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Tag Archive: Robert Rodriguez


Review by C.J. Bunce

A behind the scenes book for a 2019 movie, which consists of a third or more of its images from 2005?  As fascinating as the special effects developed for the film, the history of the movie merits its own book, and it gets it in Abbie Bernstein‘s Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie, now out from Titan Books.  It turns out executive producer James Cameron and artists were working on the pre-production of Alita: Battle Angel during the development of his film Avatar.  According to interviews with Cameron and Alita director Robert Rodriguez, in the early 2000s the technology was not yet advanced to deliver what they wanted for their adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s manga novel.  But now that it’s arrived, fans of the film can trace its development over the past 15 years.

Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie is filled with concept art, split between 2005 digital ideas in advance of knowing what actors might be cast and final characters developed, and a renewed look at the project as it began to get fully underway only a few years ago.  Key interviews with Rodriguez, Cameron, producer Jon Landau, production designers Caylah Eddleblute and Steve Joyner, art director Todd Holland, visual effects supervisors Richard Hollander and Eric Saindon, costume designer Nina Proctor, Weta Digital’s Joe Letteri, and others tell the story–a marriage of practical effects and CGI.  In fact the commenters almost seem to have a battle between those responsible between the practical effects and CGI–all with an eye toward realism.  The most interesting aspects of the discussion are the incorporation of Alita star Rosa Salazar’s motion capture (or per Rodriguez, “performance capture” since motion doesn’t include the “emotion” element required to make a story come together) with Proctor’s real-world costumes, and the CGI layering that ends up as the final image that made it to the screen.

No doubt a highlight of the film and of the book are detailed images of Alita’s cyborg body shell, as created by the character of Dr. Ido in the film.  In real life it looks incredibly porcelain, but the artists discuss how the body and all the components of the film were actually fabricated.  The commenters don’t reference their inspirations for the look of the Iron City in the film or its cyborg inhabitants, but fans of the genre will no doubt see the influences–from the borg designs to story elements–from films including Chappie, Elysium, District 9, Ex Machina, Ghost in the Shell, Mad Max: Fury Road, Cameron’s The Terminator, and even the light cycles of Tron.  Readers will learn more about the science behind the cyborgs in the film–how Cameron and others estimated weights of body parts, including Alita’s removable metal heart, as an example–all needed for 3D and CGI work and viewer believability.

Take a look inside Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie courtesy of the publisher:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Alita: Battle Angela could be just another space-age story.  It’s full of cyborgs (we love’ em), but it’s not standard fare for frequent sci-fi movie buffs and sci-fi readers.  Without the “distraction” of Robert Rodriguez’s special effects, you can really get to the heart of the movie’s story by going to the underlying source work it adapts, or in this case, its novelization, Alita: Battle Angel–The Official Novelization, by author Pat Cadigan, who also wrote last year’s Harley Quinn–Mad Love, reviewed here at borg.  The film is an adaptation of the manga Battle Angel: Alita by Yukito Kishiro, a story about self-discovery and empowerment via a centuries-old human brain that finds its way into the cybernetic body of what looks like a teen girl.  The film changes enough from the manga, incorporating several new characters and conflicts, that the novelization and film stand apart from Kishiro’s manga.  So how does the new story fare?

Above all, the biggest surprise is that Alita: Battle Angel–The Official Novelization is in every way a young adult novel, based on its protagonist, story structure, and the author’s writing style.  In fact the film may have missed a niche audience–as the studio targeted adult sci-fi buffs instead of fans of stories like the Divergent series, Twilight, The Maze Runner series, City of Ember, and Ender‘s GameEven more on-point, Alita: Battle Angel follows the same emotional highs and lows of The Hunger Games.  Both The Hunger Games and Alita: Battle Angel are teen heroine updates to both Rollerball (1975) and The Running Man (1987), but like some of the best science fiction they are also remakes of the oldest of them all, Frankenstein, and its descendant PinocchioBlend these four popular stories together and you can understand why James Cameron prepared 600 pages of development material for the Alita project he would ultimately produce into the film.

