Movie Review: Appleseed
By Robert K. Elder, Tribune Staff Writer
Everyone has an awkward, ugly-duckling period.
For Macaulay Culkin, it was "Getting Even with Dad" (1994). Haley Joel Osment, post-"Secondhand Lions," is experiencing it right now.
So is computer animation.
While Pixar and a few other studios are gracefully navigating this puberty period of 3-D animation, DreamWorks' "Polar Express" never quite shook off the creepy, reanimated-corpse feel of its human characters.
Worse, in Shinji Aramaki's "Appleseed," human characters look like 2-D figures thumbtacked onto beautiful 3-D backgrounds. Even this wouldn't be as distracting if so many of the film's most compelling characters weren't already 3-D, computer-animated humanoids. In the clash of 2-D and 3-D images, "Appleseed" emerges as the cracked-voiced, pasty-faced example of computer animation's clumsy adolescence. If the film's problems ended there and carried us along on a skillfully constructed story, we might be inclined to forgive its blemishes. But Aramaki's film is so full of guffaw-inducing lines and translation problems that "Appleseed" on the screen never fulfills the promise of its comic-book predecessor.
In the late 1980s, "Appleseed" benefited from the popularity of its manga (Japanese comic book) sibling "Akira." Both were entrenched in post-apocalyptic worlds, both essentially meditations on the next generation of human evolution.
In the movie, as in the manga, we're introduced to hardboiled female soldier Deunan Knute (voiced by Jennifer Proud), battling for survival in a forgotten wasteland - until she's rescued by the police force of the utopian city Olympus. Though she thought him dead, her former military commander and lover Briareos (voiced by James Lyon) - now a rabbit-eared metal cyborg - acts as her guide in this new world that treats her like a pawn.
Knute may hold the key in the political struggle between "bioroids," biologically enhanced clones, and volatile human leaders vying for control of Olympus. Throw in some "Bladerunner" overtones and "I, Robot" references, and you get the idea.
Masamune Shirow's multiple-issue manga series worked much better because the longer you're with a character, the more you're willing to forgive suddenly regained memories and last-minute revelations. You're also less likely to encounter non sequitur lines such as, "Well, that's war for you!"
But whatever is lost in translation can't keep "Appleseed" from feeling a decade late - and its animation from looking like a relic on arrival.
Directed by Shinji Aramaki; screenplay by Haruka Handa and Tsutomu Kamishiro, based on the comic book series by Shirow Masamune; music by Paul Oakenfold; produced by Micott & Basara Inc. A Geneon Entertainment release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:43. MPAA rating: R (some violence). Dubbed in English.