, but it isn't the only thing. I remember my crush Galatea once said something pretty brilliant in her analysis of The Shadowhunter series.

She pointed out that bad writing can be forgiven if a book has a great plot, and a book with a poor plot can still be loved if written incredibly beautifully (unfortunately, Cassandra Clare possesses the ability to do neither).

I'd say my first book A.S.H is an example of a good story that's poorly written, but my current manuscript is a bit of the opposite, where the writing is much better but I'm struggling to make the story itself compelling. Some people who read my fiction might disagree with that, but that's my own objective take on it and that's generally the line of feedback I get.

I think the same applies to movies.

I can overlook a generic plot if the dialogue is good, if the world-building is good, if the characters and their interactions are good. Because a story is made up of many composite parts, especially in movies, and things like world-building and character development are just as vital to the story as the plot is. In some regards, they might be more important.

That being said, I'm not suggesting that everyone abandon plot. Some of the best books ever written are plot-focused, like Agatha Christie's novels. I'd say that, in general, stories of all kinds usually are either plot-oriented, where the events of the story are what drives the story forward, or character-driven, where the characters and their interactions are the main driving-force for the story.

In plot-driven stories, the plot almost happens to the characters, and in character-driven stories, the character happens to the plot.

James Cameron definitely makes character-driven movies.

I don't think that makes his movies untouchable or above criticism, but I do think it should be fairly obvious to most people that it's his characters and their personal stories, not the plot, that makes his movies great. Although Terminator and Aliens have strong plot too, but in the case of Avatar and Alita it's the characters that make the magic happen.

It's not just that the characters drive the plot, it's that sometimes the plot is in the backseat for the characters. For example, shows like Fate/Zero are unique in that they're both plot-focused and character-focused, but not in the way you think.

You see, in Fate/Zero, the characters don't have a whole lot of depth. They're basically just the walking personification of what they believe in, but the plot is super interesting. However, the plot is only interesting because of the way the characters interact with each other; in a way, the show is just about the characters, but its focus is on their interactions, and less about the characters themselves.

James Cameron movies are the opposite, where the interactions can be important, but the focus isn't just on the character interactions so much is it's on the characters themselves. This was a big point in Avatar but an even bigger one in Alita where all of our thoughts and feelings of the film stem from how we feel about Alita as a person, and I think Alita is enough of a lovable and relatable character that just about anyone who watches it will love it. I went into the movie for the 1st time with 0 expectations, but I knew within the first 2 minutes that I was going to love it.

The thing with Avatar, for example, is that the themes are universal and timeless. The one benefit of the story being quite average is that it's relatable to just about everyone, regardless of what culture they're from. The sequel to Avatar should be coming out within the next two years or so, as Jim and Disney's discussions have suggested, and according to Jim the second movie will be family-orientated, and he was happy to explore this theme because it's completely universal. What's the one thing that all walks of life cherish and care about, regardless of their cultural upbringing?


Avatar is fucking glorious.
This does present some problems, though; the one downside to trying to please everyone is that, unfortunately, it means sacrificing originality for a more generic plot. Often times, the more uniquely niche a story is, the more strongly people will feel about it, good and bad. That's why I like controversial movies- generally I've found that if half the people love a movie and half the people hate the movie, odds are I'm going to like it. This is because I don't have any one niche that I favor, I love 'em all and that makes me easy to please as long as the movie is good. Horror? Definitely. Sci-fi? Hell yeah! Westerns? Of course! Romance? Okay, I admit that I don't like romance that much, but I love everything else. A lot of people say "this movie is too fantasy" or "this movie is too sci-fi," or something similar in the case of other genres. I don't particularly care which genre a movie, book or show is, because I don't think any one genre is inherently better or worse than the others. I think execution is what matters. There are good fantasy stories and there are bad fantasy stories. There are good sci-fi movies and bad sci-fi movies, good supernatural books and bad supernatural books. This even goes for the more tame genres like contemporary. Despite being a contemporary novel with no magic or sci-fi in it whatsoever, Wake Up, Sir! by Jonthan Ames is one of my favorite books of all time, tied only with The Dark Tower series by Stephen King which is about as fringe and niche as you can get, seeing as how it's the only western-sci-fi-fantasy-time-travel series ever published, but it's glorious as hell- and Don Quixote, which is also pretty outlandish and weird seeing how it's about a knight in 1600s Spain going on a mad crusade for imaginary justice against windmills. And I think it's great that two completely different books- one realistic, contemporary book with nothing too weired, and the other a series of extremely bizarre and weird genres blended together, can both be considered a favorite to me despite being totally different.

The only reason I don't like romance stories is that, to me, romance is a part of a bigger picture, and that picture often exists within the context of another genre. I don't dislike romance in movies and books, I just don't think the entire story should focus only on that, but that doesn't necessarily mean that romance is a bad genre, it's just not always for me. That being said, there are some really good romance stories, and I think, just to stay on the topic of James Cameron, Titanic is probably my favorite one. Some people might have beef with that, I know a lot of people think The Notebook is the best romance movie, and it is a pretty great movie, romance or otherwise, but I like Titanic more because of the context in which the romance takes place.

A sinking ship.

Because it is definitely a romance movie, but it also has the whole "the ship is going to sink and we're all going to die" part too, which gives the romance an interesting context to play out in rather than just regular day-to-day life.

But a lot of the bad reviews are from people who just dislike the type of movie Alita is, saying they don't like the sci-fi or anime-like story-telling. They don't outright say "I dislike the anime story-telling," but the things they criticize are things that all anime stories have, like upbeat protagonists, cheesy romantic subplots and dramatic action sequences. If you don't like that stuff that's fine, but that's just how anime is and criticizing an anime movie for being anime is just stupid. It's like criticizing The Notebook or 50 First Dates for having too much romance, or Lord of the Rings for being too fantasy.

I'm not going to judge them for disliking that type of stuff, but that shouldn't affect your objective review of a movie's quality.

