Terrible Acting, bad CGI, and a classic story ruined for no reason.
Nearly all of the reviews of this film here are what I like to call "Fanboy Reviews", which are overly reverent, uncritical, and make no attempt to really give a fair assessment of a film. All these types of reviews do is praise everything about the film.
So let me give you a real film review, using actual standard criteria that other films are judged by.
Space Battleship Yamato is a typical Japanese Science Fiction Film. It's uneven, awful in parts, and interesting in others, with terrible acting, bad storytelling, and "Duh" moments. Japanese science fiction need not be awful. After all, there are plenty of awesome Japanese actors, Dramas, comedies, samurai films, and action movies that made film history. When it comes to SciFi films, Japanese studios have traditionally treated the genre as children's material. The most ambitious Japanese Scifi film was 1990's Solar Crisis, which boasted Charlton Heston, top notch effects, and a mostly American production crew. Unfortunately, because it was written and produced by a Japanese corporation, it sort of fell apart, and is now kind of a joke.
Space Battleship Yamato is no different. Like most Japanese attempts at live action Science Fiction movies, The film is loaded to the brim with over-the-top acting. Imagine a movie with William Shatner, a man famous for over-acting his parts. Now imagine that the whole cast is made of Shatners, all trying to out-act each other. This is what it's like to watch Space Battleship Yamato. Every reaction is an over reaction. If someone is startled, they flail about. Every time they blow up an enemy ship, everyone jumps out of their seats and high-fives each other. When Yuki and Kodai fall in love, it's like a couple of crazed people taking a running start, and crashing into each other. When a character is sad, it's crocodile tears and histrionics. This is rather typical of a lot of Japanese films; even many great Samurai films, including Kurosawa's, are full of hammy acting and over-the-top performances. It may be acceptable for Japanese film goers, but to western audiences, it just looks silly. No offense to Kurosawa.
The special effects are just sort of adequate. They obviously look like CGI, from nearly a decade before. I don't expect every new Scifi film that comes out to have the level of effects as say, a Star Wars film, or District 9, or Avatar, but too much of this movie suffers from the look of quickly done CGI, and for a 2010 film, that's just not good enough. When we see the alien Gamillas for the first time, it is obviously a CGI character, and moves like one. Thankfully, it's not the wretched CGI of the "CGI Monster of the week" films that we see from the Scifi Network, but it's still not the level of effects that we should see from a fully modern movie. Every lighting source has lens flares. Every highlight is too bright, Every movement is too fast and too jittery.
Then there's the story. The original animated story from 1977 was fine. We had earth attacked by some Nazi-like blue-skinned aliens with awesome military technology. Their leader, Dessler, was evil, but charming, and had lots of fun lines, and a sense of humor. The spacecraft of the Gamillas fleet, were interesting, well conceived, and iconic. For no apparent reason, they turned the Gamillas into weird insectoid creatures with a hive mind, and used none of the cool spacecraft from the original series. They made no attempt to highlight one of the series's major themes -- invoking naval warfare for space combat, and using tactics to defeat a superior force. The original series had lots of moments of Captain Okita making counter-intuitive moves in the heat of battle that ended up confusing the Gamillas, resulting in victory. Here, the filmmakers reduced the Gamillas to an army of identical cgi aliens, with cgi ships that don't do much of anything other than sit there silently and get blown up, Sure -- they had 90 minutes to tell a story that took 26 half-hour episodes to tell, but rather than condense it to the most significant parts of the story, they decided to make major revisions that just added nothing, or which subtracted too much.
Several characters become composites. Yuki is turned into an ace fighter pilot, rather than the vulnerable nurse/radar operator from the series. The character comes off as uneven -- one minute she's tougher than nails, telling Kodai to just take the loss of his brother like a man, then next minute, she's bawling her brains out over sacrificing a few crew members to save the rest of the ship. It just comes off as phony, unless Yuki is supposed to be a schizo. Captain Okita is so wooden, I'm surprised we didn't see him trailing sawdust behind him. He just has that sort of Samurai-movie lock-jawed face, where no emotions are visible, and he mumbles all of his lines like John Bellushi's Samurai character. Even his animated series counterpart showed more range.
All of this adds up to a wretched movie experience, where something with such potential is altered into something that is just a steaming pile of B-movie.
It should surprise some that I'm a huge fan of the Animated series, as well as the new Yamato: 2199 series. I was excited to hear that this movie was being made, but after seeing it, I was just very disappointed that it ended up being a lot more like the Wing Commander (1999) movie, than the average Star Trek movie, in terms of overall quality. I am still asking myself, after a lifetime watching Japanese films, why can't they make a decent science fiction movie?
This film tells one of the most incredible stories of escape, evasion, and survival, explores racism and cultural clashes, and displays some of the most talented child actors in Australia. Everlyn Sampi plays Daisy Kadibill, who at 12, is the oldest of 3 girls ripped from their families by the Australian Government, in an attempt to elevate them from their primitive tribal ways. Called "half-cast", which means they are of mixed white and Aboriginal blood, the girls are taken to a special school 1200 miles from home, where they are trained to be domestic servants for white people. The harsh treatment at the school prompts the oldest girl to run away home, taking her sister and cousin with her (played by Tianna Sansbury and Laura Monaghan).
