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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Alita: Battle Angel

“Hellboy” also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

The most striking thing about Alita (Rosa Salazar), the titular heroine of Robert Rodriguez’s PG-13 yet still pretty violent “Alita: Battle Angel,” is her eyes, which are larger than normal. My mind immediately rushed back to a 2014 Tim Burton movie called “Big Eyes,” which co-starred Christoph Waltz. Waltz is also in “Alita” as Dr. Ido, who specializes in cybernetics. Is Waltz drawn to projects in which characters have oversize eyes, or is this a mere coincidence? One is left to ponder.

Eyes aside, Dr. Ido is a mature, fatherly figure. After finding the “core” of Alita (head and heart) intact in a scrap yard dumped down by overhead floating city Zalem (yup-another sci-fi movie with an extremely unsubtle class metaphor), he uses a cybernetic body he already had at his shop to reconstruct her. The fact that he cares for her, has compassion, and gives her breasts in proportion to her body type is all we really need to see to understand this character and his intentions.

Alita’s creation also gives the movie an opportunity to explain its reality without having to write a big exposition dump in the beginning or have a voice over narrator bring everyone up to speed. We know from the funny opening logo in which 20th Century Fox becomes 26th Century Fox and a little blurb in the beginning that this is the future and there was a “Fall” that laid waste to the planet. The rest of the society that they live in, the city above them, rogue police agents called “Hunter-Warriors,” and an exciting game called Motorball (most fun made up game since Quidditch) are all explained as the story unfolds and Alita asks questions to Dr. Ido and love interest Hugo (Keean Johnson), whose jacket and bandana look I am sure Rodriguez modeled after himself. We learn about this world at the same time as she does.

Alita is also a bit of a mystery herself, and Dr. Ido and Hugo both have secrets of their own. What makes the screenplay by writers James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis (based on the graphic novel series "Gunnm" by Yukito Kishiro) great is the way it is constructed to dole out the reveals at the right times to keep the action moving forward and give the audience just enough information to understand what’s happening until the next reveal. The movie constantly asks “What’s next?” and provides the answers at the proper time.

A screenplay can only do so much though, and the fast (but never rushed) pacing of the movie owes a lot to Rodriguez, who keeps his characters—and the camera—moving to create a lot of energy. I also appreciate a director who works with a choreographer to put time and effort into staging action scenes, and films them in a way to give a sense of spatial relationships and clarity as to who is doing what. Rodriguez never went for the shaky cam/constant cut approach to action scenes, and was right to stay away from the trend. He took the time while so many others were doing it to develop his eye and improve his technique, and it’s on full display in “Alita.” Buy it.

Also New This Week

Hellboy

I like “Hellboy” but I don’t like this movie. What I mean is that I am a fan of the two “Hellboy” movies from 2004 and 2008 that were directed by Guillermo del Toro and starred Ron Perlman as Hellboy. The prospect of a re-launch after over ten years excited me. Then I watched it. My excitement dwindled fast.

This take on “Hellboy,” directed by Neil Marshall and starring David Harbour as the title character, wants to be hip, irreverent, and cheeky, but the tone doesn’t work for the material and it all falls completely flat. Sure, in the previous movies Perlman’s Hellboy had a bit of a sardonic streak, but they were your typical tough guy quips and felt true to the character. Harbour’s Hellboy comes across more like a broody, smart-alecky teen, not helped by the fact that he says “Dad” a lot. Though Dad, played by Ian McShane, is the best thing in the movie.

While the prosthetics on Harbour are top notch and he looks good, the rest of the CGI either looks too rubbery or too plastic. The irony is that if practical effects made out of rubber or plastic were used instead of CGI, they would have looked more real than the CGI effects. The script is utter rushed nonsense, with either poorly explained character motivations or none at all, no clarity on Hellboy’s powers, and a story that tries to do too much with too little. Go back and watch the older “Hellboy” movies for your “Hellboy” fix. As for this incarnation, Skip it.

More New Releases: “The Missing Link,” animated movie about a scientist who goes to the Pacific Northwest to find a living remnant of Man’s ancestry, starring the voice talents of Zoe Saldana, Hugh Jackman, Timothy Olyphant, Emma Thompson, Zach Galifianakis, and Stephen Fry; and “Assimilate,” about two friends who need to warn the world that people are being killed and replaced by duplicates, starring Joel Courtney, Calum Worthy, and Cam Gigandet.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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