Sentai Filmworks // 2004 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // May 17th, 2010
The Third World War is over...but the battle to save mankind has just begun!
Adapted from the manga series by Masamune Shirow (Ghost in the Shell) and directed by Shinji Aramaki, the ambitious CGI production blends the stylistic elements of anime into an entirely computer-generated world, a digital animation in the most pejorative sense of the phrase. The film was a disappointment stylistically and thematically, but its high-octane action sequences were second-to-none.
Now finally available on Blu-Ray, has Appleseed improved with time and 1080p resolution?
Deunan Knute is a soldier on the front line, fighting endless hordes of robotic enemies. After being subdued, she wakes up in a hospital ward, panicked and alarmed, but soon discovers the war ended months ago -- she had continued fighting because no one had told her to stop. Now she finds herself in utopian Olympus, with a population that's half-human and half-bioroids, cloned and genetically engineered organisms. The transition from endless war to paradise is a traumatic shift, made more complicated by Briareos, a former lover now turned cyborg, back in her life.
Now part of ES.W.A.T, a tactical response team and city protector, Deunan tries to adapt to the new reality of her life, but conflict soon brews in Olympus. Dark forces are on the rise, threatening the tranquil peace and serenity -- and it's up to Deunan to save the day.
Appleseed is excessive in every measurable sense; a CGI playground of endless battles, explosions, and absurdly choreographed fight sequences that thrills the sense while simultaneously killing the heart and soul with eerily artificial character designs and nonsensical plot. The computer animation lends itself fantastically to over-the-top The Matrix-style battle sequences, but the stiff, awkward movements and wooden facial expressions break the illusion, too artificial. The plot, an end-of-the-world collision between humanity and technology, bears almost no connection to the beloved source material and fails the logic test at every turn.
Appleseed was a film ahead of its time, but perhaps not in a good way. Computer technology had progressed far enough along to allow the conception and execution of such a film, but had not progressed enough to make it look seamless. The end result is a contradiction, both impressive and lacking. It's a glimpse into the possibilities of things to come, but not quite satisfying in its own right. Shirow gave it another shot with a sequel a few years later, Appleseed: Ex Machina and achieved more satisfactory technological results with more realistic-looking designs and less angular, artificial movements. As for Appleseed, well, all good ideas start somewhere.
A plot isn't the kind of thing that improves with time, say like a fine wine does. When it was released, the lackadaisical plot was the biggest hindrance to Appleseed. Now on Blu-Ray, it still sucks. Much hullabaloo was made about the revolutionary and cutting-edge graphics, but as with so many popcorn blockbusters, all the budget went into CGI and none to the screenwriter. Appleseed is laughably bad in the drama department -- the bad guy is named General Hades, for heaven's sake. There isn't a subtle bone in Appleseed's body. It's just an endless string of kung fu fight sequences in bullet time, firefights, explosions, and lukewarm meanderings on the nature of humanity. All that was good and interesting in the original work by Masamune Shirow has been filtered down to the point of nonexistence -- not that there was much to begin with. Let's be honest here. As kitschy and fun as the manga can be, to say it lacks the existentialism of Shirow's later work is an understatement.
I haven't seen Appleseed in over five years, since I reviewed the PSP edition in fact. Seeing it on Blu-Ray in 2010 is something of a mixed bag. The film looks marvelous; digital animation transfers splendidly to Blu-Ray and Appleseed is no exception. The problem is more chronological. Digital animation technology moves extremely fast, and the last few years have seen serious breakthroughs in terms of what we as consumers expect from our media. In 2004, Appleseed was something to get excited about, but today, it almost has the look of something you'd see on YouTube now -- not quite the groundbreaking digital animation from a major Japanese studio it once was. Time is a cruel mistress in this game, and the angular and jerky motion of the characters and plastic facial expressions looks old-fashioned and amateurish by current standards.
Animation issues aside, the 1080p transfer is sublime. I dusted off my old DVD version of this film, and there is no comparison; the increased resolution and fidelity makes all the difference in the world here. If anything, the Blu-Ray treatment makes the film look too good; we see the texture limitations and occasionally jagged animation lines that the softness of old standard-definition televisions smoothed out. For better or worse, HDTV shows everything in uncompromising, cruel detail. Colors are marvelously saturated and vibrant, with strong black and white levels. Certain sequences that were murky and difficult to decipher in the SD edition (the infamous opening sequence) are much clearer and more defined in 1080p. If you live and die by reference quality visuals, you can safely discard your old DVD editions of Appleseed, because you won't need them any longer.
Audio reveals some interesting decisions by Sentai. This disc features no lossless audio options, only DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes; rare for Blu-Ray. In addition, an alternate English Dolby 5.1 mix is included, a newly recorded track using the same voice actors as in Sentai's treatment of Appleseed: Ex Machina. The default is the newly recorded track, but it's nice that they kept the legacy version for people who got attached to the old Geneon edition. I think the new English dub is pretty solid, but you may find yourself picking and choosing certain voices you prefer over others. I like Briareos in the old Geneon dub better, for example, but Deunan in the new version. The only catch is that the old dub only comes in Dolby Digital 5.1, which is unfortunate, because the DTS tracks are far superior in both Japanese and English versions. Bass response is extremely strong, rear channels come alive during battle sequences with flying bullets and explosions; the first five minutes of the film alone will put some serious mileage on your home theater system. The Dolby 5.1 tracks are a bit more conservative; less oomph and volume, flatness in tone compared to the sparkle of the DTS version.
Extras are not too different from the previous DVD release. A commentary track with director Shinji Aramaki and producer Fumihiko Sori is included (subtitled) as well as some production staff profiles, all of which were previously available. The new addition is a 30-minute featurette, "The Birth of 3D Live Anime," delving into technical detail and making-of footage to illustrate how the film came together.
The plot sucks. No, seriously. You might think I'm being pithy and dismissive. I'm not.
A middling mediocre action film, Appleseed suffers from an awkward plot and dated animation, but thankfully none of it detracts from the sheer butt-kicking joy of watching the adrenaline-packed action sequences in glorious 1080p. Appleseed takes to Blu-Ray like a fish to water. This is the format the film was meant to be seen in.
Something of a split decision, but the top-notch technical marks saves this title from the gallows. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Sentai Filmworks
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate English Dub