Let’s bust out the Panzer Kunst and kick things off with a confession. We’re super fans of Alita: Battle Angel. Our journey into this fandom began decades ago with the original Yukito Kishiro manga (Gunnm, circa 1990). That was followed by the anime OVA (Battle Angel Alita, 1993). Basically, we’d be the first to buy Motorball season tickets if it was ever made into a real-life thing.
Trackside seats, too. Where you can really smell the blood, sweat and cyborg coolant sprays.
When we learned in 2005 that sci-fi God James Cameron had secured the rights to Alita, it was a dream come true. When it became further apparent that the director’s chair would be filled by Robert “Desperado” Rodriguez, well… to be honest, we’d never dared to hope for such a pairing. That’s a power combo, folks. The creative equivalent of Alita’s brilliant cyber-core being wired to an URM Berserker Body.
MORE BANG FOR YOUR CREDITS
The end result of the Cameron / Rodriguez collaboration was manga magic loving transposed onto the silver screen with no expense spared. Perhaps not surprisingly, this love and care has extended to a slew of extras that come with the Blu-ray & Digital editions of the film. Pretty soon you can go deeper into Alita’s universe with over 2 hours of extras on Blu-ray and a whopping 3 hours + of extras on Digital Download. (Quick note: These extras are only on the Blu-ray disc or when you buy the film in HD digitally on iTunes, Google Play, Microsoft Store or Playstation Store. Not when you rent the film.)
We were lucky enough to trawl through the lot of it before launch day and it was like ascending to into Battle Angel heaven. Or possibly just the floating city of Zalem. There’s a smorgasbord of extras to gorge yourself on here. Let’s take a quick look now at some of the most interesting aspects of this overly generous cache of content…
PREVIOUSLY ON ALITA’S WORLD…
In the bonus section entitled Alita’s World you’ll be given a truly impressive and in-depth recap of what’s gone on in this dystopian world. A sub-section called The Fall details the so-called ‘war to end all wars’ that almost ended all of…well everything. Through a series of sumptuously painted concept paintings made into motion comics, you’ll be caught up to speed with the best inter-planetary sci-fi war drama this side of The Expanse. Even better, it’s narrated by lead actress Rosa Salazar (a confirmed super-fan of the manga herself).
Along with a whopping three centuries worth of Zalem history, be prepared to take a guided tour of the labyrinthine Iron City below, courtesy of street rat extraordinaire Hugo (Keean Johnson). Personally, we found it fascinating to peer down into each of the dingy districts that make up this sordid cultural melting pot. Such lovely tourist destinations like the Scrapyard, factory district, Motorball Arena and the various quarters that seem to be largely broken up by race. Most interesting of all, however, is the Kansas Bar where all of the bad-asses get their buzz on (when they’re not out killing for commission).
Dive into this section and the nefarious hunter-warrior Zapan (Ed Skrein) will give you an interesting look into the twisted mind of an elite cyborg killer. He’s willingly traded his humanity for lethality, and it’s enthralling to hear (literal) insider details about how his innards work. For example: did you know cyborgs still have to eat and drink, and that it’s all collected in a colostomy bag? The more you know! Also, the only thing that stand in the way of Zapan and immortality is power failure loss, loss of hydraulic fluids and jackers out to swipe his parts.
GET YOUR MOTOR RUNNIN’
Far and away the best part of the bonus content is the huge section dedicated to Motorball. For the uninitiated, Motorball is Iron City’s sport of kings, a Super Bowl-level event whose games grind the entire metropolis to a halt when they’re on. Having the rules broken down to the nitty-gritty is as fascinating as it is terrifying…
Basically, the normal configuration of a match is two teams of seven cyborgs going the tonk on one another. (That said, we were surprised to hear that 3 team and 5 team variants of the game do also occur.) There are other rules to observe, but they’re pretty few and far between, and most are still worryingly pro-violence. Helmets are optional. You can have as many wheels as you want. You have to have limbs. Oh, and you absolutely cannot have projectile weapons.
That said, you can totally rock a flamethrower if you want. Official regs say that the napalm spray has to be under 6 feet. This is a family sport, after all.
FROM MANGA TO SCREEN
Easter Egg hunting legacy fans will have their endorphin chip short out when Jon Landau, James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez do a deep dive on their geeky love for the source materials. It’s great to be able to hear the story of how Cameron was touched by the anime when it was introduced to him by his buddy Guillermo del Toro. The coming of age story of Gally (read: Alita) resonated with Cameron in particular as he was raising a young daughter at the time.
From here we’re shown the courting process of the creators as they travel to Japan for a respectful meet-and-greet with Yukito Kishiro. It’s also humbling to hear the latter speak of his fears and doubts while forging the original article way back when. It’s also great to learn the specific inspirations that he drew from the late great godfather of anime Osamu “Astro Boy” Tezuka.
Essentially, there’s a sense here that Cameron and co. had a great respect for Kishiro’s original vision. This movie is an overflowing basket of Easter Eggs and nods to the wider established world we got in Gunnm. As to how close the vision is to film, when Rodriguez received Cameron’s original treatment he’d highlighted a whopping 900 frames from the manga that he wanted as shots. Heck, you even get a shot-for-shot recreation of a character’s death in this anime adaptation.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN
Last but not least, we were also glad for the unprecedented look past the fog of war that surrounded the reasons for the epic production delay. What stood between optioning the IP and getting the film made and released into theatres? Honestly, you could make a movie of the twisty-turny process that was required to get this production off the ground. There are some cool what-if alternate timelines that are revealed in the copious interviews here – because Cameron doing Alita or the first Avatar film basically came down to a coin toss.
Even better, the crowning achievement of the bonus content is a motion comic revival of Alita: Battle Angel as it existed in 2005. It’s quite a bit divergent from the final script. Alita is darker, swearier, has way more ‘tude and her thoughts on Zalem lead to quite an alternate ending.
But we digress, the joy of discovering these things should be yours and yours alone. The own-able versions of Alita: Battle Angel will be available to buy as soon as July 24th. If you want to augment your home cinema collection with a great film and some of the most generous and insightful bonus content we’ve seen in years, best plan on spending your Factory issued credits on this modern classic.