For example, I don't like The Notebook that much, but I still agree that it's a great movie. The thing is, that I admittedly don't like movies that are all romance and drama and nothing else, but I can still see the elements of quality that the movie possesses.

In other words, I can dislike a movie and still agree that it's objectively great. I wish a lot of the people harshly judging Alita and Avatar would have that mindset, because I know neither movies are for everyone, but that doesn't make them objectively bad. They aren't perfect either, but they're pretty great for what they are, and what they are are passion-projects with tons of heart.

What I like about Avatar is that it's kind of a mixed bag. On one hand, the generic plot isn't going to piss anyone off, but it isn't going to wow anyone either. But the super sci-fi and fantasy context of the story taking place on Pandora is a bit more niche, and people who hate fantasy and sci-fi for whatever reason will hate Avatar for it. Same with people who might not like the subtle capitalist undertones of the movie (apparently a lot of people thought the movie was a just a "money is bad" political message, but I didn't get that feeling at all. It seems much more likely that he needed the humans to be wealthy and powerful so that they have the reason and ability to raid Pandora, and also to guarantee that the Na'vi were disadvantaged, thus making them underdogs). So I think it's interesting how, despite having a pretty universal and average plot, the story itself somehow manages to be controversial to people and we still end up having a lot of people who absolutely love it and a lot of people who completely hate it.

I think it's funny that despite Jim's efforts to make the movie as universal as possible, he still managed to annoy a bunch of people. I hadn't known this until recently, but apparently tons of people hated Avatar and were annoyed that it got so popular for seemingly no reason. They thought it was just Pocahontas with blue people and didn't understand why it made $2.7 billion.

Top 10 Pictures Taken Before Tragedy (2533, Colorized).
And of course, despite making less than a quarter of what Avatar made, I'm already seeing the same gripes on IMDb about Alita. Almost all of the reviews are 9/10 or 10/10, and people enthusiastically proclaiming how much they love the movie, but whenever I see a review that isn't a 9 or 10, it's usually a 2/10 saying something like "Boring, looked nice but why does everyone like this? This movie doesn't deserve the good reviews or $400 million it made."

I said it about Avatar and I'll say it about Alita. The plot itself is pretty standard, bad guys come after hero and hero beats bad guys. There's nothing groundbreaking about that and I won't pretend there is, and James Cameron wasn't trying to reinvent the Hero's Journey when he wrote the script. Not to mention his version of the script was pretty much identical to the manga which was written in the '90s, and he wasn't going to deviate too much from that. It's the execution that makes this movie so great.

It's the entire story in all its glory that's anything but standard.

For example, this is an anime movie. Like I mentioned in my previous Alita post, most hero movies have stoic characters who act all macho and brave all the time. But in anime, the heroes are usually bouncy and optimistic, energetic and a little naive at times. It's a breath of fresh air seeing a hero that's as energetic and humble as Alita is. One of my favorite scenes is during the first fight how she trembles the whole time and just seems completely unnerved by the entire encounter and what she just did. And the scene leading up to the Underworld fight is one of my favorites in any hero movie. *Grewishka's Revenge intensifies*

The fiercest "Come at me" pose you've ever seen.
And while there are flaws with the way a lot of anime handle their protagonists, I think Yukitio Kishiro did an awesome job with the manga and it shows in the movie. And since James Cameron didn't write the original source material, we get to see a lot of different stylistic choices intertwined.

We get to see Yukito's kick-ass comic-book style, mixed in with James Cameron's dramatic and climatic style and Robert Rodriguez's cool and savvy style.

Remember that long tangent about Coraline I went on? Well, prepare to have your mind blown.

Apparently Robert and Jim have been friends for 25 years, and Robert has been wanting to make a movie with him ever since he met him. Jim always teased the idea of making a movie together but none of their projects lined up in any way so it wasn't going to happen.

Robert was initially exposed to the Alita franchise in the early '90s when he went to visit Jim on the Terminator 2 set. He was super excited to show Robert around and all the cool special effects they'd been working on, and then suddenly his expression changed and he said, "I've got to show you what I'm working on." So he takes Robert into the back room where he has a massive 200+ page script and a 15-minute presentation on the Alita world, and Robert was a little bit stunned. Jim seemed a little bit looney the way he talked about the world and the lore of Iron City and Alita's backstory, but Robert loved it. They joked about doing the movie together but then, as Robert told the Rolling Stone, a little thing called Avatar took up all of Jim's time and they were both pretty sure the Alita script would just die in a drawer somewhere.
Proof James Cameron is a weeb.

But of course, some guys on Reddit were watching the behind-the-scenes footage of Avatar and caught Jim wearing an Alita shirt while he was filming for Avatar, which would seem to suggest that he still loves Alita and hasn't forgotten about it.

Also, now that I think about it, Avatar actually has some weeb stuff that goes unnoticed, like how Jake is a bouncy and energetic protagonist (at least when he's in the avatar-body) and how Neytiri is totally a tsundere.

Good God... now I have to watch Avatar again to see if there's any other weeb shit in there that I missed- weeb stuff that normal people watched and enjoyed without even realizing it.

(If you don't watch anime and have no idea what I'm talking about, it's probably for the best.)

What ended up happening is this:

Robert Rodriguez went to visit Jim a few years ago, and he stopped by his house and they had a few beers and talked about movies. At one point Robert asked what was going on with Alita, and Jim took him to his room where he revealed all this stuff he had been working on since 1995. Apparently the script had grown dramatically, and he had more than 600 pages of notes on the Alita lore and just little things that were happening, and he even had crazy concept art and stuff that he and some of his colleagues had made, but finally he got to the point and said, "But unfortunately I'll probably never be able to make it a reality." Robert didn't have any projects to worry about the way Jim had to work on Avatar, and his mind was blown by the amount of material James had prepared for this movie and really wanted to see it realized, so he said: "Jim, let me direct it for you. You said your script is too long for a movie, but I'll edit it for you. And if you like the revised script but don't think I'm a good fit for the movie, you can take my version of the script and give it to another director."

