When a movie opens with a quote from the Book of Revelation, you know you're going to have problems. When the main setting for the movie is a utopian city, you know you're going to have even more problems. Utopias and apocalypses are like gasoline and fire: put them together and things go boom. In director Shinji Aramaki's Appleseed, things certainly do go boom.
Appleseed was released in select U.S. cities in July of 2004. No city near me was selected that I knew of, so I waited patiently for the DVD release in May. Set in some distant future after a massive world war, Appleseed tells the story of super solider Deunan Knut and her fight to save the human race. The war is over, the world is in ruins, and not one of the superpowers can claim victory. With all lines of communication cut off, many soldiers are still fighting. Deunan is one of those soldiers until, without any real explanation, she's plucked off the battlefield by the government of Olympus, the said utopian city. Instead of asking nicely, the E.S.W.A.T. soldiers who snatch her knock her out with sedative rounds. When she wakes up and is offered citizenship in Olympus, she's already there. Not much of a choice, really. I think I might have said "no thanks" at that point. That's just a rude way to start any relationship.
Later on, Deunan receives a tour of Olympus and gets a crash course in its history. She learns about Bioroids, which are like clones but different, and the super computer known as Gaia, which is responsible for making all the important decisions for the city. Don't worry, though. Gaia is hooked up to seven old guys for that humanly touch. Yeah, like that's going help. Deunan also learns about the power struggle between Prime Minister Athena and Colonel Uranus. Uranus hates Bioroids and wants to destroy them all while Athena, herself a Bioroid, is slowly usurping military control from Uranus. Ultimately, Olympus's fate is in Gaia's hands. Do you smell that gasoline I was talking about?
Needless to say, all these elements plus the threat inherent in the biblical quote at the beginning plus the fact that Olympus is supposed to be a utopia make for a pretty messy plot. Like I said: gas, fire, boom. However, a messy plot can be effective and enjoyable if it's allowed to return to order at the end. This is, unfortunately, not the case for Appleseed. The plot succumbs to entropy and never recovers. The tale of a war-torn planet on the rebound devolves into the power play between a few individuals which in turn becomes the chaos of trying to save humanity by destroying it. Say what?
Another problem I had with the plot was that Deunan unknowingly holds the key to all of it. When we get to see the holographic "flashback" that explains that, we see a young Deunan with her mother. To me, she looks old enough in that sequence to remember something about her mother, yet earlier, she's already said she doesn't remember her mother at all. Trauma induced amnesia, I suppose, but I didn't really buy it. There wasn't a lot about the plot that I did buy.
That said, Appleseed is definitely worth watching just for the stunning visuals. Everything in the movie is computer generated, and some of the effects are so realistic that it's hard to tell it's a computer image. Smoke and water effects are particularly lovely, though the lighting effects occasionally make some objects shinier than they need to be, like roads and Deunan's underwear. Since it's a utopian society, no one gets wet while standing in the rain, but that's just a minor flaw in an otherwise visually gorgeous movie.
The fight scenes are great, too. While the mecha battles were computer generated, all of Deunan's movements were motion captured. Using this technique lends a fluidity and realism to her fighting style that isn't often seen in animated fisticuffs.
And of course, there are explosions. Big, pretty, fiery explosions. Mmm, fire.
If you really, really, really enjoyed The Matrix trilogy, you might have a higher degree of tolerance for this kind of plot contortionism than I did, in which case, I would recommend Appleseed. For the rest of us, I suggest renting it and watching only the fight scenes and maybe a couple of the panoramic shots of the city just to drool over the beautiful graphics.
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