If A.LI.CE fell down the rabbit hole, Judge Adam Arseneau would drop a lit stick of dynamite down after it. Then he would laugh maliciously and open up a beer to celebrate.
Her past is the future.
Imagine an alien civilization roughly technologically equivalent to our own, living totally isolated from the rest of the galaxy for the last few millennia. One day, they randomly pick up on the satellite broadcasts of a sci-fi channel from Earth. These films are puzzled and studied by the alien society, worshipped, urinated upon, and some are burned out of fear. Not only do they not speak English, they have no idea what a movie is, let alone a science fiction movie. After passing the films down from generation to generation, they slowly realize this is a form of entertainment. They decide to assemble their own movie with computer animation, using the films as guides…sort of a reverse-engineering project.
Problem is; the society has no understanding of moviemaking as entertainment or artistic achievement, the English language, human laws of gravity and physics, the last century of cinematic tradition and conventions, or any knowledge of Earth culture that had not been addressed in bad sci-fi films. The computer-animated characters they create bear a faint resembling to human beings, but without having ever seen a real-life human, they really have no idea how to make characters move properly, talk, or interact. They simply grab random elements of footage and crudely edit them together with a rambling incoherent narrative. Then they get frustrated, and the last twenty minutes are merely empty celluloid reels smeared with alien feces.
This has nothing to do with the plot of A.LI.CE, nor does it have anything to do with how this CGI-animated film was created.
Still, it bears mentioning.
Facts of the Case
Young Alice Hayashi, a Japanese teen idol known across the world, wins a contest in the year 2000 and becomes the first civilian to be transported into space. However, during the maiden voyage of the lunar shuttle, the ship encounters difficulty and ends up crash landing in Lapland. When Alice wakes up from the crash in the frozen wasteland, she has little idea what is going on, and even less idea why countless soldiers on hover bikes are attacking her!
Rescued by a brash and impulsive teenage boy named Yuan, she is brought to safety in a small remote village. Alice is more confused than ever; the world is hardly what she remembers. A mysterious overlord named Nero rules the land; he controls the citizens of the earth with an iron fist, with the help of a mysterious supercomputer. Idly, she picks up a calendar, and notes the date: 2030. She realizes she has somehow come thirty years into the future!
For some reason, Alice ends up pursued by both Nero's troops and a group called the Liberation Forces, who plan on using Alice in their plans to overthrow Nero's evil empire. With the help of Yuan and a vaguely S&M skanky airline stewardess robot with a southern accent named SS1X (or, for simplicity sake, Maria), Alice intends to find out whatever the connection between herself, Nero, and the supercomputer exists.
A.LI.CE, in a word, stinks. I cannot remember the last film I have watched that irritated and offended my senses as much as this one. Convoluted, confusing, awkward, ugly looking, and full of meteor-sized plot holes and incongruities, it simultaneously sucks and blows at the same time, something that not even the most technologically advanced vacuums have been able to reproduce outside of laboratory test simulations. The more I try and articulate how much I hate this film, my jaw clenches and I end up pounding on the keyboard with balled fists, out of sheer apoplectic fury. It puts even the most ridiculously nonsensical anime and sci-fi films to shame.
A.LI.CE holds the nerdy/dubious distinction of being the first film to be shown in Japan with DLP (digital light processing) technology, an all-digital presentation that eschews from traditional film projection methods. While this is interesting from a technical standpoint, Japan could not have chosen a worse film to footnote in the history books. The entirely computer-generated film looks and feels like the CGI cut-sequence of a PlayStation video game, except that if you rented this particular game, you would probably take it back to the store and demand a refund. Watching this movie is like playing a terribly bad sci-fi roleplaying game, but without any control whatsoever over the characters and without the ability to throw them underneath a moving truck or off a cliff. It is tortuous.
The computer animation is awful, and the character design is nightmarishly freaky, with facial expressions that seem oddly fetal and surreal. Characters have heads like giant babies, with disturbingly unsynchronized lip movement and spasmodic facial motions. If the character designs in a film like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within represented fine works of art, those in A.LI.CE would be represented by the cartoon maze on the back of a cereal box. There is absolutely no middle ground between complete wooden facial expressions and outlandishly exaggerated facial contortions. The characters creep the heck out of me…they remind me of the dancing baby on Ally McBeal.
Sad thing is, the animation might not have even looked that terrible had it not been for the oddly sycophantic and stuttering frame rate of the film. Characters jump and lint around like crude plastic dolls, and the film has a total lack of smoothness to its camera motions, stuttering like a car on an icy morning. Not only is the jerkiness distracting as all get out, but it looks like absolute trash. For those of nerd inclination, imagine a cutting-edge computer game played on an obsolete computer system. Get the idea? It looks terrible.
