Co-written and produced by James Cameron and directed by Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel slices and dices its way on 4K UHD Blu-ray / 3D Blu-ray in a three-disc set. While the film stumbles in a few places, those few nitpicks can be chalked up to being a bit overly faithful to the original Manga source material. It makes up for delivering an action-packed vivid and entertaining thrill ride of a sci-fi feature! For how much fun it was, let's hope there's room for a sequel. Alita sports an exceptional 4K UHD disc with an equally exciting 3D Blu-ray presentation coupled with thunderous audio mixes as well as a slew of interesting bonus features! If you're a fan this set is absolutely a Highly Recommended.
"I believe you are someone truly special."
It's 2563 - 300 years after the fall. Above floats the last great city of Earth - Zalem. Below is Iron City, the last place people can survive working for the elites living in Zalem. Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) is a scrapper - scrounging the junk piles for cast-off cybernetic parts so he can help his patients lead somewhat normal lives. On one of his scrounging trips, he discovers a beautiful but damaged, deactivated cyborg. Unique in her design, Ido refurbishes her. When she can't remember her name, he gives her one - Alita (Rosa Salazar). At first, Alita is an innocent newcomer to a world she's never seen before. When she learns that she has a deadly past, Alita becomes a target for a ruthless overlord known as Nova and his earth-bound representative Vector (Mahershala Ali), their lethal assassins Zapan (Ed Skrein) and Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley), and an army of cybernetic warriors in Iron City's number one game - Motorball.
I first discovered Yukito Kishiro's Alita decades ago at a comic store in Ann Arbor that, sadly, no longer exists. It was the first time I'd ever picked up a Manga. I was captivated by the action-fueled sketch artwork, but had a devil of a time understanding the story. I will give my youthful age (I was 7 or 8 years old) the excuse that I didn't know I was supposed to read it the Japanese right-to-left instead of the American left-to-right way I read everything else. Once I learned how to read it - I was off and running and quickly devoured each issue.
Around the same time as Avatar, James Cameron announced he'd be bringing Alita: Battle Angel to the big screen, I was immediately excited, and more than a little skeptical. For starters, he'd already tried adapting a comic book with Spider-Man and didn't end up making it himself. After that, I couldn't see how they could pull off the amazing character design and world-building in a realistic way. Even after impressive visual stylings of Avatar, I still wasn't convinced it could be done well.
The skeptic in me knows when to bow out. Alita: Battle Angel is an impressive feature film adaptation! With Robert Rodriguez in the director's chair, the movie found the necessary thrust and energy to be visually realized effectively on screen. This is a visually lush world that Rodriguez and Cameron have captured on screen. Seeing this film in IMAX 3D was an absolute action-packed joy. You can see how far the motion capture tech that was so groundbreaking in 2009 with Avatar has developed to deliver photo-realistic performances and integrations with real-world actors and sets. If there is a complaint it's that the tech is so good at seamlessly integrating with real actors - like Ed Skrein's Zapan - that it makes completely digital characters stand out and feel a little out of place. However, in the case of Rosa Salazar's Alita, she's a virtual visual marvel lifted perfectly from the page and delivered to the screen. If you think the eyes are the way they are because it's simply a manga or anime character, you'd be wrong. That's how it is in the books, she looks distinctly different from everyone else because she's not entirely human. It's not simply an attempt to bring an Anime character to life.
This leads me to another damned if you do, damned if you don't conundrum with the film - reverence to the source material. While some things have been edged along a little quicker and some of the character relationships cleaned up, the movie is almost too faithful at times for its own good. The manga had numerous issues and plenty of pages to tell a long-form story. This movie feels like it's banking on getting a sequel and, as such, notable actors and various characters are only hinted at and make very brief appearances and it's maddening because we still have no word when or even if there will be another Alita adventure. As full as this movie feels, it's also incomplete.
That said, it's one hell of a ride! The action is fast and the film's pacing pins you to your chair. While the entire movie features great action beats, it's the Motorball sequences that really make the movie an essential 3D experience. Those scenes are like being pinned to a rollercoaster with razor blades flying past your head! From the first frame, it's clear this movie was built to deliver high entertainment value and to that end, it succeeds. Even if it may not get the sequel the story needs, this was still a worthwhile adventure.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Alita: Battle Angel slices her way to 4K UHD from 20th Century Fox (or 26th as is the case of this movie) in a three-disc 4K UHD Blu-ray + 3D Blu-ray + Blu-ray + Digital set. The 3D Blu-ray disc is exclusive to the 4K set can can't (as of this time) be purchased separately. The 4K UHD is pressed on a Region Free disc while the 3D Blu-ray occupies a Region A Disc. The discs are housed in a three-disc case with identical slipcover artwork. The included Digital Copy unlocks 4K Dolby Vision on VUDU with some digital-only bonus features that didn't make it to the standard Blu-ray Disc. Each disc loads to an identical animated main menu with traditional navigation options.