Pat Cadigan‘s storytelling is a mirror of the writing style and pacing of The Hunger Games’ novel writer, Suzanne Collins.  In a significant way, Alita: Battle Angel is a teen romance, a romance between Alita–an amnesiac cyborg who is primarily robotic but has a human brain–and her newfound human boyfriend Hugo.  Hugo is a street kid who helps her learn who she wants to be and how to survive on the streets of a futuristic Earth where everyone who isn’t a cyborg is mugging cyborgs to steal their parts and swap them for cash.  As with Katniss and Peeta in The Hunger Games, Alita and Hugo fall in love as they help each other and work together when faced with an onslaught of ever-increasing impediments to their survival.  And yes, this is another superheroine with a problem like the heroine in the new Captain Marvel movie.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We have a review of the first of three tie-in books to the new Robert Rodriguez film Alita: Battle Angel coming your way.  Alita: Battle Angel should appeal to any fan of cyborgs–the story as envisioned by James Cameron was a pet project of the director for several years, one he’d picked up from Guillermo del Toro.  When Cameron decided to pursue management of his several Avatar sequels directly and finally handed over the project to Rodriguez he did so with more than 600 pages of notes he’d prepared.  The film is an adaptation of the manga Battle Angel: Alita by Yukito Kishiro, a story about self-discovery and empowerment via a centuries-old human brain that finds its way into the cybernetic body of a young girl.  A part-time doctor, part-time bounty hunter, Doctor Ido, played in the film by two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, takes center stage in Alita: Battle Angel–Doctor Ido’s Journal, the new release by writer Nick Aires for Titan Books.

After losing his human daughter’s struggle to live, the Dr. Frankenstein-inspired Dr. Ido finds the “core” of a cyborg in a scrapyard with a surviving, living human brain.  He uses the prosthetics and futuristic body parts he’d designed for his daughter to rebuild a new girl, quasi-Pinocchio style, naming her Alita after his daughter.  The sci-fi story follows Alita as she tries to learn about her past and survive in a dystopian world that mixes inspirations from John Carpenter, Ridley Scott, Neill Blomkamp, and George Miller.  The visions of each of these directors’ best futuristic films comes through in Doctor Ido’s Journal, an in-universe document which reprints concept art, sketches, and photographs from the film, combining them with a diary entry narrative written by Aires in the place of Dr. Ido.  Doctor Ido’s Journal will be familiar to fans of Aires’ past in-universe books, including Oliver Queen’s Dossier, S.T.A.R. Labs: Cisco Ramon’s Journal, and Arrow: Heroes and Villains and works by others reviewed here, including Alien: The Weyland-Yutani Report, The Book of Alien: Augmented Reality Survival Manual, and the Batman v Superman Tech ManualFans will first find a cleverly designed flex-cover that mimics metal (a great design effect that would make for an attractive blank journal), followed by pages of dense notebook entries that track the action of the film, all from Dr. Ido’s perspective.

The artwork is exceptional, vivid engineering-level drawings like those found in Mark Salisbury’s Elysium: The Art of the Film, reviewed here at borg, and the combination of horror and beauty found in production artists Dan Hallett and Matt Hatton’s elaborate designs in Alien: Covenant: David’s Drawings, reviewed here (it’s worth noting the Weta Digital created much of the designs for both Alita: Battle Angel and Elysium, and the similarly realized scrap-metal worlds of Blomkamp’s District 9 and CHAPPIE).  At times the gear-heavy animatronics inside the cyborgs echo the real-world 19th century automaton past of these creations, making these modern borgs into something that feels almost steampunk.

Here are some preview pages from Alita: Battle Angel–Doctor Ido’s Journal courtesy of the publisher:

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borg Hall of Fame 2018

It’s been another long year of great entertainment.  Before we wrap our coverage of 2018, it’s time for the sixth annual round of new honorees for the borg Hall of Fame.  We have plenty of honorees from 2018 films and television, plus many from past years, and a peek at some from the future – 40 in all.  You can always check out the updated borg Hall of Fame on our home page under “Know your borg.”

Some reminders about criteria.  Borgs have technology integrated with biology.  Wearing a technology-powered suit alone doesn’t qualify a new member.  Tony Stark aka Iron Man was an inaugural honoree because the Arc Reactor kept him alive.  The new Spider-Man suit worn by Tom Holland is similar to Tony’s, but as far as we can tell it’s not integrated with Peter Parker’s biology.  Similarly Peni Parker, seen outside her high-tech SP//dr suit in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Black Manta from Aquaman (and decades of comics before), seem to be merely wearing tech suits.  We’d love a reason for a Mandalorian to make the cut, like Boba Fett, or Jango Fett, since nobody has more intriguing armor.  Maybe Jon Favreau’s new television series will give us something new to ponder next year.

