Warner Home Video
Cast: Luci Christian, David Matranga, Ai Kobayashi, Jurota Kosugi
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes
"Appleseed: Ex Machina" is a sequel to a previous installment from 2004 called "Appleseed", which is directed by the same Japanese director, Shinji Aramaki and adapted from an immensely popular manga series from Shirow Masamune, who was responsible for "Ghost In The Shell". This new version is almost completely computer generated (with a little hand drawn and 2D thrown in here and there) and is produced by John Woo, who was responsible for the 1992 action packed classic "Hard Boiled" and in recent years has become much more immersed in Hollywood projects than Japanese action cinema, including the sequel to "Mission Impossible" and of course "Face/Off" starring Nicolas Cage and John Travolta. Regardless of his actual input, which I will discuss later, it is obvious that the creators were inspired by his type of visual style and the action scenes are very apparent homages to him. I am reviewing the English dubbed version and have credited the voice actors and actresses from that version.
This futuristic sci-fi action tale takes place in 2199, in a city called Olympus, which is populated by humans living side by side with cyborgs and bio engineered humanoids called 'bioroids'. All of the women seem equally genetically enhanced to appeal to horny teenaged boys (or perhaps just men in general). It's funny how much this futuristic society resembles our own, especially when you see all the people walking around the street with their bluetooth headsets and see the kids skating through the stores with those stupid roller skate tennis shoes, it seems as if we are actually trying to become more like machines ourselves. Not to mention what medical technology is doing for some.
In fact one of the main characters in the film is a plucky little female warrior named Deunan Knute (Luci Christian) and her partner/lover/cyborg named Brialeos Hecatombcales (David Matranga). It is following up from the first film, which I didn't see, but had the same love story apparently, except in the prequel Brialeos was all man, but suffered an injury during battle. They now fight side by side for an elite force known as E.S.W.A.T., but they suffer a major setback in the opening sequence, when Brialeos is injured once again as they battle futuristic terrorists. It puts him in the hospital and somehow a genetic version of him is created to temporarily replace him as Deunan's partner. The new replicant…I mean bioroid…is named Terius and his resemblance bothers Deunan at first (until she finds out it was created from Brialeos' own DNA), but she eventually gets over it and so does Brialeos, and they eventually decide to fight evil as a threesome, complete with the male competition and cheesy one liners you may expect, like "Not bad… for a copy!", and so on.
Still, as silly as the love triangle may sound, and it is pretty cheesy, especially with the underwhelming voice acting and emotionless digital faces, there is plenty of action packed scenes and futuristic vistas to be witnessed when the entire fate of the world hangs in the balance after the city starts to become attacked multiple times and it is up to this unlikely trio to not only solve the riddle but ultimately fight together against the terror that threatens the lives of everyone.
This series of attacks is perpetrated not only by humans, but also cyborgs and eventually we become aware that they are being manipulated by an electronic force that manipulates them into taking part in this orgy of destruction unwittingly. And the action scenes are truly well done and packed with explosions along with lots of fights and gunplay. If you can get over the insane and annoying amount of times Brialeos gets into a tight spot and Deunan screams out "Brialeos, noooo!", then you may just love this film. It is obviously nothing more than a very well done cut scene from a video game, and its influences are quite obvious, including "Blade Runner" and "The Matrix". Still, with all of its obvious flaws, I was sucked in by the action scenes and thought the romance was unintentionally funny. If you thought "Beowolf" was cold and sterile and lifeless, you should see this! And the poorly written dialogue as perhaps awkwardly lost in translation, but I doubt it, because I cracked up over the amount of times they cussed like teenagers in a locker room. And this is of course the main audience for this film. Don't get me wrong, though, if you are a fan of this type of film or perhaps loved the first one, this may be just what you are looking for, I found it so bad that I actually enjoyed it.
The video portion surprised me, though. And not really in a good way. I expected since it was mostly CGI that it would be just utterly fantastic looking but I was a little disappointed in the end, because it rarely had that three dimensional pull that makes titles like this stand out above all others, regardless of the content. "Beowulf" and "Shrek The Third" were perhaps terrible, but they looked outstanding. This title did not. I'm sure much of it must certainly be the style in which it was directed, as it has a very hazy and soft look to it throughout, and for a digital film it looks very film-like. The colors are also somewhat washed out. I'm sure most of this was intentional, but I'm also sure that the color banding and compression issues that riddle this release from the beginning are certainly not on purpose. I have a feeling it could have looked much better, I'm sure of it. If you are expecting to be impressed with some high end video, you will need to look somewhere else. Unfortunately, this title just doesn't rise to the occasion like I thought it might.
One area that did surprise me though was in the audio department, featuring a 5.1 track in English and Japanese. The film is filled with tons of explosions and gunfire and surround effects to give all of your speakers a solid workout, and I was surprised at how immersive it turned out to be – although I was a little surprised it didn't feature a Dolby TrueHD track.
The special features start off with a commentary that is advertised as filmmaker commentary but is actually an interview with producer Joseph Chu (and in English). It is very informative and insightful. This guy is very passionate about his work and proud of the feature and also has a vast knowledge of the processes involved in making such a film, at the same time it isn't overly technical and is actually pretty entertaining throughout.
'Team Up: John Woo and Shinji Aramaki' runs only 16 minutes but really covers the whole production from the storyboard process all the way through to the end. Pretty fascinating watching these two team up to make a widely anticipated feature film.
'East Meets West' runs about nineteen minutes and explores our fascination with the Eastern animation genre. Very informative and enlightening, especially if you are a newcomer.
'The Appleseed Chronicles' is twenty minutes and covers the whole history of the 'Appleseed' manga and the original film project and is very well done. I actually wish I would have watched this feature before I watched the film itself.
'Revolution: Animating Ex Machina' is nineteen minutes and covers the animation process itself. Pretty technical, but well done, especially if you are a fan of CGI and how they perfect it.
This is a very well rounded and decent amount of supplements in my opinion, and they certainly add to the film, especially if you are a fan, and if you aren't these features do give you a different perspective.
While I may not have been blown away by the feature, it did have some very well done action sequences and I really did enjoy some of the gadgets and futuristic gizmos displayed throughout the film, so if you are a fan of this genre and this manga in general, you may actually love it. Unfortunately I feel they could have done a little better in the video department, although the audio and special features will likely make up for this in some peoples eyes, because both of those areas are very well covered. In the end I felt like I was watching a video game, though, and that's not really my idea of fun.