This film is so bad from top to bottom in character design, plot, execution, and appearance that it would probably make your eyes bleed if you found yourself attempting repeated viewings. I cannot even properly express how bad the storyline is. A terrible mish-mash of science fiction and anime clichés, it simply makes no sense…not just in the subjective, arguable sense, but also in the actual pejorative sense of the word. The storyline goes in your ear, and it stays there, festering like rotten garbage, poisoning your synapses with its muddled and erratic plot devices, clichés, and incomprehensible story twists. Then, you die.
A.LI.CE scores a few points in the technical department, but this is a contestable point…the transfer and sound are respectable, but they respectably transfer a terribly bad CGI film to your eyes and ears. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the film has respectable color levels and black levels, but gets a bit washy on the details upon closer examination, with some loss of detail during certain sequences. Some scenes seem overly soft, though there is relatively little antialiasing or color bleeding. Though the movie itself may be unbearable, at least they captured all the painful and ugly details with accuracy. Noticeable shimmering and edge enhancement can be seen throughout the film, but it distracts away from the plot, so in my book, this is a good thing.
The soundtrack, artificial and overly-dramatic, sounds like it was beeped out of a personal computer, incredibly heavy on the synthesized strings, goes back and forth between minimalist melancholy and corny dance techno. Even bad video game music sounds cooler than this. On the other hand, it is presented in both English and a Japanese Dolby Surround 5.1 presentation, with reasonable levels of fidelity and dialogue, though some sound effects and dialogue seem missing at times, like weird signal dropouts. Both tracks sound virtually identical, though neither makes particularly efficient use of the rear channels or bass response. I admit, considering how crappy A.LI.CE as a movie is, the technical presentation is reasonably good.
Choosing between English subtitles and the English dub is like choosing between cyanide-coated bullets or Teflon-coated bullets to be shot in the chest with. Either way, man, you're getting shot in the chest. You can go with the subtitles that are erratically translated into English, or go with an overly dramatic reading in English of the exact same erratically translated subtitles. The dub is one of the most awkward affairs I have ever had the horror of listening to, full of broken dialogue, terribly corny emotional outbreaks, and heinously lame accents. If you are actually going to bite the bullet and watch A.LI.CE, stick with the subs.
ArtsMagicDVD has put up a respectable amount of supplementary material onto this DVD, which is just a shame, because the material only illustrates exactly how much time and effort went into creating A.LI.CE; a tragedy in its own right if you ask me. Though I certainly fault ArtsMagicDVD for choosing to distribute this communicable disease throughout the world, I cannot fault their attention to quality supplementary material in their releases.
The requisite filmographies and biographies are included, as well as an image and artwork gallery and some trailers to boot. A 30-minute featurette entitled "Final Fantasies" is included on the DVD; filmed at London Sci-Fi 2003, it features a symposium-style lecture of Jonathan Clements (co-author of the Anime Encyclopedia) lecturing to a bored audience about the advantages of computer animation replacing traditional cel-style animation in Japan. From a sheer academic stance, it is interesting enough. Even though the feature has little to do with A.LI.CE directly, one gets the impression that it was included on the DVD in order to suggest that yes, though A.LI.CE sucks, it is a technologically revolutionary piece of sucking. Ironically, the featurette itself sucks from a technological standpoint…the audio track does not even match the speaker's mouth. Not even close. Nice going, whoever messed that one up. We also get a 30-minute interview with the director, explaining his hesitation about jumping from traditional animation to CGI and his sordid career choices that somehow landed him the job creating this piece of garbage. Incredibly uninteresting in every way, this guy spends way too long talking about a bad film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This would be the part of the review where I would offer a dissenting opinion of the film. So, say, if I lambasted the film (like I just did), I would try to say something nice about it.
Yep. This is the part where I would do that, all right.
In the past, I have been a big fan of ArtsMagicDVD and their well-produced selection of esoteric Japanese films, but after reviewing the egregiously bad Kichiku Dai Enkai and now this bowel movement of a film, I am starting to wonder if my faith was well-placed. What the heck were they thinking, buying the rights to distribute this digital excrement? Taking their money and dumping it directly down the sewers would have been a better investment for the company.
As a film, A.LI.CE doesn't just strike out…it is a wild pitch that flies into the crowd and strikes the stadium owner in the face, breaking his nose, and then out of sheer spite, he closes the entire stadium down and moves the team to Washington.
If you were to mail this DVD to a company like Pixar, the animators would start committing ritualistic suicide on the front lawn of corporate headquarters, and the company would probably shut down out of sheer shame for even being in the same business making animated feature-length films like A.LI.CE.
Luckily, a company that size has people in the mailroom trained to deal with hazardous materials.
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Scales of Justice
• "Final Fantasies: A History of GCI Animation Filmed at London Sci-Fi 2003" Featurette
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