Also, if the creators tell us the characters are merely robots, automatons, or androids, we take their word for it.  Westworld continues to define its own characters as androids (like Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Lt. Commander Data throughout the TV series), and not cyborgs (going back to Michael Crichton’s original story), so we continue this year to hold off on their admittance unless something changes, like the incorporation of living biological (blood, cells, etc.) materials.  Are we closing in on admitting individuals solely based on a breathing apparatus that may allow them to breathe to in non-native atmospheres?  Only if integrated (surgically).  Darth Vader has more borg parts than his breathing filter.  We assume new honoree Saw Gerrera does as well.  With more biological enhancements we’d allow Tusken Raiders, Moloch, and Two Tubes from the Star Wars universe, and Mordock the Benzite from Star Trek, but wouldn’t that also mean anyone in a deep sea suit or space suit is a cyborg?  Again, integration is key.  Ready Player One has humans interacting with a cyber-world with virtual reality goggles and other equipment, but like the Programs (as opposed to the Users) in the movie Tron, this doesn’t qualify as borg either, but we’re making an exception this year for the in-world Aech, who is a cyborg orc character, and two Tron universe characters.

Already admitted in 2017 were advance honorees that didn’t actually make it to the screen until 2018.  This included Josh Brolin’s new take on Cable in Deadpool 2 and Simone Missick’s Misty Knight after her acquisition of a borg arm in Marvel’s Luke Cage.  New versions of Robotman and Cyborg are coming in 2019 in the Doom Patrol series, but they are already members of the revered Hall of Fame.  Above are the new looks for these two earlier honorees.

So who’s in for 2018?

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One of the under-the-radar previews at this weekend’s San Diego Comic-Con was for the new James Cameron/Robert Rodriguez/Jon Landau sci-fi film, Alita: Battle Angel.  If you compare the trailer previewed Friday night at Horton Plaza’s Regal Theater to the earlier teaser from last December (see both below) you will see a stark difference, with clear improvements made in the interim in post-production, especially with the CGI face and movements for Alita the lead borg character in the film, with motion capture performance by Rosa Salazar.  Director Robert Rodriguez and producer and Oscar-winner Jon Landau headlined the panel Friday with Salazar and Keean Johnson, who plays Hugo.

WETA featured an Alita display at their booth. Hundreds of WETA Digital creators worked on the film.

Based on Yukito Kishiro’s manga comic Battle Angel Alita, the adaptation follows a doctor, played by Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz, whose character is the latest Geppetto, creating Alita, a cybernetic girl.  The screenplay, written by James Cameron, takes the common borg origin sub-genre of science fiction (Frankenstein, Pinocchio, Edward Scissorhands, Ghost in the Shell, etc.), to make the next sci-fi warrior heroine.  The film co-stars Michelle Rodriguez, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, and Jeff Fahey.

Check out the trailer for Alita: Battle Angel:

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Three hundred channels and nothing on television to watch this weekend?  Before John Wesley Shipp played Barry Allen on the original series The Flash, Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno starred in the best superhero television series since The Six Million Dollar Man in The Incredible Hulk.  For five seasons, from 1977 to 1982, The Incredible Hulk broke new ground on television, an early step in the history of superheroes coming to life on the screen.  This weekend Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network is hosting a marathon of the entire series run.

Originally airing Friday nights on CBS 40 years ago, The Incredible Hulk would be nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards, winning one for Mariette Hartley’s performance as Dr. David Bruce Banner’s wife.  Years before Scott Bakula’s Sam Beckett would wander the map attempting to help people in need on Quantum Leap, David Banner was doing similar good deeds, hitchhiking across the country, a lone scientist trying to find a way “to control the raging spirit that dwells within him,” caused by exposure to gamma radiation thanks to the mind of writer Stan Lee and pen of Jack Kirby.

Look for plenty of early performances by actors that would later appear in well-known genre roles, like Simon & Simon’s Gerald McRaney, Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Diana Muldaur and Mark Lenard, Deep Space Nine’s Marc Alaimo, Robert O’Reilly, Andrew Robinson, and Rosalind Chao, Lassie and Battlestar Galactica’s Anne Lockhart, Ghostbusters’ Ernie Hudson, Creature from the Black Lagoon’s Julie Adams, Castle’s Susan Sullivan, and WKRP in Cincinnati’s Loni Anderson and Gordon Jump.

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BTTF set October

One October 21, 2015, the future will finally arrive.  Back in 1985 director Robert Zemeckis joined forces with producers Steven Spielberg and Bob Gale to begin one of the most beloved sci-fi trilogies of all time with Back to the Future.  In 1989 Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown time traveled to the future to October 21, 2015, and in conjunction with the movie’s 30th anniversary, select theaters will bring the movies back for a limited showing, and new Blu-Ray & DVD boxed sets of the trilogy and animated series will be released.

