Appleseed: Ex Machina (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Andreas Petersen & Noor Razzak (16th March 2008).
The Film

Only moments after finishing my first viewing of "Appleseed: Ex Machina", did I find out that this film was a sequel to another "Appleseed" movie. Adding onto this, while I knew it was based on a manga, I had never read it before. To put it simply, I went into this movie blind to the franchise it has been built upon. This is something to possibly put into account when reading my review.

So what did I think of the movie? I have to say, as someone who isnít a particular fan of anime (though far from a hater), I expected much less out of this direct-to-DVD animated movie. Knowing the movie was done with motion capture performances made "Beowulf" (2007) echo in my mind. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see how solid the movie looked. Produced by legendary action filmmaker John Woo and directed by Shinji Aramaki, the movie never seems to attempt to imitate real life, but rather sticks to an animated look. Itís a wonderful medium in between Robert Zemeckisí stupid looking mo-cap movies, and Richard Linklaterís pretentious rotoscoped films. The film has an amazing 3-D polish to it, but still looks 2-D in all the right ways.

This isnít the only thing done right in the movie. "Ex Machina" certainly lives up to the John Woo association when it comes to action. The talented work of Aramaki never felt too frantic, as the camera work during intense action scenes were controlled and steady, allowing the viewer to actually see what the hell is going on (a huge problem that most modern day action movies have).

While the style and action are great, the characters, acting, and overall plot seem to fall completely flat. The film tells the story of Deunan (Luci Christian) and Briareos (David Matranga), two members of the elite crime fighting unit ESWAT. They uncover a plot to create an army of zombies using some sort of new-fangled head phone. The plot itself is ridiculous, and the twists and reveals seem to be arbitrary and out of no where. I found the filmís title to be very fitting when it came to the narrative of the movie. The weak plot is most certainly not helped by the melodramatic dialogue and voice acting. It is hard to re-create the lines in the written word, but at times, I found myself unable to sift through the cheesy lines when trying to follow the plot, which ultimately unfolds into a shameless rip-off of the final battle at Zion in "The Matrix Revolutions" (2003).

However, I wouldnít say the voice acting and melodramatic lines hindered the movie per se. The movie felt almost like a cut-scene to a high end Japanese RPG. In a way I liked this, but in another way, I felt like it didnít work as a whole movie. I think this movie could have worked better as a 45 minute short film. But perhaps that is because I donít know these characters too well and Iím not familiar with the world surrounding them. I feel as though if this was an entry into a franchise I already knew, maybe I wouldnít be so down on it.

Also, I would just like to add that I watched the movie with English dubs, and after I finished the movie, I went back and watched a few scenes with Japanese audio and English subtitles, and it enhanced my experience greatly. It at least took away the cheesy deliveries.

Video

Presented in a widescreen ratio of 1.85:1 this high-definition transfer is presented in 1080p 24/fps and has been created using VC-1 compression. For a recent film this transfer is as expected, a stunner. The image is sharp and beautifully detailed especially in many of the wide exterior city shots. Lines are smooth and feature no pixelation, colors are brilliant and bold, black levels are deep and shadow detail remains consistent throughout the print and additionally the image features not a single blemish as it's clean and really nice to look at.

Audio

The film features multiple audio tracks including Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in both English and the film's native Japanese as well as Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track offered in French, German, Dutch and Cantonese. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its original Japanese 5.1 track. The audio was as much a pleasure to listen to as the picture was to look at. The soundtrack is aggressive and powerful, immersing the viewer in the world of these characters. The action scenes pop from speaker to speaker with an intensity that's very close to some of the best DTS tracks I've heard.
Optional subtitles are included in English, English for the hearing impaired, German, German for the hearing impaired, Japanese, French, Dutch and Cantonese.

Extras

Warner Brothers has released this film with extras that include an audio commentary and a series of 4 featurettes 2 of which are exclusive to this Blu-ray release. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is a feature-length audio commentary with animation historian Jerry Beck, who interviews producer Joseph Chou. The track is a healthy mix of comfortable conversation with a heavy dose of interesting information concerning the motion-capture process, why certain shots were chosen to be in the film, and what changes were made from the manga to the movie. Chou also divulges in some interesting stories about his journey as a producer to get the movie made with fellow producer John Woo. At times however, I felt like the commentary was slightly self-congratulatory, feeling that Beck couldnít imagine that the movie has any sort of problems, while Chou admits that certain aspects feel rushed.

"Team-up: John Woo and Shinji Aramaki, running at 16 minutes and 26 seconds, is an interesting featurette discussing how Aramakiís eye for realism mixed with the Chinese action sensibilities of Woo melded together to make "Appleseed: Ex Machina".

"Revolution: Animating Ex Machina" is a featurette running at 18 minutes and 37 seconds, is a behind-the-scenes look at the animation process behind the film. This clip spends time comparing "Ex Machina" to the first "Appleseed" movie, and how the team learned certain lessons from their first effort. Also, the audience is given access to the motion capture sessions used for the film.

Next up is the first of the two exclusive featurettes, entitled "The Appleseed Chronicles" this clip runs for 19 minutes 48 seconds and takes a look at the history of the original Manga book and its popularity in the United States, the themes of the book, story arcs, the creator and a look at the movies as well.

Rounding out the extras is the second exclusive featurette entitled "East Meets West" this clip runs for 18 minutes 40 seconds and takes a closer look at how Western audiences are influenced by Japanese culture as a result of the increasing popularity of Anime. It looks at the history of Japanese animation in the West, how it was presented to audiences, what draws people to it and how fans show their love for favorite characters among other things.

Overall

The Film: B- Video: A+ Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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