Based on Shirow Masamune's ground-breaking manga, Appleseed Ex Machina
is a sequel to the 2004 film, Appleseed. Directed once again
by Shinji Aramaki and produced by John Woo, this film is kinetic, energetic,
and exciting. Viewers who haven't meet Deunan and Briareos from the
first film don't need to worry either since this one brings people up to
speed pretty quickly. Unfortunately the otherwise solid movie is marred
by some pretty lame dialog and unimpressive character renditions.
The surprisingly dated looking CGI people really distract from the eye-popping
effects in the rest of the film.
The time is the 22nd Century, and the world is a different place.
The Third World War, though it was non-nuclear, still managed to kill half
the population of the Earth. From these ashes rose Olympus, a utopian
city-state that consists of a large number of bioroids, genetically engineered
humans that have had strong negative emotions like hate and anger removed
from their genetic makeup.
Though the city is at peace, that doesn't mean there aren't problems
and international terrorism is one of them. The rulers of Olympus
feel they are best suited to handle terrorism on a world-wide scale and
to help them achieve their goals they've started to develop a warrior version
of the bioroid. In addition they've called together the other countries
for a conference, the purpose of which is to convince the varying states
to give Olympus unfettered access to their spy and communications satellite
systems. With these satellites under their control, Olympus feels
that it can stamp out terrorism.
Deunan, a tough, attractive lady and Briareos, a man transplanted into
a cyborg body, are members of the Olympus ESWAT (Extra Special Weapons
And Tactics) police force. They are partners who have a lot of history
together. When Briareos gets badly injured battling a group of cyborg
terrorists, the higher ups assign a new partner to Deunan, Tereus.
The young officer wants no part of it however. Not only does she
not want to give up Briareos, but Tereus is the spitting image of her partner
before he was transplanted into a robot body, something that upsets her
more than it should.
It turns out that Tereus is the first of the warrior-bioroids and most
of his genetic make-up came from Briareos. Neither of the two really
likes the situation either. Briareos is reminded of what he's lost,
and Tereus is constantly faced with the fact that he's just a copy.
They have to learn to work together though, because after Olympus has control
of the Earth's satellite system, a mad man hacks into it. He wants
to recreate humanity in his image, and the only ones who can stop him are
Briareos, Tereus and Deunan.
This movie started off with a bang, with a raid against a group of cyborg
terrorists. As fun as that was, having Briareos get seriously wounded
was an unexpected surprise that really go the movie rolling. You
can see John Woo's influence in the way the battle scenes are played out
and the high-energy action that the beginning has.
Then the movie slows down and fills everyone in on just what the Olympus
Prime Minister wants to do and why. They mention hacked cyborgs several
times and, even more telling, make a point of showing the newest Bluetooth-like
phone/internet access device that is the newest fad. This gives viewers
everything they need to predict the biggest events in the rest of the film,
and it becomes aggravating when the characters don't deduce what the viewers
have. When various police men find people who were recently rioting
laying unconscious with ear pieces that have sprouted veins that have dug
down into the person's brain cavity, they don't think it's odd???
The dialog is also very stilted and unrealistic sounding. The
characters sound more like figures in a poorly written comic book than
real people having a conversation. In both the dub and the subtitles,
the language used brought the movie down and made it feel like a B-movie.
The entire production is created with computer graphics, and while CGI
technology has been advancing at an incredible rate, this film looks like
it was done a decade ago. The people don't look realistic at all,
and I was amazed at the lack of texture on their skin. Faces have
a flat two-dimensional look at times because their skin has all the same
tone and feel. The hair was absolutely the worst however.
Deunan looks like her head has sprouted a batch of grass that has died,
and Tereus has oily spaghetti for his hair. The hair didn't move
with the people a lot of the time, just lying there instead. In one
scene near the beginning of the film a hostage is laying on the ground,
tied up, and a terrorist kicks him in the stomach. His head jerks
back, but his hair doesn't move at all.
Maybe they didn't animate the hair because the producers knew it was
beyond their ability. While the big battle scenes looked fine, the
more mundane character movements are unnatural and unrealistic. When
someone walks down a corridor their movements look more like one Gerry
Anderson's Supermarionation puppets than a real person. This helped
give the non-combat scenes the look of a computer game.