4K Ultra HD Blu-ray -- 5 Stars
As the film was captured at 3.4K, all of the information I've seen points to this film being upscaled from a 2K Digital Intermediate. Even without being native 4K, there is a lot to love and appreciate about this 2.39:1 2160p Dolby Vision / HDR10 / HDR10+ presentation.
As of right now, I'm only equipped to speak of the Dolby Vision experience and it is a stunner! I was a little worried about the HDR and extra color spectrum breaking some of the digital effects, but it's just the opposite really. Some effects that appear thin on the SDR 2D Blu-ray have added weight with the extra layers of coloring and shadow gradience. There are still some effects that come off a bit cartoonishly light and shots of the city of Zalem look a bit flat, but those are really very small quibbles when you look at the rest of the world on display.
Details are robust and lend themselves beautifully to the movie. There's a great bonus feature that shows you the stages of the visual effects work and it does a great job of highlighting what was a practical effect and what was CGI and how well the filmmakers blended everything. Switching between the Ultra HD, the digital HD on VUDU, the 3D disc, and the standard Blu-ray, this 4K disc easily edges out the competition. I was able to see finer textures in skin and clothing as well as some of the CGI character's faces than I could detect on the other formats.
The SDR Blu-ray is damned impressive on its own -- full review HERE -- but the Dolby Vision HDR kicks everything up several notches. Skin tones have a warmer, healthier feel, and the film enjoys much more nuanced shadowing. Primaries are bright and bold giving shades of red, blue, and yellow plenty of gradience and pop. I was most impressed by the enhancements for the mechanical steely blue cyborgs like Zapan and some of the Motorball contenders. When Alita gets her battle armor the purple/lavender highlights take on a nice spectral hue that's really vivid. Contrast also feels a bit more under control than the SDR Blu-ray. As great as that disc is, I felt it looked just too bright in spots and made effects stand out where the enhanced black levels and contrast gives them shading and weight.
Aside from some ever so slight occasional video noise, this is a stunning 4K presentation. Whether you're rocking Dolby Vision, HDR10+ or the standard HDR10, I'm sure you'll get a kick out of the visuals and all of the terrific details this disc offers. The film is fun on its own, but this disc is my new favorite 4K eye-candy disc!
3D Blu-ray -- 4.5 Stars
This 3D 1080p MVC-encoded 2.39:1 of Alita: Battle Angel is a pure three-dimensional rollercoaster ride that would be one of my absolute new favorite 3D discs in my collection if not for one small problem - it doesn't mirror the 1.90:1 IMAX shifting aspect ratio experience. Seeing this movie on that massive screen in 3D was a true cinematic thrill and I was really hoping this disc would replicate that experience. This isn't to say this static aspect ratio is a problem or there aren't any 3D thrills to be had, but I'll tell you, when the screen opened up for the big action sequences - especially in the Motorball arena, it kicked the adrenaline and got the blood pumping because it really did feel like a fully immersive experience. That really is my only gripe with this disc. Otherwise, it's perfect.
Image depth is fantastic throughout, from the opening "26th Century Fox" logo to that first shot of Zalem dumping it's garbage onto Iron City to the incredible Motorball game. Alita was built for 3D. From the intricate cyborg character design to the crowded streets of Iron City to the ominous hovering city of Zalem, Z-axis depth is always present. There are plenty of moments where the 3D effect protrudes from the screen and really adds to the excitement (although, again, they were more effective in the 1.90:1 IMAX ratio). In addition to the great-looking action sequences, I was honestly most impressed with how well they added depth to the small details. Just watch any cyborg in the film and how there is depth between dangling wires, human features, and their robotic parts.
Details remain consistent to the standard SDR 1080p Blu-ray. The image has been brightened a bit here to compensate for the darkening effect of the 3D glasses. Colors still render nicely giving plenty of primary pop. Black levels are nice and inky throughout most of the film, however, there were a couple of hazy moments where blacks slipped into darker grey tones. Thankfully that didn't kill the three-dimensional illusion. Free of any ghosting issues, this is a splendid presentation. While I would tip my hat to the Dolby Vision infused 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a superior overall presentation, the 3D is so much fun that I'll always be tempted to pull this disc out when I need an Alita hit of action in my day.