Robert was willing to do the script for free and hand it over to another director because he just really wanted to see the script become a movie, but James saw Robert's drive and agreed, and when Robert came back a while later with the revised script and showed it to Jim, he merely said, "You start tomorrow."

He wasn't joking. When James Cameron says you start tomorrow, you're starting tomorrow.

The story of their collaboration and passion is very reminiscent of Coraline. Just like the way Henry Selick needed a new project with a good story, Robert had been waiting for a chance to make a movie like this for a very long time, and just like how Neil Gaiman didn't know where to go with his Coraline manuscript, Jim was busy with Avatar and thought no one would be able to make Alita a reality. And both duos proved to be incredible filmmakers who are nothing short of the very best at what they do. And of course, the strongest similarity is that the tech wasn't good enough at the time to make their movies real, which is why Coraline opted for stop-motion- which is timeless- and James Cameron developed new motion-capture capabilities for Alita.

I'd like to take a minute to appreciate Robert Rodriguez before we continue.

When Jim handed the reigns over to Robert for directing Alita, he probably didn't expect it to make much. While a lot of Rodriguez's work is highly-acclaimed, none of his movies ever made any money. His highest-grossing film Sin City only made $158 million. That being said, he's a master cheapskate and knows how to make the best possible effects with the absolute least amount of money, and that played a vital role in making Alita a profitable film. James is a smart man, but I doubt he anticipated the movie making $400 million. Tracking Robert Rodriguez's general track record, his movies usually only make around $100 million. James probably figured that other high-quality anime movie adaptions like Ghost in the Shell only made between 100-200 million, so coupling that with the fact that Robert's movies only make that much, he probably expected Alita to only make that much too. If my theory is correct, that means Cameron and Robert wanted to make this movie just so it would exist, not to actually make a profit. Obviously they wanted to make a profit too, but it's likely that Jim had low expectations for the movie's success and was mostly just concerned with getting this movie off his chest after sitting on its script for almost 30 years. Not to mention, he has several multi-billion-dollar movies under his belt, so it's not like one unprofitable movie would end his career. This is the creator of Titanic and Avatar that we're talking about, after all. He can afford to go out on a limb for risky movies if he feels like it. We see that with the very minimal marketing; Alita had a very bare marketing campaign, and there were almost no ads for the movie playing on YouTube or TV programming. I do remember seeing an ad for Alita once on one YouTube video, but it was only like 10 seconds and I didn't even register seeing the ad when I first encountered it. Most people didn't know this movie was coming out, it was only the original manga fans that had been waiting for years that knew it was about to come out in February.

Its only real marketing was word-of-mouth, which, of course, was free. Unless you take into account that good word-of-mouth can only come from delivering a great movie, and often times an expensive one, in which case the price of getting good word-of-mouth is however much it costs to make your film amazing. In this case, it was $170 million.

But of course, compared to his previous movies, Robert was given a unique role that he never had before. He's used to making half-decent special effects with almost no money to spend, and now he was given a massive amount of money to create a massive movie. And in all honesty, I think Robert Rodriguez was the best person for the job. Alita was a very expensive movie to make, clocking in at over $170 million to produce, but I think it could have easily cost well over $220 million or more if it hadn't been for Robert's frugal money-saving skills. With Robert, you get to see where every penny goes. No money is ever wasted. Sin City was made on a tiny budget of only $40 million. That might sound like a lot of money, but for a full-length action-packed movie, that's extremely cheap- like crazy cheap.

So giving someone like Robert Rodriguez a giant script and an enormous budget with one of the best digital design groups on the planet, nothing but greatness could ensue. He and Jim not only worked with Weta Digital to make sure everything looked absolutely fantastic, but they kept each other in check. James has a habit of going completely overboard with spending, and trying to make things look as realistic as possible no matter what the cost, and Robert has a habit of cutting as many corners as possible to get the most bang for your buck.

What followed is a pretty accurate representation of both their personalities. On one hand, we can see that a couple of scenes are missing and the pacing of the movie suffers a little bit from these missing scenes, but on the other hand everything looks incredible and you can tell that Robert really squeezed every last drop out of the 170 mil budget. While I wish the movie was about 10-15 minutes longer since a few scenes are missing, I can tell Robert was hard-pressed to save money and had to find a way to cut down the cost without sacrificing the overall quality of the movie, so rather than cutting corners on production he cut corners on the script by having a few of the lesser scenes meet their fate at a chopping block. That being said, the overall pacing was easy to follow, so despite the movie being a little bit too short, it doesn't necessarily feel rushed. I think the last 3rd of the movie feels a little rushed, but it's still easy enough to follow and the ending is great.

My only gripes about the pacing is two scenes (no spoilers): The fact that there is no transition whatsoever between Alita talking to Ido and the bar scene, and no scene building up to the bridge scene. If you've already watched the movie then you know what I'm talking about.

Funny enough, these are the only scenes that I see people actually complaining about (and sometimes the cargo-tube scene at the end), but these scenes themselves aren't bad or rushed, it's just the fact that there is no transitional scene leading up to them that makes them feel rushed. The scenes themselves are totally fine the way they are, but they need something to transition to them otherwise the sudden change in pace feels jarring. This would probably apply to the cargo-tube scene at the end, had they added an extra scene to show us what was happening with Hugo instead of telling us, the pacing would have been drastically improved for the end of the movie.

With that in mind, I'm still glad Robert decided to cut a couple of lesser scenes rather than sacrifice the overall quality of the movie, because while I would like the movie more if it had these missing scenes, everything that did make it into the final product is fantastic. I only wish a little bit more made it into that final product.

For a more extreme example of Robert's frugal movie-making style, his debut feature "El Mariachi" is a highly-acclaimed movie with about an 87% review score, and it was made on... I'm not joking... a budget of $7,000.

No joke, the entire movie was made with only $7,000. Granted, some might try to argue that this was back in 1992 and surely inflation has pumped those numbers up a lot, but I did the math and that equals only $12,600 today, which is still absolutely nothing, so bite me.

