The Anime community are all waiting with baited breath this week with the arrival of the live action version of Alita: Battle Angel. Converting anime series into major Hollywood productions hasn’t always gone down to well in the past – but there is genuine excitement about Alita due to the fact that the men at the helm are legendary producer/director James Cameron (Avatar, Aliens) and Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, From Dusk To Dawn).
When talking about Alita: Battle Angel Cameron begins with by talking about the film’s setting and location. “Well it is the world of the 26th century,” he explains. “It is 300 years after a huge war has devastated the planet. There has been a plague weapon used and only a tiny percentage of humanity survived and all the survivors streamed to the one surviving sky city that remained because the apex of civilisation is represented by these sky cities. So people from right around the globe streamed there and they have formed a kind of refugee camp in the shadow of this sky city that floats about a mile above them in the sky. But they can never get there because they have severed the connection with the ground, because of the plague they isolated themselves. So even though everybody gathered there there is no relief from it but they had each other so they created a city out of nothing and now three hundred years later it is a thriving place and it has a lot of energy but it is a very dangerous place.”
That leads to him talking about the main character – Alita, played here by Rosa Salazar – Maze Runner: The Death Cure, Bird Box). “I like Alita because she is absolutely fearless,” he says smiling. “It is actually interesting writing a character that has no fear – and she literally has no fear. You know her life motto is ‘I will not stand by in the prescience of evil.’ She can’t not do something. When she is confronted with an injustice she will do something, it is just who she is. And she is unafraid, it doesn’t matter how big the opponent is, or how powerful or how menacing they are she just goes right at it. Now, that is a hard character to write because you have to find the right vulnerability, and her vulnerability is about the people she loves. She will never fear for herself but she will fear for them. Then and only then is she afraid and only then is she stressed by something that may happen. So it is all about the bonds she forms after she awakens in her new body and how she fights for the people that she loves and then you have the betrayals and the darker things that she learns about human nature. She is just a wonderful character. I think she represents a female empowerment that we need in films. You know it is an empowerment of her whole spiritual character not just her physical strength. She is remarkable strong for her size and she is also a character that people under-estimate – they always under-estimate her – she even under-estimates herself. One of the things that she says at some point early on the film is ‘I am just an insignificant girl, they threw me away with the rest of the garbage’ because she is literally found in a garbage heap and it is very easy to under-estimate a little pipsqueak, you know a four foot seven or whatever she is teenage girl until she goes into action until she transforms, she doesn’t physically transform, but mentally transforms into some version of herself that she obviously was in the past.”
Cameron goes on to say that he has also been pleased with the way that Robert Rodriguez has approached the project of Alita. “He has been like a kid in a candy shop with this movie,” he says. “He loves the process, he loves the performance capture, he loves the design performance and he has always been very, very respectful of what I had written and what Kishiro had created but he is also not afraid to make it his own and I wanted to give him enough space that he needed creatively and i was empathic about that from the beginning. So we fell into this really good working relationship, because we had been friends for twenty years but had never really worked together. And it turns out that he is insanely collaborative, he really likes the comradery of working with other creative people.”
There was also a mixed reaction when Rosa Salazar was cast to play Alita but Cameron was sure of her from day one. “It is hard to quantify the reaction that Robert and I both had to Rosa,” he says. “She just came in during the normal process of casting and she just started to emerge out in front of everybody as an actor who put such heart, such emotion and such vitality into every moment. You know when you see ten actors all read the same scene, you look at them back to back, and then you see one that makes, not just every line count, but every moment between the lines count and is shifting and has these complex reactions and is surprised and is earnest and has these heartfelt moments – I have never seen anything like it out of a young actress her age. I think she is phenomenal – I think she truly is phenomenal and both Robert and I believed in her from the start but it was one of those things where you don’t quite believe what you have got and you have to see other people. We continued to see other actresses but nobody came close. Then we started reading some of our potential Hugos with Rosa and she was so giving, she was so giving off-camera that she brought out the best out of these other actors and that allowed us to find a great Hugo. I think that was the smartest thing that we did, spending time on that process, because a love story is all about the chemistry and it is all about ‘do you care about these people?’ and it is going to be amazing seeing Rosa’s spirit, her light, coming through the Alita character.”
Alita: Battle Angel is in cinemas today.