Alita Battle Angel director Robert Rodriguez has explained the logic behind the live-action film’s ‘photo-realistic’ version of oversized manga eyes. Battle Angel has been a pet project for producer James Cameron for nearly twenty years, and like Avatar he waited until the technology was right to pull off his vision. Battle Angel is based on the manga of the same name and is set in a post-apocalyptic future, where a cyborg named Alita is found on a scrap heap and struggles to remember her past.
Cameron always intended to direct Alita Battle Angel himself, but as it became clear the four upcoming Avatar sequels would prevent him doing so, he passed the project over to Robert Rodriguez. The movie’s first trailer showed off the impressively realized world of Battle Angel, but one big talking point viewers came away with was the decision to give Alita (Rosa Salazar) the big manga eyes look.
Related: Watch the Alita Battle Angel Trailer
Now Rodriguez has explained the unusual choice in an interview with Empire, stating that it was always Cameron’s intention to give Alita that look:
It was always Jim’s intention to create a photo-realistic version of the manga eyes that we’re so accustomed to seeing. We really wanted to honour that tradition and see that look standing next to any human character. To have the right person to emote behind it was really essential. Her origins are in the film and you understand why she looks that way. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, we have some pretty big windows. You can see a lot going on in there! When it gets to the emotional scenes it’s really uncanny and striking. And captivating!
Rodriguez also discussed his working relationship with Cameron, and the latter’s decision to hand the project over after years of developing it for himself:
When Avatar becomes the biggest movie of all time, he told me that he’s going to spend the rest of his career making Avatars, so I said, ‘What happens to Battle Angel then?’ – because as a fan I was just interested! And he said, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever get to do that. Hey, if you can figure out the script, you can shoot it!’ So I took it home, spent all summer working on it, cut it down to 130, 125 pages, without cutting anything that he missed. It was a great gift. We had a blast; anytime I had a question I could just call him or email him and he would send back these hugely detailed answers that were so helpful. He just loves being the producer that he always wants.
While the manga eyes have drawn a mixed reaction so far, it seems like an intentional design choice by Cameron and Rodriguez to give her an uncanny valley look, whilst also paying homage to the character’s origin. Whether or not viewers warm to the choice is another question.
Alita: Battle Angel has all the hallmarks of a James Cameron production – an action-packed story with ambitious special effects, but one with humane characters and themes. It will be interesting to see how it performs, as 2017 had two high profile cyberpunk movies – Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner 2049 – that both unperformed financially. Hopefully Alita Battle Angel will be able to avoid the same fate.
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