Appleseed Ex Machina - BRD
(Shinji Aramaki, 2007)
Review by Leonard Norwitz
Theatrical: Ex Machina Film Partners
DVD: Warner Home Entertainment
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Feature film: 1080p
104 minutes; 27 chapters
Supplements: 1080i or 1080p
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0
Chinese Dolby Digital 2.0
French Dolby Digital 2.0
German Dolby Digital 2.0
Dutch Dolby Digital 2.0
Feature: English, French, German, Dutch, Chinese & Korean
Bonus: English, French, German, Dutch, Chinese & Korean (* selected features below)
• Audio Commentary with the Filmmakers
• Team-Up: John Woo & Shinji Aramaki (16)
• Revolution: Animating Ex Machina (19)
• The Appleseed Chronicles: The Definitive History (20)
• East Meets West: How the art form is viewed in different cultures. (19)
Single disc; Standard Blu-ray case
Release Date: March 11, 2008
Appleseed ExMachina ~ Comment
The Appleseed anime saga began life in 1985 with Masamune Shirow's popular manga, and has gone through rendering development from simple black & white drawings, movies, TV shows, video games, to the present departure: CG animation. Gone are the jaws that move up and down to no particular synchronicity. Gone is the staggered movement. Gone, too, is the artful simplicity and metaphor that characterized the art form. What we have here is a new species, as different from traditional anime as man is from the ape. We may have clarity of expression, but at what cost? I'll save that discussion for another time – perhaps an essay. But I'm sure I am not alone in asking the question.
Appleseed ExMachine is Shinji Aramaki's sequel to his 2004 movie, titled simply, Appleseed. The important characters have returned: the fully human, ultimate action heroine, Deunan Knute, along with her partner and then some: the rather oversized cyborg, Brianeos Hecatonichres. (I love all those names from Greek mythology. I always say, if you're going to steal, steal from the best.) As I understand the history, Deunan and Briareos were formerly LAPD SWAT, and have graduated into ESWAT (spelled on weapons and the like in the movie as "ES.W.A.T.", which I found very peculiar.) Their mission: to protect civilization from all threats, foreign and domestic. I like that.
Besides the move to CG animation, the new movie brings the talents of John Woo on board to help stage the action sequences. I can't say I was always clear who was shooting at who or where the ordinance was coming or going, but the idea was clear enough.
Appleseed ExMachina ~ The Score Card
The Movie : 7
It is 2133 A.D. A third world war had pretty much destroyed much of the planet's civilization (served 'em right!), with enclaves that survived here and there which eventually established stunning small city-states still trying to work out the age-old problem. Forces from within seem to always be more virulent than those from without. (Sound familiar?) The story is not all that complicated, especially compared to Shirow's more famous anime: Ghost in the Shell – with two major threads: the first is that, after Briareos is injured, a new bioroid is developed using Briareos' DNA: Tereus. It's a useful defensive strategy on the part of the police, since Briareos is more or less unstoppable, and two of him would be better than one. The problem is that Tereus, being less encumbered by a protective shell and being the hunk that he is, begins to develop Briareos-like feelings for Deunan, and vice-versa. Meanwhile, the city of Olympus is suddenly and mysteriously under attack from its own citizens. Something is making them into zombie-like terrorists, and it isn't random.
Image : 9 (9/9)
The score of 9 indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray DVDs on a 10-point scale. The score in parentheses represents: first, a value for the image in absolute terms; and, second, how that image compares to what I believe is the current best we can expect in the theatre.
At first sight, this is one stunning image, but the more I got into the movie the more I was pulled out of it by some strange goings on, not all of which are due to the transfer. To begin with, projected onto a large screen, the image is curiously soft. I kept squinting my eyes thinking perhaps that they had become clouded with room dust. Average bit rates for this DVD were in the mid-20's. Kinda low for Blu-ray. That may have contributed. Whatever the reason, the image always looked just a bit less than sharp – all the more puzzling since it is computer derived.
And then there were those eyes up there on the screen. I've seen them somewhere before – The Polar Express, perhaps? There's something eerie about them, though not nearly to same extent as in that other ill-conceived "instant classic." Here the CG animation is not very anime-like, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But for me, when things appear to be more lifelike, my expectations rise accordingly. In Appleseed ExMachina there is little effective physical connection between bodies, so that a simple handshake had no sense of the grasping of flesh on flesh. In weightier scenes, there isn't much of an impression of mass. The simple act of walking across a room might just as well be in zero gravity. I exaggerate, but only some. I can only say, thank goodness for the soundtrack. In classic anime, this is never a problem because the drawings are not meant to stand in for reality.
Audio & Music : 8/8
While not quite at the level of a Kenji Kawai Ghost in the Shell score, the music by Ryuichi Sakamoto is apt and invigorating. The 5.1 audio mix is exciting, with lots of artillery in all the right places.
Translation & Subtitles : 7/7
While I didn't watch the entire in the original Japanese and English dub, I did alternate from scene to scene, sometimes repeating the scene when the spirit moved me. I happened to be using the English dub in one scene when the text stopped me in my tracks, making little sense in the context. So I repeated the scene in Japanese with English translation. In this scene our heroes arrive on board a hostile vessel, uninvited, to try to find out where Halcyon is.
First, the dub:
Briareos: Hold your fire. We need to see your emissary.
Emissary: Who are you? What do you want?
Briareos: We need to know two things: What is Halcyon and where can we find it?
Now, the translation from the Japanese:
Briareos: We're in a hurry. No time for introductions.
Emissary: I know why you're here.
Briareos: We need to know two things: What is Halcyon and where can we find it?
In the English dub, the Poseidon emissary is hostile; in the Japanese, she is cordial. Her answer in both cases is the same: she is helpful. My opinion: You can't get there from here in the English dub. This may or may not have been an isolated instance, but given the better vocal characterizations in the Japanese version, I recommend avoiding the English altogether. By the way, you might recognize a familiar voice as Briareos: it's Koichi Yamadera (Togusa from Ghost in the Shell as well as Spike, the antihero of Cowboy Bebop.)
The subtitle fonts are in white, smallish, and easy to read, except on very light backgrounds, which isn't all that common.
Operations : 8
Typical of Warner, we get right to the movie without endless promos. The menu, though in no way taking advantage of the medium, is straightforward. As is typical with Warner Blu-rays, the slightly expanding thumbnails are not titled. Lots of chapters. And you can easily navigate back to the feature from the special features.
Extras : 7
There are four featurettes, about 16-20 minutes each, plus an audio commentary by the filmmakers. I found Revolution: Animating Ex Machina and The Appleseed Chronicles: The Definitive History to be the most informative about the film, its origins as manga, and its eventual realization into a CG animation feature film. All the extras were presented in 16x9 but appeared to have been upscaled rather than to have begun life in high definition.
This is not the first CG animation movie that did not score a perfect 10 in the image department, which is partly why we would bother in such cases, right. That said, the Blu-ray does take advantage of it extraordinary color palette and dimensionality. Lovers of the series should be quite pleased.
March 2nd, 2008
Enter the Dragon