Appleseed Ex Machina
Intro: I wrote this review just after watching Ex Machina some years back. My views on the movie have not changed, so am happy to republish it, but since writing several other Appleseed pieces have been released, Appleseed XIII and Appleseed ‘Alpha’. And of course I never wrote about the 2004 film. To complete the circle, I am going to look at all 4 releases, starting with Ex Machina.
Anyone into modern animation should be familiar with the work of Japan’s Production I.G. Where Studio Ghibli has, and continues to, produce some of the greatest traditionally animated Japanese classics such as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Totoro, Production I.G pushes the boundaries of what one can do with traditional techniques like in the series ‘FLCL’ and blended 3D technologies such as in the brilliant Ghost In the Shell films.
Well, Production I.G was not involved with ex Machina… unfortunately.
2004’s Appleseed. Stylised 3d Anime. It worked well…
Based on the thought provoking work of Shirow Manasune (Ghost in the Shell and Dominion, Orion etc.), directed by action film master John Woo, and even having Prada get in the act for some ‘costume’ design, 2007’s Appleseed Ex Machina was set to stun its audience with a tour de force of style, technique and storyline, if the first film was anything to go by .
The 2004 Appleseed movie, directed by Sumiji Miyake (Executive Producer of Ex Machina), introduced us to a refined, yet stylised, use of 3D for both characters and environment. While clearly 3D, it was produced in such a way so as not to give the impression of hyper-realism, as in say the Final Fantasy movies of 2001 and 2005. In many ways, 2004’s Appleseed had a true feel of taking traditional Manga/Anime stylings and turning them to 3D. Unfortunately though, Ex Machina took this as the starting point and pushed it probably further than it could, or should go.
2007’s Appleseed. ‘Realistic’ 3D Anime. It worked… not so well.
While in many aspects the design and 3D work in Ex Machina is brilliant – super detailed, well put together and beautifully thought out. It sits on the edge of being realistic without being hyper real. While that might be OK for the set and hardware design, when it comes to the characters, seeing what are clearly stylised Manga/Anime characters look real enough to be, well, real, makes the whole film seem awkward and uncomfortable. What’s worse, when something looks real, there is no room for sloppy bits and unfortunately in this case key focal elements such as hands are bad, so much so in fact that one becomes fixated to just how bad they are. As they say, “God is in the details”.
So what about the film itself? Basically the storyline is a stinker, or at least in the way it was laid down it is; personally do not think Shirow could have been too impressed. The English voice acting is poor, the leader of the ESWAT team sounds like he is permanently pissed off and suffering from cramps while the rest just of the cast sound half interested. And while John Woo might make great action films, the direction on this could best be described as comical. Forced action scenes and highly unlikely scenarios, it just comes over of as ‘let’s do it because we can’. Where the ’04 film had plausible action, with plenty of ’cause and effect’, ultimately making it very watchable and even ‘believable’, Ex Machina is just a string of glorified CG Anime silliness.
I could go on but I won’t. I had waited for quite some time for this to hit DVD locally; being a long time fan of Shirow’s work, I truly enjoyed the 2004 Appleseed film for it’s story and execution. This installment though left me feeling let down. While it definitely has it’s moments of ‘goodness’, Ex Machina is more a film for true Anime geeks than for those who see animation as a legitimate art form which should be executed accordingly.
Here’s some screaming, and shooting, madness from Ex Machina