Back in 2017 he started a challenge where he hired 5 new and up-coming directors and film-makers and took them under his wing, with the catch that each of them were only allowed to spend $7,000 on their first movie and he'd see who was able to create the best one (I think, it's possible that they had to work together to create one 7k film, I'm not sure if they each created a 7k film or they all collaborated, but I can find out once I watch the original series). While that seems harsh because 7k then is 12k now, he'd also participate in the challenge by only spending $7k on his new movie (I haven't watched the show Rebel Without a Crew yet where it was featured, so I don't know how his project turned out).

Given Jim's creativity and Robert's ability to make as much as possible with as little money as possible, it was a given that Alita would look absolutely fantastic with a relatively tame budget compared to James Cameron's other movies.

For comparison, Terminator 2 cost $102 million, which is $188 million today- already a bit more than Alita- but then Terminator 3 cost $200 million in 2003, which is $278 million today- while Titanic cost $200 million in 1997, which is $318 million today- almost double Alita. And Avatar cost a hefty $237 million, which is about $285 million today. Compared to those, Alita's $170 million budget is a steal, yet it looks as good- and in many ways, better- than any of them.

So his track record goes on the low end of $188 million and the high-end of $318 million, compared to the incredibly tiny budget of less than $40 million that Robert usually works with, going as low as $12,000 in El Mariachi's case.

But it's not just that one spends a lot of money and one is a cheapskate, it's that they're both brilliant experts in what they do.

It's the dynamic between Robert and Jim that's strikingly familiar to what Henry Selick and Neil Gaiman had way back in the years leading up to 2009. The way they both knew no one else except the other could possibly bring this image to life.

Like Neil Gaiman and Henry Selick, Robert and Jim were practically born for this type of collaboration. I'd like to talk a little about Spy Kids and SB+LG for some clarification.

The Spy Kids movies are pretty ridiculous, but IMO they're some of the best kid movies ever made. I don't know a single millennial who didn't love Spy Kids growing up. They're ridiculous like Sharknado, but much more intriguing. While the plot makes no sense to adults, Robert Rodriguez managed to make a movie series that every kid would love. The same could be said about Sharkboy and Lavagirl, also by Rodriguez (that explains why I thought the two movies took place in the same universe when they didn't).

Let's just summarize how ridiculous Sharkboy and Lavagirl is real quick.

A boy named Max is ridiculed publicly by George Lopez until he falls asleep during a tornado that rips the school apart in the middle of class, and he visits dream-land where he goes to Planet Drool, in which the evil teacher George Lopez is a giant killer robot dubbed Mr. Electric that survives off of the failed dreams of children who are permanently imprisoned by him on Planet Drool forever, and only Max, with the help of an edgy Latino boy dressed as a shark and Taylor Dooley dressed in pink as Lavagirl, can stop him with the power of dreams... or something.

The most iconic villain of all time.
The movie has a 1/5 rating (I wonder why?) yet ask anyone born between 1995 and 2003 and odds are they loved Sharkboy and Lavagirl as a kid, same with Spy Kids which was pretty similar. Even most Gen-Z kids are familiar with Spy Kids and like it. Sharkboy and Lavagirl was also super cheap with pretty bad special effects, clocking in at only $35 million, but you can't notice that stuff as a kid.

One thing that Robert does a lot with his earlier movies is gadgets and devices. With Spy Kids as well as Sin City, we see a lot of really outlandish and bizarre tech stuff. Robert is all about gadgets and devices, and James Cameron is all about realism.

So when Robert Rodriguez started directing Alita, he gave Hugo this cool sort of one-wheel sci-fi motorcycle (motor-uni-cycle?) that was totally ridiculous but also kinda cool, and James came in and was like "No, make it more realistic. Let's design some exhaust pipes, a proper transmission, a real start-up switch," etc. Instead of just making a cool sci-fi motorcycle, they basically ended up making a real motorcycle that actually worked. Of course, making these things literally and functionally real, and not just cool-looking props, costs a lot more money; but Robert was determined to make things Jim's way, just how he wanted them, with as little money as possible.

One thing that they did really well was the setting of Iron City. Basically, the entire set is real- made out of concrete- and only the top of really tall buildings and some of the distant landmarks are green-screen.

Usually with these types of sci-fi movies, like Tron, the entire movie is pretty much just filmed in front of a green-screen, but Alita was filmed in a real city that they made just for the movie. Filming took place in Austin, Texas, which is also really unique and odd. It's also relatively close to the equator- at least as close as you could get in US territory, and that gives it a warm sort of feel.

A lot of sci-fi movies take place in a really shiny and glowy setting, where everything is super glossy and neon-lit, but Alita takes place in a sort of central-America-looking slum. Iron City in Alita looks a lot like Havana, if Havana were bigger and full of cyborgs.

Come on, this looks just like Iron City.
Still not convinced? How about now?
Havana if it were bigger and full of cyborgs.

Jim took it to another level on a lot of occasions. While Robert loved working with him, one thing he complained about was that Jim would make the crew build real stuff that the audience wouldn't even see. According to Rob, when they made a cyborg arm or leg for one of the extras in the background, even if most of the limb was going to be covered with a shirt or jacket sleeve, they had to make the entire arm from scratch and the part that would be covered had to look just as realistic as the parts that the audience would see.

He also wanted to film as far south in the US as possible because, as he put it, "In order for space elevators to work, you'd have to be close to the equator, so we want to film as close to the equator as possible." Of course, the space elevators, or "cargo tubes," are hardly mentioned in the movie, but that's the kind of realism James expects when he makes a movie. Even tiny and seemingly insignificant stuff like that has to be right. This worked out also because not only did it give Battle Angel a uniquely warm atmosphere compared to the cold, metallic feel of most sci-fi movies, but it was also really cheap to film in Texas compared to a lot of places where the price of filming can be much higher, and Robert knew that filming in Texas would help keep costs down.

