Saturday, 23 August 2014

Review - Space Battleship Yamato (2010 - Dir. Takashi Yamazaki)

Based on the anime series from the seventies, Space Battleship Yamato is a live action space based actioneer. I've never seen the original anime so I can't comment on how well it translates from 2D. From looking at screenshots though it seems that the character and ship design are pretty much spot on.

The Earth is under attack from an alien race known as the Gamilas. The planet is generally in a radioactive state so the Earth Defense Force decide to launch a counter attack at the pesky aliens. After a severe whooping things go from bad to worse until some crafty alien tech falls (literally) into the hands of our human chums. They rebuild the Space Battleship Yamato using this new and fancy technology and go in search of Iskandar, the co-ordinates of which came with the alien tech.

Space Battleship Yamato reminds me of two films in particular - well, actually a lot more than two but I'll come to that soon. The first would be Hell's Ground, a little known zombie film hailing from Pakistan. This was a film that heavily borrowed from loads of other horror films, but did so in a way that was fun and entertaining. Space Battleship Yamato homages Star Wars, Battlestar GallacticaStar Trek and to a lesser extent Serenity, and just about gets away with it. This is probably due to its desire to put on a large epic scale show despite a relatively meagre budget for this type of sci-fi thing ($23.9 million). I got carried away by the sheer exuberance of it all. Saying that, I'd be moaning if a big budget film had done the same. Maybe more time should have been spent at the script and planning stages to develop some more original ideas. That probably comes down to money though.

The other film it reminds me of is Casshern, another live action adaptation of an anime. Casshern is overlong and the pacing is all over the place. When I watch it I always end up slightly disappointed and think about what could have been if the editing had been different. Yet I still keep going back to it. Space Battleship Yamato feels very similar. The final act should be an action spectacular but it gets bogged down with lots of emotional chatting. It really drags. But again, I felt the need to watch it again.

This hasn't been too positive so far so you may be thinking, why bother watching it again. It does get some things right. The space battles, despite being way too short, are some of the best I've seen in years. They take their cue from bullet hell shooters and are suitably exhilarating with ships swooping through a barrage of laser fire. Admittedly the ships can do some pretty stupid things such as grow arms that can pick people out of space and give them a little cuddle, but that's all part of the fun.

The effects are pretty great too given the budget. They have stuck to one of the strengths of CGI: rendering hard metallic spaceships. There are some creatures and they don't look too hot but at least they are simple enough to be effective. They are normally only seen from a distance and in hordes so the effects don't come under too much close scrutiny. One of the highlights - and quite rightly so - has to be the reveal of the titular battleship as it rises from beneath the ground. It's a quality design and there's something delightfully quirky, in a Terry Gilliam way, of seeing what is basically a naval vessel charging about through space.

The characters are all fairly standard issue with only Yuki being that interesting (and I think that's only because she's stunningly attractive). Yet at the end, when little photos are shown in the credits of all the characters - many of which are killed within the film - I found myself looking back on them with fondness and wishing that they could all be in a sequel. There is something endearing about the whole production that is hard to put my finger on.

One example of this endearingness is also one of the funniest moments of the film. When something positive has happened in a space battle the action cuts back to the bridge and the characters cheer and give cheeky little fist pumps, yet it's all done without any accompanying music. It feels distinctly odd, but due to the fact that it happens about three times it gets funnier each time.

The music is also another source of quirk. When I watched some visual effects extras the soundtrack was playing along with the footage and I thought, crikey this music is pretty good. But in the film it's feels out of place at quite a few points, and at worst, exceedingly cheese ridden. There are also moments where you would expect music where it just doesn't appear (like the celebration scenes above). Again in all comes down to the editing.

Another positive though: the lead character Kodai has lovely luxurious locks.

It's hard for me to recommend this but it's struck a chord with me. I'm even considering shelling out £15 for the blu-ray.

If you like this you could also try:
Any of the above films that it thieves from.

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