LONDON – James Cameron’s latest feature film presents a science fiction dystopia that grapples with the female psyche through the experiences of a coming-of-age cyborg, the American movie director said on Monday.
The director and screenwriter explained that his new movie “Alita: Battle Angel” tells the story of the titular character Alita – a cyborg played by Rosa Salazar – who is found by cyborg medic Ido – played by Christopher Waltz – unconscious in a post-apocalyptic world three centuries after a technological catastrophe.
“I always like strong female characters, but this was a different approach because she is young, she’s adolescent, and she goes through an important moment in her becoming a woman and finding her identity, finding her place in the world,” Cameron explained.
The film is an adaptation of a 1990s manga anime hit series by Japanese artist Yukito Kishiro, a story Cameron first came into contact with thanks to fellow director and Mexican film-maker Guillermo del Toro at the time his daughter –now 26 – was only six years old.
“I thought I need to do something for her, I need to look at the world through the eyes of a young woman, sort of coming up and finding her place and this struck me as a way to do it, but in a fantasy science fiction kind of way,” the acclaimed director continued.
Several other projects delayed bringing Kishiro’s unlikely heroine to the big screen, but while Cameron was working on other movies, he handed the script over to American filmmaker Robert Rodriguez for editing.
“Robert Rodriguez really helped with that, he took my 189-page draft and condensed it to 129 pages, and I kind of took it with a bit of fear, because I thought I’m going to hate this he’s going to have taken out... He kept everything that was important. And that’s when I knew he was the guy that was going to create a great film. He wasn’t going to throw out the important things, he kept the heart, he kept the relationships and he figured out a way to condense it and make it work,” Cameron explained.
The movie has a decidedly cyberpunk aesthetic, with a mix of decadence and high-end technology, a powerful music score and staggering special effects which are particularly spectacular when viewed in 3D.
The director, a geek and perfectionist by his own account, addressed every detail apparent in the design of the elitist floating city of Zalem.
“Zalem is not really floating, it’s hanging from a space elevator and, since I’m very nerdy, the physics of a space elevator has to be at the equator, so it could have been in Singapore, could have been in Africa somewhere, or it could have been in Central America, and so we actually placed it in Panama,” the director said.
“And because he (Robert Rodriguez) is a Latino director, that made sense to him, so let’s bring in that flavor, let’s have lots of Spanish signage around.”
Ultimately, Cameron said, the movie would not have come into fruition were it not for American-Peruvian actress Salazar, who was able to portray Alita with a mix of ingenuity, generosity and strength.
Salazar’s performance was later processed with motion capture technology and had the computer-generated images not worked, the movie would probably have been ditched.
What is captivating about Alita as a character, the 64-year-old suggested, is that she is a fighter but has a great heart.
“She fights to protect those she loves, so you have to love first. I mean she’s not a soulless warrior, she’s not a machine, she’s quite the opposite, and even though she has a machine body she probably has the warmest heart of anybody in the story,” he said.
“You can see it in the poster when she puts the blood under her eye, that’s the blood of the innocent, that’s what she fights for,” Cameron concluded.
“Alita: Battle Angel,” a movie by 20th Century Fox, is set to screen across Latin America and Spain from Feb. 14.