The manga Battle Angel Alita tells the story of Alita, an amnesiac cyborg who is trained in the legendary art of Panzer Kunst, a devastating martial art that has fallen out of use and human knowledge. The live action adaptation of Kishiro’s work is a project that’s been nearly 20 years in the making, with James Cameron having optioned the rights to the title back in 1999. With such a long buildup, fans will be glad to know that Kishiro himself has given the film his blessing. In a video that preceded the footage, Kishiro said that everything he saw on set made him feel that “Alita was in safe hands.”
During the preview, which took place at the Regal Theater in Horton Plaza, director Robert Rodriguez and producer Jon Landau took the stage alongside stars Rosa Salazar (who plays Alita) and Keean Johnson (who plays Hugo) to talk about the upcoming film and debut some early looks at the material. The footage we saw that hinted at an overarching story of classism, war, and old alliances, and likewise showed us Alita’s friends and her sometimes contentious relationship with her adopted father Dr. Ido. We got to see some intriguing scenes, including Alita’s upgraded hunter-warrior body, a fight between Alita and three other cyborgs, and the diverse, bustling slum where Alita lives, which appears to be under the watch of imposing robots called Centurions.
The CGI, done by WETA, was very much a showcase of the evening, with the audience getting treated to scenes that focused on Alita’s photorealistic eyes, her incredibly intricate cyborg body—here revealed to be originally made for Ido’s paraplegic daughter—and the technology’s ability to capture all of Salazar’s minute expressions and movements.
Both Landau and Rodriguez stressed that it was actually good that Cameron had to put the project on the back-burner while he worked on Avatar, as the technology itself hadn’t caught up with Cameron’s vision for the film back in 2005. Landau said that Cameron thought the technology developed for Avatar would benefit Alita, not the other way around, and it’s hard to deny that when one sees the footage.
But during the Q&A, Rodriguez and Landau also stressed that while this is very much a CGI-laden and sci-fi tale, it’s Cameron’s deep interest in the project and Salazar’s acting that were instrumental in bringing Alita to life. When Rodriguez took on the project, Cameron had already written a 180-page script, as well as a mind-boggling 600 pages of detailed notes about world building, Alita’s arc, and what a trilogy would look like. (Yes, really, we may be getting a trilogy.)
Rodriguez ended up laying out 170 or so cards, each with a scene Cameron wrote, and built up a new script by first focusing on scenes that explored what made Alita more human than robot. It’s Salazar who brings all that to life; Rodriguez said he “cried during her audition…there’s just something about how she played it. She is Alita.” The idea that this is a human story, not a robot one, was the key takeaway.
As for interesting tidbits, at the end Rodriguez and Landau promised that yes, motorball will feature into the film, as Cameron found one of the most unique aspects of this world.
Alita will debut on December 21, 2018.
What are you most looking forward to in Alita? Let us know in the comments!
Images: 20th Century Fox