Unfortunately it still cost them a buttload of money to build a mini-city out of concrete just to film the movie, but hey, at least it only cost 170 mil instead of 318 mil like Titanic. And if or when they start a sequel, odds are the sequel will be a lot cheaper since the new motion-capture technology is already developed and the set is already built. Obviously if any of the movie takes place in Zalem, they'll have to build a new set for that, but at least Iron City is already done and that's most of the setting right there.

Not to mention, that according to Landau, the set for Alita is so resilient that it could easily stand for 10 years without maintenance, meaning even if they didn't make a sequel for 10 years the set would still be functionally the same. I can see a sequel being as cheap as 120 mil, maybe even cheaper, if they really utilize the current set and motion-capture to the best of their ability and get their money's worth, and in that fashion they could make a sequel that is every bit as high-quality as Battle Angel while managing to be much cheaper.

I also hope that Avatar 2 is cheaper than the original, now that the motion-capture is developed, but it's possible that Jim will want to use the new and improved CGI capture to make the movie even more bombastic and expensive, so anything is possible at this point. But I guess it doesn't matter how much Avatar 2 costs because it's coming out of Disney's pocket anyway, not Fox's like Alita. (Disney didn't own Fox until after Alita.)

But while the CGI in Avatar is fantastic, it's really impressive how much they've improved it since then. You can really see a stark difference between both the accuracy, color-gambit and overall shape of the new models compared to the old ones.

vs now.

I also think it's worth noting here that every single actor involved in both these movies deserves all the awards that could possibly be earned in performance.

The acting from Sam Worthington as Jake and Zoe Saldana as Neytiri in Avatar was incredible; their acting was so good that you make out their expressions clearly through all the layers of CGI and blue-coloring. Not to mention that the acting role is much more difficult for them than regular actors and actresses because they had to wear a ridiculous suit covered in trackers and cameras and microphones and shit, and Rosa Salazar really nailed it as Alita with the same type of suit. Not to mention all the fight scenes in Alita were real, meaning Rosa Salazar had to not only learn crazy martial arts to do all the stunts, but she had to do them while wearing a clunky body-suit covered in wires and microphones and cameras and what-not.
She also had to have a camera hanging off her face for the entire movie.

There was only one action scene that wasn't her, and that was a scene where Alita shows off her strength by balancing on one finger and walking on her finger-tips, but even though that wasn't Rosa Salazar, that was a real person too, a world-class gymnast. There was one other scene that Rosa didn't do, but it was just a regular scene, not an action-one. She had injured herself so badly during martial arts training that she couldn't film that day so they had a different actress play Alita for like, 2 minutes. I believe she tore a muscle in her leg really badly practicing round-house kicks and couldn't even stand for a while.

I couldn't find the transcript of the interview where she talked about the extra replacing her for her injured leg, but she talked a lot about the martial arts stuff in this video at the 2:30 mark (but you should just watch the whole thing because it's great). I also linked the video somewhere in the previous Alita post.

But everything else was her, from the first fight in the alley to the motorball fight. That includes the epic slow-mo part when she fights Grewishka.

If anyone deserves an Oscar for an outstanding acting performance this year, it's Rosa Salazar for acting so incredibly well that you can see it through all the CGI, and doing all of that while having to master martial arts and wear a ridiculous motion-capture suit the entire time. She said in one of her interviews that she was allowed to take it off when she was on her lunch break or when she went to bathroom and what-not, but that all the gear was such a hassle that she'd just wear it all day, getting all sweaty and gross because they were in Texas and she was wearing a thick, heavy, darkly colored full-body suit and doing martial arts, but she persevered and delivered an amazing performance despite all of that. She basically had to act and physically-perform in the most awkward and obnoxious gear possible and still did fantastic.

Likewise, I think the same recognition should go to other actors who had to endure similar roles in other movies, like Andy Serkis who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings and had to wear a similar motion-capture suit while crawling around and using like 12 different voices.
Andy has been everything from Star Wars to Black Panther, from Planet of the Apes to Age of Ultron, but almost no one knows who he is. He definitely needs some recognition.

Allow me to clarify something real quick- I'm not claiming that James Cameron invented the concept of motion-capture, just that he was the one who pushed the envelope on what it could do and invented a lot of the new filming techniques that would be used with it. Filming for the first Lord of the Rings movie and Avatar started at around the same time, and both involved similar types of motion-capture suits and helmets, but it's not clear who learned that from who. But of course others might argue that Planet of the Apes was the first to develop the tech since that was way back in 1971, even if it was a much more primitive version of the suits used by LotR and Avatar (get it? Primitive? Nevermind I'll shut up).

However, considering LotR came out in 2001 (even though Avatar started filming near the same time, it obviously took a lot longer to finish for obvious reasons), the CGI is really impressive. Significantly better than Harry Potter, even. But I still don't think it's better than Avatar, or at least not in attempting what Avatar attempted. It's not the fault of the team behind LotR of course- they only needed the motion-capture for Gollum, mostly- but Avatar in a massively ambitious film-making project which not only required hundreds, possibly thousands of people to be rendered as 3D models, but beautiful ones that could stand next to real actors and blend in almost seamlessly. While still a bit cartoonish at times, it was a groundbreaking demo that served as adequate proof of what a good studio with good motion-capture technology was capable of, and of course we got to see its full potential fully realized in Alita.

So regardless of who invented the basic tech that could be worn over a suit, it was James Cameron who pushed the envelope in integrating computer-generated models with real environments in the most irreverent and audacious manner possible. It was not only the people of Pandora, but all the wildlife as well that had to be integrated in this way. Every alien-like bird, feline and wolf, and every bizarre alien plant and tree, had to be designed in meticulous detail, just like the cybernetic tech in Alita.

*Edit: I just did some research and apparently Weta Digital did LotR too! That means that LotR and Avatar both started working with the same special effects company around the same time period, which would explain how both movies used almost identical special-effects technology. They were playing for both teams, those cheeky bastards!

I don't look "super" real, but I'll still super-eat you.
And one thing I love about James Cameron is his ability to make everything whimsical. Like how Selick made the garden in Coraline wondrous and bursting with imagination, Cameron's movies bleed from the same vein of creativity.

