Summon the ghost of Christmas yet-to-come and read the scoop before it even happens.
Summon the ghost of Christmas yet-to-come and read the scoop before it even happens.
Will James Cameron Screw Up Battle Angel Alita?
After we all shrugged with the latest Hollywood's attempts to adapt Anime classics like Ghost in the Shell, fear for what will happen to the beloved Alita franchise in the hands of James Cameron arises.
When I first saw Kyle Reese materializing out of the thin air onto a dark sky of the 90’s, fall naked on a dirty back alley, steal some homeless man’s pissed-stained pants, then desperately flee away from cops and from a future devastated by murdering robots in “The Terminator”, cross my heart, I thought I was seeing double. The scene had been taken right out of Harlan Ellison’s opening for a 1964’s Outer Limits episode called “Soldier from Tomorrow”!
Of course that, Harlan Ellison being Harlan Ellison, sued James Cameron after spending one-hour forty-eight minutes watching how his rights as an author, as a creator, hadn’t been respected. Those who knew Harlan best know that the man was as sweet as cotton candy, but they can also attest of how hard and bitter he often was with those who (willingly or not) made the abysmal mistake of wronging him.
The result of Cameron’s adventures was, besides a one of the most successful movies in cinema’s history, a juicy settlement in Harlan’s favor and a very prominent, very notorious on-screen acknowledgment. Thus, at the end of the last scene, just moments after Sarah Conor drives away in her red jeep towards a stormy horizon, viewers are informed that everything they saw has been inspired by Harlan’s teleplay for the Outer Limits:
the works of
Oh boy, does that hurt or what? The hair in the soup. The fly in the milk. To Cameron, a line of credit in his debut that he will continue to despise while alive. To Ellison and the every writer in the industry, a the stone that brought down Goliath.
Though that wouldn’t be the last time Master James Cameron had issues with the source material, I am afraid. Shocking, I know. There has been court claims for copyright infringement filled for almost every movie the famous director has been involved, either as a director or producer. From The Terminator (stated above), to True Lies, Titanic and even Avatar (not to mention the elephant in the room the size of Nickelodeon’s building). All blockbusters. All plagued by the dull belly dance of copyright attorneys.
Does that means the man steals everything that falls onto his lap? Not at all. The creative process can be hard for some artists, especially when a large part of their day consists of a rich diet of manuscripts. Some writers I’ve met often refuse to read anything at all when they are in the process of writing a major work. They hope that will be enough to keep their minds from playing tricks on them since (believe me) there is no fun in having to rewrite entire portions of a manuscript because what it was read for leisure the night before, sneakily found its way to the work of the next morning.
Nonsense! Heresy! One can’t start limiting the creative mind out of fear! It is a tapestry of every experience we ever had in our lives! Its mere fibert its made out of us, sitting at the cinema, reading that book in the park, watching the Saturday morning cartoons, browsing comics at the shop, playing board games, video games, talking to friends, overhearing conversations at a elevator or before crossing the street! Everything! Everything that we ever found in our way gets copied, cataloged, and archived into that infinite library of thoughts that is our creativity, so we can use it later through our subconscious mind in our works. Those who deny their loves, loose their train to the land of dreams and madness.
And it is in the daunting task of creation that inspiration becomes an unavoidable process–and a very necessary one. Go re-watch Star Wars and you will find some traces of Kurosawa films in the sands of tatooine you hadn’t seen before. Find a copy of the beautiful “8½” and tell me Quentin Tarantino didn’t got inspired by Federico Felini for the dance scene in Pulp Fiction. Put on your boots and go hunt the white whale yourself, then dare to argue that Herman Melville hadn’t been secretly in love with William Shakespeare when he had Starbuck and Ishmael and Ahab and Pequod, steadily rowing with their harpoons ready towards death itself.
James Cameron might be at fault for failing to recognize (at times) the many waterfalls of inspiration that fill the fountain of creativity he often drinks from to delight us with his magnificent movies. But the man is no thief, merely an artist.