4K Ultra HD Blu-ray -- Dolby Atmos -- 5 Stars
Would you honestly expect anything but the best Dolby Atmos mix from a flick like Alita: Battle Angel? There is near-constant surround activity throughout the entire run of the film keeping all channels engaged. The overheads come alive most often during the action set-pieces but even during the quiet conversational bits and pieces, there is still enough atmospheric density to keep those overheads engaged. Like I've already mentioned many times, the Motorball battles are wild and really come to life with Atmos engaged! The sounds of the ball rumbling along the track as well as the cyborg's various battle weapons with chains, spikes, and blades make for a cacophony of auditory excitement, creating a circling immersive experience. LFE enjoys a notable boost here with even the smallest impacts like when Eiza González's cyborg Nyssiana's bladed arms stab into the ground trying to kill Alita is a great effect. Likewise, other major action sets get big boosts in the low bass rumbles.
With that, all of the basics are covered perfectly. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and even in the most action-packed moments of the film it comes through with crystal clarity. Tom Holkenborg AKA Junkie XL's thundering score punches through the mix nicely without overpowering or throwing the balance of the elements off. Levels are great, I didn't experience any initial softness issues with this Atmos mix, I just played it loud because this movie demands to be as loud and in your face as possible!
As always, if you're not Atmos-ready, this track defaults to a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix.
3D Blu-ray -- DTS-HD MA 7.1 -- 4.5 Stars
While this disc doesn't get the terrific Atmos mix, it does get a lively and engaging DTS-HD MA 7.1 track that holds its own beautifully with only slight differences in quality. The biggest and most noteworthy difference is the missing overhead action, which makes the experience less present and impactful. While there is an attempt to bring some of those effects to life, they lack the fierce fury and powerful impact of the Atmos mix on the 4K UHD Blu-ray. That really is my only significant quibble here. (And, of course, Dolby Surround or DTS:Neural:X up-mixing help a lot.)
Dialogue is clean and clear throughout. Channels remain active and engaged even during the quietest scenes. There are some ambient sound effects that aren't quite as prominent here as they are in Atmos, but really the difference is a matter of presence and spacing than anything. LFE is terrific with a respectable range of impacts and punch. While the big action fights and Motorball sequences may not quite have the same punch, it's still terrific stuff and you really feel the rush of the fast-paced action as combatants whirl around the screen slinging their various weapons and subsequent explosions. Levels are spot on without any need for extra attention. If we didn't get the Atmos mix on the 4K Disc, this DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix would have done nicely. It's a powerful track, but I have to give Atmos the edge.
With over two hours of bonus features, there is some great stuff here. While there are a couple of typical EPK talking head bits that just cover the basics, there's a lot of informative production-specific features to dig through. One of my favorites was the Scene Deconstruction that showed what it was like capturing the footage raw and then different stages of the animation and CGI finishing processes. You get to control which version you're seeing and you get to watch entire scenes play out so it's really cool to see all the pieces that were practical effects and what was CGI.
Blu-ray Disc Bonus Features
Alita's World - The Fall (HD 5:05)
Alita's World - Iron City (HD 3:19)
Alita's World - What It Means to Be A Cyborg (HD 2:28)
Alita's World - Rules of the Game (HD 2:52)
From Manga to Screen (HD 20:47)
Evolution of Alita (HD 19:43)
Motorball (HD 6:02)
London Screening Q&A (HD 26:38)
10 Minute Cooking School - Chocolate (HD 5:28)
2005 Art Compilation (HD 14:20)
Scene Deconstruction (HD 10:47) You can control the stage of the animation with the red, green, or yellow buttons on your remote.
DIGITAL ONLY Bonus Content
Allies and Adversaries (HD 25:20)
Musical Themes (HD 5:37)
Production Materials 2016 Reel (HD11:58)
Streets of Iron City (HD 17:15)
From the motion capture characters to the intricate world-building, Alita: Battle Angel is an often stunning film. Sure the script has some simplicities and basic contrivances, but the rest of the story is engaging with terrific performances from Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, and Ed Skrein.
26th Century Fox unleashes a truly splendid 4K UHD Blu-ray + 3D Blu-ray + Blu-ray package. If you love 4K UHD, this is an essential disc in the collection. If you're still rocking your 3D rig, you're going to want this set just for that disc alone. If you can run both, you get the best of both worlds complete with exceptional audio mixes as well as a host of bonus features that are well worth digging through all in one set!
Highly Recommended for fans as well as 4K and 3D enthusiasts.