Everything from the little white alien-flower things that like to perch on Jake's body to the massive apex predators and flying banshees, everything is magical and creatively designed. We should also give credit where it's due and acknowledge the massive role Weta Digital played in both Avatar and Alita. While it is true that James Cameron was the man in charge, and no doubt was very hands-on and personally involved in all of these CGI creations, it was the actual designers and artists who drew up and painted the textures and rendered the shapes that would become the 3D models in the movie, and they did a stellar job.

Just like with Avatar, Alita feels magical and whimsical. I think that's a part of the reason why so many people love it. There are lots of good action movies out there with good choreography and awesome special effects, but they don't have that magic and whimsy that Alita has. It's that type of fanciful whimsy that makes the movie feel so unique and beloved, an instant classic. It watches like a fairy-tale straight from a story-book. A fairy-tale with lots of ass-kicking.

It has lots of badass violence and action scenes, yeah, but it has that layer of wonder on top of that, as well as Alita as a complex and lovable character and a generally compelling story that makes you invested in both the world and characters that Yukito, James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez has built. When you see some of the incredible creations Cameron and Rodriguez built into the world and characters of Iron City, it begs your imagination to wonder how it was made. I don't like watching behind the scenes stuff for movies, since it usually just ruins the movie for me, but after watching Alita I just had to see how it was all made.

Not to mention, one reason this movie would resonate with a lot of people is the simple fact that it's completely unabashed and unapologetic. One Redditor used the word "unpretentious," and I think that's a great way to describe it.

Many movies that come from a nerdy or weeb-y source material don't fully embrace it. Take the Death Note movie for example- which was a disaster for tons of reasons, but one was that they placed it in the US and took all of the weeb stuff out of it.

But this movie completely embraces itself for what it is. It doesn't pretend to be anything it's not, and it isn't ashamed to be super-anime and even corny at times. It can go a bit overboard on occasion, but it acknowledges it and doubles-down on it. There's one scene where Alita does something totally crazy and over-dramatic, and when it's over she just laughs it off and goes, "Pfff, that was pretty intense, huh?" It just comes across as so straight-forward and unassuming, and I think the average person will pick up on that, at least subconsciously. I think the right word is genuine.

I think a lot of the wonder comes from the combination of all the things done right. On top of an amazing-looking world and a wonderful protagonist with mind-blowingly good CGI, there's the music, the choreography and attention to detail.

I can't say much about the choreography since you'd just have to see that for yourself to know what I'm talking about, but I can happily vouch for the music.

The music in Alita is just amazing. Not just the music in the movie, all the music involved with the movie- everything from the OST to the trailer music to the end-credits, all of the music involved with the franchise is incredible. I love all of it. I haven't loved an OST this much since Guild Wars 2 came out in 2012 (and of course Skyrim in 2011, also by Jeremy Soule).

The style is just so unique and beautiful at the same time- it perfectly balances techno with epic orchestra. I never thought orchestra-dubstep would become something that I enjoyed listening to, but the Alita soundtrack makes me want to. The motorball OST is simply breathtaking, and the New Divide cover from the second trailer is so beautiful. And the thing is that I don't really like song covers; the only song cover that I like more than the original is Sound of Silence by Disturbed and maybe Smooth Criminal by Alien Ant Farm. Other than that, I don't think covers are ever as good as the original, but the New Divide cover is fantastic and you have to hear it to know what I'm talking about.

If you're starting to notice a theme with this post, it's that this movie made me love things that I usually don't.

The third song is also from one of the trailers, and it's called "From the Earth," and it's magical as fuck, and the fourth is Swan Song which plays in the end-credits. But what's interesting about Swan Song is that it's in the manga. Of course, music itself can't be in a manga, but in the original comics there's a part where Alita is playing the keyboard and sings "I can't lie, I'm scared to open my eyes, because what if I find... nothing at all?" It was just a tiny little detail in the manga but it's super cool that they hired a pop artist to make a full song out of that just for the end-credits as a little nod to the source material, and that kind of tribute-like behavior is what fans love, and it suits the movie very well.

I could go on and on about the OST but I think 4 tracks is enough for you to get the point, but of course some other honorable mentions include "I see church" and "Broken doll," and basically every other track in this God-blessed movie. The Dutch composer Junkie XL, aka Tom Holkenborg, is the one to thank for these masterpieces, except the trailer music and Swan Song. The entire movie's soundtrack was done by him, and suffice to say it's great.

If you want to listen to more of the tracks, I'll link it here. Once you hear Discovery you'll be like, "I already like this soundtrack." It embodies everything whimsical that I talked about earlier. Grewishka's Revenge and Raising the Sword are also quite memorable, especially in Grewishka's Revenge at around the 1:50 mark when the song picks up. And I think music can be quite potent, and while it's no replacement for a good story, having good music on top of a good story is something that I'll always eat up.

I mentioned the Guild Wars 2 soundtrack in my video games post, but I'll link it here if anyone wants to see how it compares to other movies and games. Like the Alita soundtrack, the Guild Wars 2 OST is absolutely phenomenal and, admittedly, half the reason I still play the game all these years later is so that I can hear Eir's Solitude and Herald of Humanity play while I roam around the world. I'll admit, every now and then I'll crank up the Overture when I go for a drive.

This is unrelated but one little detail I like is the placement of the F-word.

For those who were unaware, a PG-13 movie is allowed to have one F-bomb and retain its PG-13 status; after multiple F-bombs it becomes rated R. So they made sure to place their one and only F-bomb in the best possible moment and I love it.

There was this little game on Reddit where a mischievous poster asked, "If you got to place the F-bomb in Alita anywhere you wanted, where would you place it?" and such comments included but are not limited to:

*about an orange* "This might taste better without the f*cking peel,"

"I'd give you my f*cking heart,"

"You're the most f*cking human person I've ever met,"

Tanji: "It's all URM technology so no one knows how to use it or-"
Alita: "Shut the f*ck up,"

Chiren: *Looking at Alita's arm without her permission*
Alita: "What's your f*cking problem?"