David Gulpilil plays a minor role as a tracker, hired to track them down. A game of cat-and-mouse ensues as the girls travel the 1200 miles home, on foot, through the Australian desert, alone, cleverly evading capture, and living off of the land and what few handouts they can get from settlers and other Aborigines they meet on the way. Like in the film Whale-Rider, the child-actors out-shines the adults, and we see some incredible performances by young first-time actors.
The film does an excellent job exploring the racism of 1930's Australian society, and the morality of the Aboriginal act, which gave the government the power to take children away from their Aboriginal parents, and tell whites whether or not they could marry Aboriginal spouses. We get to see a recreation of a presentation that was given to many white civic leaders at the time, which promoted the Aboriginal act as a way to "elevate" the Aboriginals by breeding the Aborigines out of them though marriages to white people, and forcing the less white half-casts to be part of white society as domestic servants. It was a pretty face put on a system that amounted to slavery and genocide through eugenics.
Of course, as the film so eloquently shows, Aboriginal people were far more capable of taking care of themselves and were far more intelligent than white people gave them credit for; the girls manage to outwit their pursuers, and survive in the harshest environment, on their own.
The film gets it's title from a 2,000-mile long State Barrier Fence of Western Australia, designed to keep hordes of rabbits off of farmland, and referred to as the rabbit-proof fence. The fence goes from the coastline of western Australia, and a portion of it, as pointed out by a character in the film, leads directly to the village where the girls were taken from. Thus, the fence is their road to home, and to being re-united with their parents.
The film is very satisfying, full of drama, full of history, and full of life's lessons. It is easily one of the best films that Australia has to offer.
Okay, this movie has an interesting and gripping plot that can easily be done from start to finish in about half-an-hour. David Gulpilil is his usual, wonderful self, and carries this film. He plays a tracker, as part of a 1920's manhunt, led by a brutish territorial policeman, a rookie, and an older man. Gulpilil, although a free civilian, is treated more like a prisoner, eventually getting chained to the police commander, who doesn't trust any aboriginals.
The commander orders a massacre of innocent aborigines, spews all sorts of racist comments on how Aborigines are murderous animals that cannot be trusted, and bullies all of his companions, even killing a wounded man just so the mission will not be slowed down. Eventually, the harsh Australian outback gets the best of them, and Gulpilil performs an act of frontier justice that is really satisfying when it comes.
My only complaint about this movie is that it is padded out to 90 minutes by endless montages of the team walking through the outback. The scenes are accompanies by the same couple of songs about the suffering of Aborigines, which we hear over and over again, because there are a lot of slow, walking montages. The actual dialog and drama in this film, as I said previously, would only take half-an-hour if these montages were eliminated. This really makes the film slow and boring.
However, the film is not unbearable, and actually has good drama, if you are patient. The character-study is well done, and the issues of racism and justice are explored very eloquently. The ending is very predictable, but still manages to have a surprise twist to it. The movie is worth seeing, but only if you have the patience. As I said, it's very padded with long montages that may bore many people.
A truly awful film from an otherwise good director
Why does Spielberg consistently insert the theme of a flawed parent trying to redeem themselves into so many of his films? Why do people who want to make good movies continue to book Tom Cruise, when there are so many good actors out there that can do a better job? Why do directors make unnecessary remakes of classic films that just don't need to be remade? Why do scriptwriters always try to update old stories by choosing the wrong things to update? There is so much wrong with this movie that I don't know where to begin. Let me start by saying that with the most advanced CGI-effects and a huge budget at their disposal, the makers of this film could have made a monumental tribute to the Wells Novel by actually doing a RETRO remake of the film; it would have been a very clever use of the special effects technology to set the film in the 1890s, and recreate Victorian England, when the book actually takes place.
They could have stuck to the book and told the story from the point of view of the actual main character in the book, who was a scientist making detailed observations about the martians and their technology and tactics. Instead, we get the contrived story of a divorced schmuck running from the invaders with his kids. We don't get the Science Fiction. We get dysfunctional family pseudo drama.
Instead of exploring the moralities of colonialism and invasion, we get superficial homages to the superior George Pal film. Instead of effects that help the narrative, by revealing visually what cannot be conveyed without extra dialog, we get monsters and walls of flame. Instead of the many intelligent possible ways of translating Wells novel to film, we get fluff and confusion. Oh, yeah, and Tom Cruise makes a few anguished faces like he does in every film, because that's all he's good for.
Yah, I'm being cruel, but the film deserves it. Spielberg can make better films than this. I've actually seen films from Spielberg that mixed a great script with great actors, and great special effects, along with a story that grips. War Of the Worlds had a crappy script, an over-rated leading man whose only talent is his face, a story that bore no resemblance to the great story in the original novel (or even the 1953 film), and special effects that were nothing more than window dressing. Spielberg's War of the Worlds is a truly awful film.