Thus, the fear with Alita (which he is producing) lays not with copyright infringement, but in the possibility of him committing an equally damaging sin. A sin that is being carried with a strangely sickening pleasure nowadays by Hollywood at large; the willingly act of ignoring the importance of the source material.
The atrocious case of Ghost in the Shell can be cited as an example of the horrors that such fault brings upon those who dare to walk among those tombstones. Granted, there are things that simply can’t be translated into a movie, no matter how good or how artistically talented a director might be. But these cases often limit to film versions of books, where there are no preexistent visual material other than the cover (with rare and obvious exceptions).
In the inverse case of a comics made out of a books or a existing film, or even from an Anime movie, it is usually a standard practice to respect the source material. The art can be sketchy, true, but that doesn’t damages the storyline at all.
Live action films, in the other hand, seem to do everything in their power to shred the franchise into oblivion so no one else will dare to use it again for a movie. Prominent disasters include the rare case of the Dragon Ball The Movie, Michael Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and, more recently, Netflix’s Death Note.
But back to Ghost in the Shell.
From the choice to have Scarlet Johansen as the leading actress (clearly far from portaiting Motoko Kusanagi to the big screen) to liberties taken in perhaps one of the most important aspects of the franchise; its world.
Just to cite an example, in the iconic scene where Motoko is getting ready to jump from a building’s rooftop, there is a large neon-sign behind her reading MASEJ. That sign its nowhere to be seen in neither the manga version or the anime.
So, from where does that incredibly prominent sign comes from? And what does MACIEJ means? It turns out that Maciej its the name of one of the main concept artists who worked on the movie. Besides bringing in giant holograms only because someone producer took a peek at Blade Runner 2049 script and thought it would be a swell idea to have them on Ghost in the Shell too, the man decided to place his last name in one of the concepts, which later found its way into the final production (something the people in charge of visual effects had to cover up by making a cute story about being a “homage” to Maciej, though they never specified why an unknown concept artist should be homaged in a movie for a Manga he has never had any part into).
The whole production it’s plagued with those kinds of sins. Will Cameron slip on that banana peel? Not likely; the man is a professional.
And because he is a professional, there is still hope for Battle Angel Alita! Huge hopes! For where James Cameron ends, Robert Rodriguez begins. One tiny look at the masterful Sin City, an afternoon spent chasing criminals with The Spirit or enjoying Sin City: A Dame to Kill, are without doubts enough to realize that the man knows exactly how to shoot a film while respecting the source material.
He doesn’t looks down on writers or comics artists at all. He’s a fan. Actually, Robert Rodriguez its way more than a simple fan. He is (along with Tim Burton, Spielberg, George Lucas, Zack Snyder and Guillermo Del Toro) one of the few movie directors who can gift us crazy Manga lovers what we have been really hoping for from a live action version of our beloved franchises.
When Ray Bradbury was called by John Huston to write the screenplay of Moby dick, he spent an awful amount of time in Ireland not being able to do justice to the book. The reason was familiarly worrisome: he had not read the source material. It was too long, too intimidatingly slow to him. Not that the story is boring at all; it simply wasn’t his kind of book.
After months not being able to write down coherent scenes for the screenplay, and with John Huston tearing apart page after page at the end of the day, Bradbury decided to sit down and actually take the time to go through the book. He re-read Moby Dick, from scratch, although he had gone through big chunks of it already perhaps a dozen times and knew it from memory.
The result was nothing short of magical. Bradbury states that, upon finishing reading the book, the scent of fresh sea air fill his room. Tired, he went to sleep, but woke startled not long after, jumping out of bed straight into the bathroom. He looked himself onto the mirror, moved almost to tears and screamed “I am Herman Melville!”.
What followed were the forty pages of screenplay that were missing to start hunting for the White Whale, plus, a full re-write done in one sitting supervised by the ghost of Herman Melville. At last, Bradbury had become a fan, and so did everyone who will see the Ahab of Gregory Peck.
Perhaps it’s time for some movie directors to take the time to discover how to become in love with the source material before screaming “action” in front of an shrugging audience and wonders why someone would want to add to something that’s already perfect.