Alita: "What's your dream?"
Hugo: "To get the f*ck out of this place,"

Ido: "It's a setup! They're going to f*ck you!"
Alita: "Which ones?"
Ido: "All of them!"

and probably the funniest answer,

"Ido, can a human f*ck a cyborg?"

I know that's not significant to the rest of the post but I just had to share that because it's golden.

If you've made it this far, and somehow endured my rambling mess of a post for however many minutes / hours you've been here, then I applaud your tenacity, and I also question what you're doing with your life. You should probably find another hobby.

Anyway, if you've read everything up to this point in one sitting, now would probably be a good time to take a break. Get up, stretch a bit, grab some orange juice or something, or whatever juice you like. Not sure why it has to be juice, but juice is probably good, unless you're trying to cut out sugar then maybe juice isn't a good option- or maybe you just don't like juice. I don't know what you like, but if you don't like juice maybe now is the time to give juice another chance. What did juice ever do to you? I think juice deserves the opportunity to redeem itself.

So anyway, go ahead and grab your juice and stretch for a minute, and come back when you're done. Don't worry about me, I can wait and I'll still be here when you get back.





Alright, so now that you've stretched and gotten your sippy cup of OJ ready, let's continue on.

This is a minor spoiler so skip ahead until you see the "SAFE" mark if you haven't watched the movie yet. Maybe not a minor spoiler, but not a huge spoiler either- let's call it a medium-ish spoiler.





(Not Safe) So I want to talk about Hugo real quick. In the manga, their whole relationship was very rushed, but what I found interesting was the chagnes they made to Hugo (Yugo). One thing they improved is that in the movie he actually gives a damn about Alita when he meets her. In the manga he basically doesn't give a shit about her until she demands his attention. But one thing that wasn't an improvement was that he was just a scrawny, ordinary boy in the manga but in the movie they made him more of a buff pretty-boy. It's not bad, but I liked the dynamic between Yugo and Alita in the manga because she obviously didn't like him for his looks or anything, and also since he was scrawny and weak it was almost a sort of "beauty and the beast" thing, only she wasn't ugly. The thing is that she was like the "beast" because she could easily kill him by accident, and was worried about even touching him or kissing him because her brute strength might crush him. She also thought that she was unlovable because of her brute strength, and in the movie there was a little nod to this when she asked Ido if a human could love a cyborg. Of course if you only saw the movie that part just seemed cheesy and out of place, but it was a nice little reference to the beginning of Volume 2 of the manga.

This is a little unrelated, but I like how she hides her hands when she first meets Hugo in the movie. In the manga when he finds her in the field, she randomly throws her arms behind her thinking that there's something unattractive about being a cyborg, and they essentially replicated this in the movie by having her look away and hide her arms behind her back. And the look of pure joy on her face when Hugo says he likes her arms is just delightful.

Anyway, it's nice that they made Hugo actually try to earn her affection in the movie. In my opinion, he doesn't necessarily earn the affection or devotion that Alita gives him, but he's not a bad guy. If anything it says more about Alita than Hugo, because in her own words, "It's all or nothing with me, this is who I am."

Again, he did at least try to earn her affaection. In the manga he didn't go out of his way for her whatsoever, but in the movie we see him vouching for her despite not really knowing her, and teaching her how to play motorball with his friends and taking her to see the URM ship.

I do agree that she outgrows him by the end of the movie, and in this way their relationship could only have ended in tragedy, but it's a very fitting backstory, I think. This is because we see her develop and grow a lot over the course of the movie (and manga). She's definitely not the same person at the end of the movie that she is in the beginning, except maybe you could say that, no matter how much she may seem to change, she's "still the same old Alita." I think that would be an accurate statement.





Another point along this same vein is the insta-romance. I have very specific feelings about insta-romance; in books, it's absolutely unacceptable. You have around 300+ pages- even more if it's a series- to properly develop the relationship, so you better do it.

In movies it's different, because you only have around 2 hours to work with and you don't want the romance to become the entire plot of the movie (unless it's a romance movie, then it shouldn't be an insta), so naturally insta-romance is pretty much bound to happen, but there's still a very fine line between good and bad insta-romance in movies (in books it's always bad, don't ever try to justify it).

For example, I've heard people complain that Alita ends up dating the first human guy she meets who isn't Doc Ido, but if you think about it, a lot of good movies have done this- in fact, Avatar did exactly the same thing.

In Avatar, the love interest is literally the first Na'vi person that Jake Sully meets- but of course we're too wrapped up in what's happening to notice that. That's because we're distracted by the rest of the plot and what's happening, since, you know, when Jake first meets her in the jungle, every living thing that crawls, flies, or squats in the mud is trying to kill him and eat his eyes for jujubes.

I don't hear anyone complaining that Jake ends up with the first Na'vi girl he meets, nor do I hear anyone complaining that Rose shacks up with the first guy who isn't a wrinkly old hag (or her parents) in Titanic.

That being said, I'm not trying to say that insta-romance in movies is necessarily a good thing, but if done in a way that's somewhat logical, it isn't a problem. In Titanic's case it worked because they were witty and they only had a couple of days together on the ship (especially once the ship started sinking). In Avatar's case is worked because, while Jake does end up with the first Na'vi girl he meets, the movie is a bit long so even though their relationship doesn't develop from a prior interaction, we have plenty of time to accept their relationship as canon as the movie progresses, and like in Titanic, we can forget about how the romance started because they're being bombed to hell by the sky-people and whatnot.

With Alita it isn't as easily disguised, since there's no sinking ship or sky-people bombing them, but it still works well because of the types of characters Alita and Hugo are.

For exmaple the movie does have the "born-sexy-yesterday" trope, in which someone (usually an attractive person) is essentially dropped into a world without any knowledge of it, or they have amnesia or they were created in a lab or something, and usually this person is overpowered, but how they handled it in Alita is interesting.

