Review of Appleseed
You realise that a film genre has come of age when remakes start appearing. The back catalogue is finally large enough to convince filmmakers that revisiting an earlier property will charm new audiences with a fresh look. It`s something that has afflicted Hollywood for many years now, we`ve just had another look at Batman, and a reimagining of Superman is imminent as is the third version of King Kong. The world of anime is also getting into the act, with this year seeing the release in the West of the live action version of Casshan, as well as the new 3D cel animated Appleseed. The DVD rights to both these films went to Optimum in the UK, but the original anime properties were held by Manga Entertainment, and with the new versions hitting the UK stores, now would be the optimum (pun intended) time to re-release the original versions to take advantage of the brand awareness.
Masamune Shirow is the acclaimed artist behind some of anime`s most popular cyberpunk visions, chief among them Ghost In The Shell. I learnt from the commentary on this disc that he is a hands-off creator, who once he has sold the manga will leave it to the filmmakers to bring it to the screen. This all explains one or two things when it comes to Appleseed. I was certainly looking forward to seeing this film, being a big fan of Ghost In The Shell, but the earlier Appleseed was different to say the least.
It`s one of those post apocalyptic futures that we all dread. Humanity has been devastated in the Third World War, and the few survivors have built a utopian city called Olympus to dwell in. Just like its celestial namesake, Olympus is a luxurious world where no one wants for anything. Governed by a sophisticated AI, and administered by a new genetically engineered race of Bioroids, the few humans who live there reside in the lap of luxury. The remaining survivors are rescued from the devastation and brought to their new lives, and chief among the rescuers is a Bioroid named Hitomi. But all isn`t well in utopia, with revolution and terrorism rearing their ugly heads. Not everyone wants to live perfectly ordered lives, some still believe that humanity should strive for greatness, and some people are willing to take up arms to make their point. Fortunately, Olympus City`s ESWAT force is there to protect the inhabitants, among their number are officers Deunan Knute and Briareos Hecatonchires. Deunan is the daughter of Olympus` founder, while Briareos is the cyborg officer who partners her. Hitomi rescued both from the outside world, and their experiences suit them perfectly for ESWAT work. Their work is cut out for them though, when a sophisticated terrorist threatens Olympus, and attacks its heart. What`s worse is that this time, it seems that ESWAT has a leak, and one of the police is working with the villains.
Appleseed gets a 4:3 regular transfer reflecting the original ratio. The image is none too spectacular, with a generally soft image with a resolution just above that of VHS. The image quality is consistent throughout though. The animation is certainly showing its age, looking older than its 17 years. The character designs are simple, and primary colours abound, distinctly at odds with the story`s cyberpunk vision. The mechanical designs of robots, cyborgs and machinery are a cut above the look of the more human characters though.
You have a choice of DD 2.0 and DD 5.1 English as well as the DD 2.0 Japanese soundtrack that I listened to. The dialogue is clear, but there is a bit of hiss and rumble apparent in the quieter moments. The music works well with the story, and the action is simply but effectively represented. The English surround track is certainly clearer, with a lower level of hiss, but the surrounds are rarely called upon, leaving it still predominantly front focussed. The subtitles closely but not exactly follow the English dub, something of a contentious issue that is discussed in the commentary.
There is a photo gallery with 12 pictures, as well as character biographies for 5 of the main characters in the film. Manga have also included their new trailers for this re-release, with previews of Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence, Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig and Millennium Actress.
The most substantial extra is the commentary with Jonathan Clements of the anime encyclopaedia, and Larissa Murray who provides the voice of Deunan in the English dub. This is an excellent commentary that fills in the gaps of the story and provides choice informational titbits about the anime industry. First there is that contentious issue, as it turns out that in Japan, Appleseed was aimed at the PG audience. For release in the West, it was profanitised up to get a higher rating, and the subtitles follow that version closely. There are also a couple of points in the film that get captions when no one is speaking in the Japanese version. We also learn that this film is based on the 2nd book of the Manga, and it does a great job in filling in the back-story. That said, Clements does most of the talking, and Murray`s contribution is limited to what she says about her character and the occasional word she gets in edgeways at other times. Still it is a good commentary.
Appleseed failed to impress beyond any but the most intellectual levels. All the classic cyberpunk elements are there, man versus machine, the definition of intelligence, of the soul. There are big machines, smart robots, cyborgs, and the sort of philosophical musings that usually underpin the best sci-fi. However, while the story was certainly worthy of thought, the film just didn`t engage.
The run time is certainly detrimental, at 70 minutes the film barely scrapes the surface of the world of Olympus, and as is stated in the commentary, much of the back-story of the world and the characters as well as their motivations remain to be fleshed out elsewhere. Also the film`s look is at odds with its future setting. The city and its inhabitants are unashamedly 20th Century, and the appearance of future tech seems awkward in that context. The film`s production design also has a similar effect, the simple look of the world and the prevalence of primary colours seems at odds with the story it is trying to tell.
However, the most disappointing aspect of Appleseed is the characterisation. These are simplistic obvious characters, they lack dimension and subtext making this film more a straightforward narration and exposition than anything with palpable drama. These are people who state their personalities and intentions and then go about living up to their statements. The film hands everything on a plate in easy to chew bite-size morsels, and I found that I had no need to engage the grey matter.
Appleseed is simple anime fare, with the obligatory burst of action for entertainment, as well as some interesting mecha designs, but the story is thin. It`s nice to have if you are building up that Masamune Shirow collection, and the disc is redeemed by an informative and interesting audio commentary. I just wish that with these titles where the English dub differs so strongly from the original Japanese that more than one subtitle track could be provided.
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