Friday, July 26, 2013

What I'm watching now (Part the Second) Space Battleship Yamato (2010)

I must say the first part of this review was a little rambling because it was kind of re-purposed mid-writing. At first I had the brilliant idea of reviewing three versions of Yamato (Yamato 2199, The Live action film from 2010 and the original) to see the way that the three told the same story over a span of time. What I did discover whilst researching is how many now ubiquitous tropes and concepts of modern Sci-Fi seem to be formed in that 1974 animated series; so the review became a discussion of Yamato in a broader sense whilst focusing through the lens of its newest incarnation.
I'm going to move on with the latter concept, this time through the lens of the 2010 live action movie "Space Battleship Yamato" and then next time tie it all back to the original 1974 animation.
So on with the show.

My knee jerk reaction to what is wrong with the 2010 live action movie of the Yamato story starts and ends with this guy. Who is he? Well he is lord Deslar (Desslok in Star Blazers) the principle villain of the series; supreme ruler of the Gamalias empire. The problem with the live action film is that he kinda isn't in it... Deslar was possibly the first "Modern" anime villain (Berg Kattse/Zoltar in Gatchaman  maybe a precursor to some extent); charismatic, honorable, driven and intelligent, a far cry from the cartoonish villains normal for animation. He was such a popular character that he was brought back in the second and third series of the original show and becomes a hero.
Desler's history is beside the point, he was a strong character in the original series and represented a very human opponent for Yamato's naval based adventures. He had plans, he and his generals used all sorts of tactics against our heroes; the Gamilas were not just monsters-of-the-week but an opposing military force with all the dynamism that should bring to story. (Which makes Yamato 2199 even better; there they are developed much further, gaining internal political dynamics that would make Westeros proud.)

Our foe in the 2010 is sometimes called Gamilas but also calls itself Dessler but is a wholly un-pathos generating energy being able to occupy and control an army of quasi-biological ships and troops. It manifests once as a blue crystalline humanoid reminiscent of our beloved dictator of Gamilas, but this is clearly a nod to fans rather than anything story based.This narrative choice is one that is understandable to an extent; there is a lot of story in Yamato and telling it in 2 hours is almost impossible. But the lack of a more substantive villain sucks alot of the drama from the story; instead we have a relatively faceless threat to earth and an ok rejigg of the original series twist of the nature of Iscandar.
The film itself is a pretty good attempt besides my lengthy gripe above. It's a distorted mirror of the animated series, many of the elements are there but shifted in not very subtle ways. Captain Okita and Navigation officer Shima are probably the only two characters who remain basically unchanged. (Although Shima is in a much reduced role to make Oxygen for the Kodai/Yuki romance) Dr Sado is now female but still a drunk, Science officer Sanada is less logical and more just a senior crewman
and Yuki is now the ace of the Black Tiger squadron. (Akira Yamamoto and Kato are pretty much bit players here.) Kodai is; well Kodai is the main character and this is very much emphasized here to an extent that the original and 2199 did not. (I'll talk about this next time more, but suffice to say the ship is the main character in the original series) He is also an extensively changed character; he is this time a retired ace pilot rather than a raw recruit and his joining the Yamato is a controversial return to service. He is much more a bad boy than a wild card, and this makes him a less dynamic character; his experiences on the Yamato don't teach him anything much as he is already a veteran. Instead it seems to be more about him coming to terms with his dislike of Captain Okita (who was the commander of the mission that his brother died in) and through that his dislike of command. (Basically he doesn't like the idea of his commands risking his charge's lives) Analyzer is basically reduced to a pocketwatch that talks but gets it's full proto-R2D2 look in the film's penultimate action sequence. (In which he kicks ass)
The film is pretty and much grittier in appearance than the animated; you really do feel that humanity has been forced to live in squalor underground by the Gamillas attacks and the thread of hope seems even more tenuous as a result. The CG is very good for the most part, shown off in a number of very nice set pieces. The battle for Mars at the start is very effective, though the FX sequences get thinner as the film goes on. (The Gamilas shock troops are pretty disappointingly designed sadly, but the ships are all top notch)
That I think is the live versions biggest issue, it seems to get thinner writing wise as it goes on and begins to stray from the source material more and more. There is also a brutal round of character killing in the third act, which would have been more effective if the minor characters were better established. For example; The Black Tigers apart from Yuki are just the Kodai fan squad. Their main role is to tell us (the audience) how awesome Kodai was before he left the military, so we really don't miss them very much when they get shot down. Kodai does all the awesome stuff in his Cosmo zero, and all the other fighter plane heroism is left to Yuki to establish that she is an ace.
The other *big* problem is the ending sequence, lifted from the non-cannon movie followup to the original animation "Farewell to Battleship Yamato". (It was decannonised because it was very unpopular replaced by a retelling of its story in a second series of the TV series) But the final sequence has to be the worst paced of any movie ever, seriously. After returning from Iscander with the radiation "device" to cure earth, Desslar appears on the bridge to lament his defeat. (We see him in his only humanoid guise for the film here) He then basically decides to launch a missile at the earth to spite the Yamato; what proceeds is a full fifteen minutes of dramatics while the slowest missile in history plummets towards the earth. Kodai orders evacuation and then has three long dramatic conversations attempting to convince him not to ram the missile with the ship. Meanwhile the FUCKING MISSILE THAT CAN BLOW UP EARTH HAS BEEN LAUNCHED. Fifteen minutes! But no i need to convince the crew to evacuate, ok now I need to convince Shima to release navigation and evacuate and then I need to convince Yuki (Who by the way is the host of the energy being who can cure earth's radiation) that she shouldn't stay and die with me because THAT WILL HAVE THE SAME EFFECT AS THE BOMB HITTING EARTH. That whole sequence kinda messes up any merit the film had as it sucks all the tension from the piece.
Its a fun watch, with some nice FX sequences, but it is ultimately a flat retelling. The only thing worse could be a US version...