Monday, September 5, 2011

Space Battleship Yamato - Movie Review

Here's another DVD-review that I'm doing stand alone, as this movie was not released in the US and still hasn't even been released on DVD in the US. This is an import DVD I had to buy from an overseas vendor.

For those of you, like me, that grew up watching Star Blazers, this is the live-action version made and released in Japan back in 2010. There was actually a good amount of hype for Space Battleship Yamato on the various sci-fi sites out there. They even got Steven Tyler to record a (hugely cheesy) song for the credits, which I'm sure was an attempt to make people think of Armageddon and Aerosmith with "Don't Want to Miss a Thing".

Anyway, Space Battleship Yamato follows a streamlined version of the first season of the cartoon; an alien race, the Gamilas, bombards Earth with radioactive meteors forcing humans underground. The alien's plan is to make our planet like theirs, killing us in the process and then they can inhabit Earth. I might be wrong about them wanting to make our planet like theirs, but they definitely want us out.

Just as things are starting to look like humanity isn't to make it, a mysterious message is received that promises a technology that will allow us to fix the Earth. The catch is that we have to go the planet Iscandar to get it. Fortunately, they also sent us plans to create a warp drive and weaponry to allow us to make the flight. The humans add this technology to an old battleship, the Yamato (the Argo in the US version), and it's off to the stars to save the Earth. We have a year to get to their planet and then back before the Earth is doomed.

There's actually not much to Yamato. They go to Iscandar, warp a bunch of a times, have a bunch of space battles, reach Iscandar, and then come back to Earth. If you watched the cartoon, you pretty much already know how this is going to play out.

The cartoon was told over a 26 episode season, so it's going to be hard to capture everything that happens in a 2 hour and 15 minute movie. A lot of the character's personalities and development are going to be lost. That's to be expected though. As long as they get the basics right, then they should be okay.

The effects were really good and were what I would have hoped for in a live-action version of Star Blazers. They did a great job of capturing the same look of the ships and outfits from what I remember as a kid. I thought the Yamato looked great! I heard the budget for the movie wasn't all that high, so it would appear they really spent their money well. The movie does not look like it was made cheaply.

I really liked the space battle scenes. The opening scene was pretty bad ass and really set the tone. I was pumped to see how the movie would play out at that point. The movie really works best when the space battle scenes occur. There was a small issue I had though and that was that some of the fighter scenes were so fast, it seemed hard to believe that a human pilot would have been able to keep up. It was hard enough just to follow the action at times as a viewer. Imagine being the pilot. Also, whenever they fired the Wave Motion Gun it felt easy to the point where it was almost anti-climactic. That was how the cartoon was though, so again, this wasn't a huge issue.

Unfortunately, there were a few things I didn't like about Space Battleship Yamato.

My first gripe is how they changed the villains. In the U.S. Star Blazers, the enemies were the Gamilons (Gamilas in the original), a raced of blue-skinned aliens lead by Desslok (Desslar in Japan). In the live-action version, they've been changed a collective consciousness that inhabit generic, faceless robots. I really didn't like this change. It took away the human element of the enemies. Now they were just fighting generic, CG-robots. The robots didn't look very good either and there were TONS of them in certain scenes. I have to wonder if this was a budget thing or maybe they thought it would be easier to go with CG instead of hiring actors and painting their skin blue?

Originally, the mysterious message was sent by Queen Starsha from Iscandar, which was the twin planet of the Gamilas' homeworld. In the movie, there is no queen and it's revealed that Iscandar is basically a faction of the Gamilas collective consciousness that doesn't agree with what the Gamilas are doing and wants to help the humans. Again, this is a change that I just don't understand.

I really didn't like the ending. I don't know why Japanese films always have to have a bittersweet ending where one or more of the main characters die. This didn't happen in the original, so I didn't see the need to change things here.

Plus, the pettiness of the Gamilas in the movie was a little annoying. From what I recall of the cartoon, Desslok eventually learns to respect the humans and backs off. I think this happened in the second season though. In the movie, Dessla decides that the Gamilas no longer want the Earth. However, if they can't have Earth, nobody can, and try to blow up Earth. Um...that's mature. Imagine me stealing your car, then telling you I don't want it anymore, but instead of giving it back, I light it on fire.

Despite trying to summarize the entire first season in a movie, Yamato's run time felt too long. There were many scenes were it just felt like they were staring at nothing, staring at each other for too long, or hanging on lines of dialog. They could have tightened up these scenes and got the running time down closer to 2 hours. Towards the end, I was starting to get antsy and wanted them to just get on with it.

Maybe it's a cultural thing or something was lost in translation, but the character interaction was very unusual to me. The dialog and behavior felt really weird and silly at time. Also, there seemed to be times where characters were mad at each other and ready to fight for no real reason. I guess you could say that it had a very cartoon-like feel and maybe that's what they were going for. The overall tone of the movie is so serious though that the silliness didn't work and felt out of place.

I didn't hate Space Battleship Yamato. I'm glad I was finally able to check it out, but I just came a way from it disappointed. It was just a little lacking in a few areas. I hate to say make an American version of this, but I think if you got a competent director and screenwriter, you might really have a hit here. There's nothing about the basics of this story that wouldn't translate and make for a good film. It makes me a little more hopeful for the Robotech movie I keep hearing getting kicked around every once in a while.

You may not ever get a chance to watch the live-action Space Battleship Yamato, but if you get a chance and you were fan of the cartoon as a kid, it's worth a watch...once. If I watch this again, I'm just going to watch the space battle scenes and skip everything else.

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