Cast members Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson met with fans in London at a convention this weekend, taking this great photo (from Thompson’s Facebook feed):

BTTF crew July 17 2015 from Lea Thompson Facebk

The single most popular acting work Michael J. Fox is known for is the series (in addition to Family Ties and Spin City), and yet Zemeckis began the original film, and actually filmed a good part of it, with Mask actor Eric Stoltz in the lead as Marty McFly.  Watch the Zemeckis segment of Robert Rodriguez’s excellent series The Director’s Chair on the El Rey Network for more great trivia about Back to the Future, previewed here:

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El Rey network logo

If you haven’t yet caught sight of the El Rey network on your cable line-up, make sure you stop and check it out.  From the mind of pulp film director Robert Rodriguez, known best for his Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Spy Kids, the Sin City movies, Grindhouse’s Planet Terror, and Machete, the El Rey network is a recently developed partnership between Rodriguez and Univision being picked up across the U.S. by Time Warner Cable, Comcast, and DirecTV, certain to have something entertaining for any fan of all-things-retro.  It’s tagline provides the short version of what you’ll find:  Where fans, aficionados and rebels come for their fix of bullets, blood and curated classics.  Its target is English-speaking Latino audiences, but it has a much broader appeal.

El Rey is the newest home for grindhouse movies, kung fu and other tough guy flicks, cult horror, and retro/classics.  Shows include tailored commercials and intentionally worn and grainy “bumpers” to give a dated feel, with familiar-sounding voiceover actors that highlight the series’ gritty and retro themes.  You’ll find classic series like The X-Files, Miami Vice, and Starsky and Hutch, and movies like John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, Steven Spielberg’s Duel, and kung-fu features like The Kid With the Golden Arm.

Rodriquez and Carpenter

The best from the network so far is original programming like The Director’s Chair, where director Robert Rodriguez interviews some of our favorite genre moviemakers.  The first guest in the series was John Carpenter, one of borg.com‘s all-time favorite directors, known best for Halloween, but also for Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Fog, The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and They Live.   Rodriguez’s interview is a treat for Carpenter fans, providing insight and anecdotes from Carpenter chatting about his films.  And Rodriguez, who seems a young director at 46, goes all fanboy throughout his interview, which you rarely see in shows like this.  It works here, because if you’re watching this type of show you’re likely a fanboy or fangirl, too.

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Eva Green Sin City Dame to Kill For

After the original Sin City, the 2005 film adaptation of Frank Miller’s 1993 graphic novel from Dark Horse Comics brought to the screen by co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, it might take a lot to get audiences back in the theaters for a sequel.  But Miller has a big comic book fan base, and Rodriquez several fans of his slightly askew action flicks, so it’s not that big of surprise a studio is taking another run at the Sin City universe.

Lions Gate has now released its trailer for Sin City:  A Dame to Kill For.  If the preview won’t get you into the theater, the great cast list might be enough to add this one to a future Netflix queue.  Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson, Jamie King, and Powers Booth all are returning from the original film, and adding Jeremy Piven, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin, Christopher Meloni, Eva Green, and Ray Liotta (with rumors of Lady Gaga and Christopher Lloyd making appearances).

Sin City Dame to Kill For

As with the original movie, the sequel certainly has its own comic book noir style, although it certainly borrows a lot from Dick Tracy–plenty of “dames” in seedy places, car chases, ugly and gruff villains, and just as ugly and gruff good guys (or at least they are almost good guys).  As with Alan Moore, his books and film adaptations, Miller’s work tends to be just as polarizing.  You love it or you hate it.

Here is the trailer for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For:

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Machete-Kills-Poster

So how long will it be before we see Machete in Space?

Danny Trejo fans (you know who you are), take note.  This one is for you.

In 2010 Danny Trejo was asked whether his 1960s throwback, Robert Rodriguez-directed Grindhouse film Machete was all there was or whether it would be the beginning of a series.  Trejo answered that he wanted to make Machete Kills, Machete Kills Again, and finally Machete in Space.  The first of those sequels is finally real, and yesterday the first trailer was released in all its great, intentionally low-budget quality glory.

The first film, Machete, starred Trejo in the lead role along with an all-star cast, including Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, and Don Johnson.  Machete Kills again stars Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriquez, and Electra Avellan, adding to the cast both big and little known actors like Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson, Cuba Gooding, Jr., William Sadler, Amber Heard, Sofia Vergara, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexa Vega, and Lady Gaga.  And, as you’ll see in this preview, Machete Kills introduces the actor born as Carlos Estevez following in his father Martin Sheen’s footsteps as a U.S. President.

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