In general, the "born-sexy-yesterday" trope is a terrible idea that needs to die. Especially in anime, we see this trope used and abused way too much and it's almost never a good idea. If anything it just undermines the entire premise of the story.

But, usually, the protagonist is a guy, and the born-sexy-yesterday character is the female love interest. And usually in those types of stories, the guy proceeds to take advantage of the poor girl and her naivety.

But in Alita, the protagonist is the born-sexy-yesterday character, and Hugo doesn't try to take advantage of her in anyway, and he's very respectful like that.

Now there is one caveat to that; not everyone has the same definition of BSY, and to most people, that term is only used in a derogatory way. To put it plainly, it depends on how you define it. If you define a born-sexy-yesterday character as literally any attractive person with no knowledge of their world, then that would make Alita, as well as Superman and many other heroes, BSY characters. But if you associate the born-sexy-yesterday trope with the feminist agenda, and all the connotations that come with it (a lot of critics falsely accused Alita of pandering to the male fantasy of a hero, but no one ever says that Superman panders to the female fantasy, despite also being an attractive hero with no knowledge of his past), then Alita is not a BSY character. She, like Superman and Wonder Woman, would just be an example of the "fish out of water" trope. The accusations that Alita is sexualized or male-pandering is ridiculous. But I don't want to focus on that discussion, I went into a ton of detail on that already in the last post about it.

Anyway, whether or not this counts as a BSY isn't the point, because either way there isn't enough merit to scrutinize the plot for her being a fish-out-of-water since, if she is a BSY characters, Hugo completely respects her, and then there's the simple fact that she isn't a BSY character at all if you associate it with all of those other things that usually come with it.

Another thing is that some of the critics like to act as if Alita has no agency of her own, when she most certainly does. She deliberately goes against Doc Ido and Hugo both when she feels like it, which is a few different times, and part of the movie is her going through a "rebellious" stage, if that makes any sense.

**Spoiler alert here!**

At one point in the movie she literally pulls her heart from her chest- which is worth millions of dollars- and offers it to him so he can afford to go to Zalem like he's always wanted.

And he could have easily taken it, but instead he's mortified and is like "Don't ever just give stuff to people like that" and she's all like "This is who I am, take it." And of course, he politely declines. She didn't offer him her heart because he wanted her to, or asked her for it, but because she wanted to, even though ultimately that's not how he wanted to get to Zalem at all. She did that on her own accord, not his.


In the beginning of the movie, when he finds out she has no memory of who she is or anything besides oranges, he doesn't take advantage of her, he just asks about Zalem and shares everything he knows about it.

I'd like to start a "Hugo did nothing wrong" petition. If you've watched The Office, you know about Karen and her relationship with Jim, as well as the complications that came from that and his past with Pam, but a lot of people hate Karen even though, if you think about it, she didn't do anything wrong. She was just dealt a shitty hand. I will admit that Karen came off as too clingy at times, but that isn't reason to hate the girl. I mean, obviously we all like Pam more, but Karen did nothing wrong. And there's this funny sub on Reddit called r/karendidnothingwrong and their sole purpose is to argue that Karen in The Office, did, in fact, do nothing wrong.

And likewise, I see a lot of people that liked the movie except they hated Hugo since Alita is the stronger one and has to keep him safe, but it's not like that's his fault. Well excuse him for being born human and not being a super-strong cyborg from Mars. Despite being human he does show some examples of being able to handle himself, like the flame grenades he carries and how he's able to reasonably keep a Hunter Warrior off his tail for the most part.

So yeah, r/hugodidnothingwrong needs to be a thing. I'm not saying he's the greatest character ever or anything, but he's not a bad dude or a weakling or anything like that. Like Doc Ido said, "This city corrupts even good people." Now, that's not to say that he's never done anything morally wrong, but he's never done anything wrong to Alita. The way he treated Alita was perfectly fine, and overall very respectful. He obviously doesn't share the same intensity that she does, but he still treated her with basic kindness and respect.

Anyway, I think their rushed relationship is fine because they're teenagers and it comes across as the exact way teenagers actually act. If they were 30-year-olds I'd say this type of story wouldn't work at all, but because they're young and stupid and don't know any better, their behavior towards each other is actually kind of expected. With teenagers it's alright, but when movies and shows pull this crap with grown-ass adults it's just cringey. This applies double if they're full-grown adults playing the role of teenagers. Having 25-year-olds playing as 15-year-olds is just... the worst. I get that kid actors are hard to find and good ones are even harder, but this really needs to stop. At least Keann Johnson was only 21 at the time of filming, so they only made him out to be a couple years younger. If he were 25+ it would have been very noticable.

*They aren't actually stupid, I'm just trying to make a point.

They never actually give Hugo an age in the movie, but he generally looks and acts around 17 or so. I don't recall him being assigned an actual age in the manga either, but I could be wrong on that. But even though he's over 20 they did do a good job making him look, sound and act a little bit younger, which I have to give them props for.

While Rosa Salazar is a full-grown woman, 33, the CGI just takes her face and movements and makes a nice, youthful character out of it, so no one is actually expected to believe that Rosa Salzar herself is only 14-19. She said in one of her interviews that she would keep making Alita movies until she was 80 if they wanted, because no matter how old you look the final version of the CGI character will look the same. This is good because if Rosa Salazar- a 33-year-old woman- was supposed to play as this cyborg teenager, without the massive help of CGI, it probably would have ruined the movie.

And that's not because Rosa Salazar is a bad actress- she's an amazing acrtress- but it just wouldn't have been convincing.

And of course, tying back into point about their relationship, Alita ultimately matures a lot over the course of the movie, so even though their relationship started early on it's clear that Alita's attitude and behavior later on in any future movies will be different now that she has some life experience under her belt.

Anyway, this post is already a little longer than the first Alita post which is already uber long, so I think it's time to stop.

Pictures you can hear, Volume 2.

I guess the point of all this is that James Cameron rocks and I harshly look down on people who think otherwise. Call me judgemental but I don't care.

As always,

may all your cups of tea be your cup of tea,

and I'll see you in the next post.

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