I don't understand what it is with people who see movies like "Eraserhead", and call it a classic, or a film of substance and meaning. Even director David Lynch said there wasn't any special allegorical meaning to Eraserhead. Tetsuo is Japan's answer to Eraserhead. It is like Eraserhead in many ways.
(1) It has a totally incomprehensible plot (2) It has minimal dialog (3) It has no noticeable continuity (4) The soundtrack/noise-track dominates (5) It features a lot of gross-out scenes
Unlike Eraserhead, though, Tetsuo doesn't have a good look. All the camera-work is apparently hand-held and shaky. The film stock was likely 8mm, as it looks grainier than 16mm stock.
I honestly do not know any valid reason someone would think this film deserves to be called a classic. It's one jerky, shaky, incomprehensible scene after the other, a few closeups of the main character covered with junk and circuitry, and a spurt of blood here and there. Apparently there is some allegory about man turning into machine, and such, but there is no exposition -- we just see some guy covered with random pieces of wire, metal, and circuitry sporting a giant metallic rotating power-drill of a penis. The same people seem to die over and over again.
It's a repetitive, haphazard bizarre film that looks like a student film gone horribly wrong. I mean that, too -- A STUDENT FILM IS USUALLY BETTER THAN THIS CRAP!
Really, this movie has it all -- a really silly plot, great special effects, homages to The Matrix and Shaolin Soccer, bad acting, and goofy dialog. It even makes references to nearly every Toho scifi film since the 1950s, including Gorath. It was absolutely hilarious from start to finish. My favorite thing about this film is Don Frye's character. He looks like a husky G. Gordon Liddy, and he commands a tricked out Atragon-type vehicle with his teenage mutant Kaiju-fighters. He delivers his lines so badly, and has some of the dumbest dialog. Well, what do you want for a pro-wrestler in Japan? Anyway, despite his lack of actual talent, his role is hilarious. he delivers the funniest lines because his acting is so bad. My favorite lines go like this:
Gen. Gordon: We're going to Antarctica to release Godzilla from the ice. We'll let him fight all the monsters, and then we'll take him back to Antarctica, and imprison him again.
Lieutennant: Are you saying that we're going to Antarctica to release Godzilla from the ice, that he's going to fight all the monsters, and that after, we're going to take him back to Antarctica, to imprison him in ice again?
Gen. Gordon: Yeah.
The dialog is that dumb throughout most of the film, but that's actually a good point, because it really is funny. Don Frye is the funniest thing in the movie.
Another excellent bunch of laughs comes when Godzilla meets up with Angilas and an upgraded Ghidorah. Angilas rolls up into a spikey ball, and rolls at Godzilla. Godzilla kicks him, and sends him flying towards Ghidorah, who kicks him back at Godzilla. Godzilla makes a dive at Angilas, and pushes him back at Ghidorah, and the whole sequence looks exactly like a scene out of Shaolin Soccer. It's hilarious.
Of course, everyone has to wear dark sunglasses, including the Aliens. Sunglasses are cool, so everyone has to wear them. That way everyone looks cool! The movie is nearly two-and-a-half hours long, and they pack it full of fun. It's the perfect movie to go see when you just need to get out of your brain for the afternoon. Just don't go expecting it to be intelligent, heady scifi. It's bubblegum.
I don't know why all these people I know think that this is "the scariest movie they've ever seen" I saw it, and was totally bored by it. As several people have already reported, the acting is bad, there is no discernible plot, and we never have anything resembling closure. All we see is a man and woman who keep seeing appearances and disappearances of a dead, wet girl and a small naked kid. Whoop-ti-doo! That's it. Oh, and we keep hearing this stupid noise over and over again -- a noise that simply sounds like a person making guttural utterances with their throat. You never get to see what significance this sound has in the film. You never see what makes it or why. After the 20th time hearing it, and still not seeing anything scary accompanying it, you will like just start ignoring it, like I did.
Then there is this bizarre "hair torture", which I think must be some kind of Japanese cultural thing, because I don't get it at all, even though I've watched lots of Asian cinema. What this hair-torture amounts to is seeing long, black hair, usually messy and unkempt, creeping around corners or stairs, as though the women to whom it belongs is just out of camera range, and we only see the hair. Does the hair act like a snake, and try to choke people? NO! Does it attack people and cut them or whip them? No! All it does it just creep down the stairs, AND NEVER DOES ANY HARM TO PEOPLE. Apparently the Japanese are horrified by dirty, unkempt hair. Whatever.
Sure, the atmosphere is occasionally creepy, with earthy ambient sounds and such, but the film itself fails to creep or horrify. In the end, all we have is a disjointed, plot less, conclusion-less collection of scenes, with a naked boy and a dead wet girl. and a couple of people reacting to it all with expressions of fear, and screams. It's not the artsy, avant guard film that fans rave about. It's just a dull mess of a film that has fewer scares than the average Ed Wood film.
Horror does not have to be gory. Horror does not have to have blood or gruesome makeup effects. For example, The Blair Witch Project had no gore or makeup, and managed a few good scares. This film only succeeds in being weird and incomprehensible. If unkempt hair and white-skinned wet girls scare you, then knock yourself out. Otherwise, avoid this boring, pretentious trash.