Having said that, the battle sequences were wonderful fun and they helped
save the film. With battle-armored troopers zipping though the sky
and bullets blasting all around, the fights were simply amazing and worth
watching the film for. The background graphics were very detailed
and helped the film too. The aerial images of Olympus city are breathtaking.
With a plot that was complex enough to keep viewers' interest yet not so
convoluted as to be boring, this is a movie that is almost really great,
but doesn't quite hit the mark.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The 1.85:1 1080p VC-1 encoded disc looks absolutely wonderful.
I'll be the first to admit that animation is generally more forgiving than
live action features when it comes to compression and other digital artifacts,
but this is a gorgeous looking film. The colors are solid,
even, and strong and really pop off the screen. The lines are tight
and the level of detail is very good. This disc does a fantastic
job of presenting the film. In the beginning there's a scene where
spotlights are turned on at night to light up a cathedral. The smoke
and mist in the air is highlighted in the beams, and this ethereal matter
flows smoothly through the light with no blocking or jittery lines.
Grain and digital noise wasn't a problem at all, even in the frequent shots
of the sky. The blacks were solid without being crushed and the whites
were bright without blooming. All around this is an impressive looking
This disc gives viewers the option of viewing the film with the original
Japanese track in DD stereo or an English dub in DD 5.1. I
was pretty surprised that there wasn't a multi-track choice for the Japanese
audio and that an uncompressed or lossless option wasn't available either.
I hating having to choose between full surround sound and the original
language track, I selected the English dub and spot checked the Japanese
The DD 5.1 audio is pretty good but not as impressive as I was hoping.
There's good use made of the soundstage in battle scenes, but in the rest
of the film the rears weren't used as much as they could have been.
The bass wasn't as deep and forceful as I was expecting either. Explosions
didn't have that low end *umph* that the best tracks employ and while the
gunfire sounded nice some of the highs could have been extended just a
bit. The sound of shell casings tinkling as they hit the floor wasn't
as crisp and high pitched as it could have been, but this latter critique
is very minor.
The English voice actors did a great job too, bringing life to their
characters. The Japanese track wasn't as impressive, being in stereo,
but served the film well.
I was overjoyed when I discovered that not only did the Blu-ray disc
contain all of the bonus material that the two-disc SD DVD had, but that
it was all in HD too! That's the way to release HDM Warners!
First off is a commentary track by anime expert Jerry Beck and producer
Joseph Chou. They work together well, with Jerry asking questions
when the conversation starts to die. They discuss the genesis of
the project, some of the techniques used to make the film, and some of
the background too. A nice track that was informative and rarely
Team-Up: John Woo and Shinji Aramaki runs a bit over 15 minutes
and discusses how the two men came together for this project and why.
It was interesting enough to watch, but not that memorable. The next
featurette, Revolution: Animating Ex Machina, ran a bit longer, 18 minutes,
and discussed the improvements in computer technology since the first film
was made, the motion capture techniques used, how the characters were animated
and the various textures rendered. A great piece for the computer
geek inside all of us.
People interested in the original manga will enjoy The Appleseed
Chronicles: The Definitive History. This 19 minute reel has interviews
with American manga fans, comic artists, and publishers and discusses the
impact the original manga had, how it was released (it wasn't serialized...its
first publication was in volume form, something very unusual in Japan)
and it's reception both in America and its country of origin. Creator
Shirow Masamune would not be interviewed on camera or even allow his voice
to be used, so quotes from the artist appear on the screen and are read
by a narrator.
Finally there's East Meets West, a 19-minute featurette on anime
both in America and Japan. While I didn't learn anything new, it
was fun to watch. This compares and contrasts the cultures
of the two countries and how anime and manga are viewed. There's
a section on Cosplay too, which is always fun to watch.
With engaging characters, a complex plot, and a script that poses some
interesting questions about what it means to be human, Appleseed Ex
Machina could have been a great anime film. Unfortunately it
stumbles a bit with some poor character renditions and lousy dialog.
Still the high octane battles are impressive and go a long way towards
making up for the films faults. Recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do
not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.