James Cameron and Robert Ro­driguez join forces for Alita: Bat­tle An­gel, po­ten­tially the most faith­ful manga movie ever


James Cameron pro­duces. Robert Ro­driguez di­rects. Au­di­ences win.

THERE HAVE BEEN manga-in­spired live-ac­tion movies be­fore (in­clud­ing last year’s Ghost In The Shell and Death Note). But they have largely been timid af­fairs, di­alling down the of­ten out­ra­geous vi­su­als of their source ma­te­rial. There seems to be lit­tle timid­ity, on the other hand, about Alita: Bat­tle An­gel, the in­com­ing Robert Ro­driguez/james Cameron sci-fi col­lab­o­ra­tion whose mis­sion state­ment be­comes clear with one look at its hugeeyed fe­male cy­borg hero, the tit­u­lar Alita. “It was al­ways Jim’s in­ten­tion to cre­ate a photo-re­al­is­tic ver­sion of the manga eyes that we’re so ac­cus­tomed to see­ing,” says Ro­driguez. “If the eyes are the win­dows to the soul, we have some pretty big win­dows.”

So wild is the cy­ber­punk world of the movie, based on graphic nov­els by Yuk­ito Kishiro, that Cameron spent a decade- and-a-half (on and off ) work­ing on a pos­si­ble adap­ta­tion, be­fore hir­ing Ro­driguez to helm it in 2015 — a gig that came with 1,000 pages of painstak­ing notes from the now pro­ducer. Set 700 years in the fu­ture, there are float­ing cities, cy­ber­net­i­cally en­hanced bounty hunters, cy­borgs fac­ing off against each other in a bone-crunch­ingly bru­tal sport called mo­tor­ball, and in the mid­dle of it all Alita (played via per­for­mance cap­ture by Rosa Salazar), an am­ne­siac ma­chine­girl raised by friendly doc­tor Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz). “It’s the miss­ing Jim Cameron movie we al­ways wanted to see,” Ro­driguez prom­ises. “There is so much wild stuff go­ing on. It’s de­sign candy.”

Of course, with candy there’s al­ways the risk of a headache, and there has been some grip­ing on­line about the look of the oc­u­larly en­hanced lead char­ac­ter. Then again, the tri­umphant blue folk of Avatar proved it’s un­wise to bet against Cameron, and Ro­driguez is a film­maker with style to burn. Salazar, for one, is con­fi­dent Alita will be a sci-fi cre­ation for the ages. “She’s not like any­thing you’ve seen be­fore,” she says. “It has the essence of me, but it isn’t me. But it is me. The tech­nol­ogy be­ing used is in­cred­i­ble.” Two cut­ting-edge di­rec­tors have teamed up for Alita: Bat­tle An­gel — a match, we hope, made in manga heaven.


Em­pire spoke to Robert Ro­driguez in-be­tween takes on the Austin, Texas set of Alita on 17 Jan­uary 2017.

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