Where was Alita Battle Angel filmed

Incredible, but true: That's why "Alita: Battle Angel" is more than CGI fantasy bombast

+++ opinion +++

Warning, this article contains spoilers for "Alita: Battle Angel".

"Alita: Battle Angel" is a real feast for the eyes for a long time, packed with visual creations, often created on the computer, that I had never seen before - above all, of course, the fully animated title heroine who, with her oversized eyes, is the first photo-realistic live Action manga figure is not exactly easy with parts of the audience, but it took my heart by storm. And of course, director Robert Rodriguez knows that it is those spectacular images that his viewers go to the cinemas for.

At the same time, the “Sin City” maker also knows that people will take something different home with them. The fact that "Alita" is ultimately much more than a soulless material battle is not just due to the classically charming fish-out-of-water story and the great lead actress Rosa Salazar, who supports the title heroine, supported by breathtaking performance capturing, gives both a face and a soul. There is no question for me that she is the emotional lynchpin of the story - and will not be further elaborated in this article. Much more I would like to go into those details in "Alita" that the viewer might not even notice, but ultimately make the adventure in Iron City really tangible for me.

To what extent the technologies shown in the film are actually feasible or at least could be in the near future, I prefer to let experts in this field debate. Nonetheless, "Alita" producer James Cameron ("Avatar", "Terminator"), who originally wanted to direct the film himself, is known for balancing science and fiction in his science fiction films. “Alita” is no exception and is therefore also full of small details that are well known to us in one way or another and unite “science” with “fiction”. It is the inconspicuous that between the lines that turns films like “Terminator”, “Aliens” or “Avatar” into more than entertaining eye candy. Cameron takes the familiar, adapts it to a world he has created and thus creates the trick of creating something new to which his viewers still feel a connection.

An example of this in the film is Nyssiana (played by Eiza González). While most of the cyborgs in the screen adaptation were changed sometimes more, sometimes less, compared to the original, their design is no coincidence. Cameron, who repeatedly draws inspiration not only from modern technology but also from nature, also shares a fascination for animals. Nyssiana's physical structure should therefore be reminiscent of that of a praying mantis, who, armed with their razor-sharp blades, razes their victims to the ground. It's mysterious, deadly and never been there before - and yet you get the feeling that you've seen something like this before. So it is not important to keep reinventing the wheel, that is not even possible. Rather, the secret lies in creatively packaging the familiar and thus finding the balance between the existing and the newly created - a formula that, by the way, also works with the best remakes.

One of the decisive points, in which the film not only stands out strongly from its original, but which is also of great importance for the physical correctness and subsequently also for an authentic film experience, is the setting of the film. While the manga is still set in Kansas City, the film is set in Central America - This also resulted in the warm look of “Alita”, which is unusual for a futuristic sci-fi film, and its colorful landscape, which is characterized by Latin American architecture.

James Cameron's striving for authenticity is also behind this decision: Because the space elevator technology that is used in Iron City and Zalem is by no means a product of his imagination, but a scientific achievement that NASA has been working on at full speed for years. The geostationary satellites required for this, however, must be above the equator, which is why the ground station must also be located at this height. In the case of "Alita", that meant moving the location closer to the equator - from Kansas City to Panama. That may not seem important to you, but for me it not only shapes the film visually, but also has a decisive influence on the emotions - even if I did not "waste" a conscious thought on it during my first "Alita" visit to the cinema.

Apart from Cameron's figure drawing, the so-called world building, i.e. the creation of a new, imaginary world, works according to the same principle: Create something new that is fresh and fascinating, but at the same time never becomes too strange - a world that may differ from ours in terms of content and appearance, but ultimately has enough in common with it to remain tangible. “Alita: Battle Angel” may be full of beautiful animations, but it is also fantasy cinema you can touch. And that's exactly what makes a huge difference to me in a CGI fireworks display like “Alita”.

The film was shot at Robert Rodriguez ’Troublemaker Studios in Austin, Texas, where it built and brought an entire city to life with real sets and loads of props and not just with a few clicks of the mouse. Here and there, of course, the tried and tested green screen was used, but above all in order to later create spectacular panoramas in the background on the computer. What could be implemented using practical effects was actually implemented without unnecessary ones and zeros from the computer - a procedure that I almost always welcome.

“Hand-made” effects, as used by Rodriguez again and again excellently (also in his earlier films), simply beat even the most modern CGI in my eyes. That may be old-fashioned and maybe sound like “everything was better in the past”, but in the end it has to do with the ability to grasp a scenario. For this reason, the motorball scenes in "Alita: Battle Angel", as spectacularly as they were implemented, are among the more dispensable moments for me - because I simply have the feeling that I am just watching a video game - albeit incredibly well staged.

The FILMSTARTS review of "Alita: Battle Angel"

While a look behind the scenes of comparable blockbusters often shows how difficult it is for the actors surrounded by green screens to only have to know from a few laser points where digital elements will be inserted later, the actors around Rosa Salazar and Keean Johnson wanted to work make it as easy as possible with sets that are as huge as they are detailed. Because even if "Alita" is full of digital effects, these were always used for Rodriguez and Co. to supplement the incredibly elaborate sets, as this ten-minute behind-the-scenes featurette shows. The figures actually strut in the open air through the streets of Iron City and don't just wander back and forth in the comfortably heated, covered studio - I, as a spectator, simply feel that, even without being too obviously pressed on my eyes.

Alita connects people and technology

Even after my second visit to the “Alita” cinema, I am sure that I haven't noticed many of these creative, secretly known elements - not least because of this, but I'm already looking forward to seeing the film a third time. But what makes a science fiction film for me in the first place is its relation to reality. I don't mean to say that “Star Wars”, the MCU films and the like are absolute nonsense because of that - of course they are also anchored in many points in our world, so to speak. As soon as these kinds of materials drift too much into the fantasy genre, I have less and less fun with them. Then rather something like “Interstellar” or “Arrival”, “Blade Runner 2049” or “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Children Of Men” or “Moon”. However, this has absolutely nothing to do with good or bad, demanding or dull, but is simply a matter of taste.

“Alita: Battle Angel” is an exception, because it positions itself somewhere in between and yet works wonderfully. The anchoring in our world is not only inherent in the film visually, narratively and emotionally, but also outside of the cinema. Because the sci-fi blockbuster not only makes use of our world, but also gives something back. The rapprochement between man and machine has always been a topic in cinema and is treated in very different ways in films such as “Alien”, “Blade Runner” or “Her”, but it reaches another high point with the adaptation of Yukito Kishiro's manga - namely in real life off the screen.

In collaboration with the British company Open Bionics, James Cameron and the “Alita” design team developed a new, progressive and affordable arm prosthesis including covers in the cool Alita look, which is intended to make everyday life easier for children who were born without arms or have lost them through illness or an accident. Little Tilly Lockey has already made the start and with her strength of will also inspired the "Alita" team, as the following video shows:

We are not even aware of many things when we see a film. We don't pay too much attention to them, or we often seem to forget them a little later. And yet they are there and play a crucial role in shaping a film for us - whether we notice it or not. It is not least this attention to detail that has always made James Cameron's films stand out from the crowd and turn entertaining popcorn cinema into thrilling, tangible experiences.

"Alita: Battle Angel" transformed. "Alita: Battle Angel" has been in German cinemas since February 14, 2019.