Monday, January 24, 2011

Review: Robotech The Movie

(by Nathan Stout of AccordingToWhim.com)

Robotech is awesome. Even at it's worst, it's great. Robotech the Movie however... sheesh... is still great. It's not excellent but I still think it's interesting and it very much the child of the strange merging of Japanese animation and American story telling that Robotech the series is.

Let me give you the Robotech story rundown in just a few sentences. In 1999 an alien spaceship crashes on Earth and ten years later aliens come to reclaim it (after the humans rebuilt it). The technology that was aboard the ship allowed the humans to make planes that could transform into giant robots (the size of the aliens). The ship was pursued across the galaxy and eventually the humans won (only at a great cost). Years later the alien's overseers show up and try to get what's left of the ship and fail. Years after that another race of aliens take over Earth. Eventually the humans prevail. Wow. That's really simplifying the VERY complex story but it gets the job done.

Robotech was hailed as one of the first U.S. 'serious' cartoons that did stuff (like kill off characters) that was very un-cartoon like. This sort of serious story line was apparently very common in Japan but new to audiences in the United States.

Now what makes it even more interesting is that Robotech is actually made of three different cartoons (from Japan). All three were purchased by Harmony Gold and Carl Macek wove a story to connect all three. A new soundtrack and new audio turned what was already cool into something much greater.

Robotech the Movie (1986) was built in much the same way. It was made with unrelated footage from a movie called Megazone 23 and various footage from the series. The footage was mixed up and a new storyline and new audio was added.

Now I wouldn't complain too much about it since the series did the exact same thing. The problem I do have with movie was the fact that Carl Macek seemed to be riding the Robotech success train and needed to come up something new and quick. This sort of rushed project usually sucks and Robotech the Movie paid the price. I can't totally blame Carl Macek though, apparently he had a cut of the film that didn't have any Masters footage in it. It was mostly Megazone 23, but execs at Cannon Films told him there wasn't enough action so they made him go back and redo the film. Once again movie execs ruin what could have been a great addition to the saga.

The story is actually not too bad. It takes place between the first and second Robotech 'wars' or series. Some basic story plots have been added to the Robotech canon about exactly what the aliens actually want. The series rotates around the fact that the aliens want the ship and what secrets it holds. The movie makes the secret a computer 'terminal' that in the ship. For the movie the terminal was put into a transforming motorcycle that some punk gets ahold of. He is constantly on the run from the government (and alien moles within the government). Our hero Mark also discovers that the super popular star Eve is actually an computer program (which was created from some of that alien technology) and turns out to be what the aliens want. Eve works with Mark to stop the aliens/government in their evil plot to kill off the human race.

When we get to the actually plot point where EVE talks to Mark the movie isn't so bad (at about 30 minutes into the movie). But up until then its a jump back and forth with footage from the 2nd part of Robotech (the Masters Saga) and footage from the movie Meagzone 23. The Robotech Master's footage trying to tell the first part of the story seems somewhat non-sensical and really hurts the overall project. When I look back at it I see that you need to show that footage but somehow it just doesn't fit well.

The Megazone 23 animation is great and blends fairly well with the Masters footage. Overall though, I don't get the Robotech vibe from the Megazone 23 footage. I felt it should have been a bit more tech-oriented. There are some cool robots and such in some scenes but the technology that is integrated into every day life is missing in that footage so it seems a bit out of place. As it turns out Megazone 23 was shot on 35mm and the Masters parts were shot on 16mm (which explains some of the uneasiness I was feeling when watching the two spliced together).

Robotech has gotten an A+ book series that explains all the little details and glosses over all the flubs and there was a book in that series that took the movie and integrated it very well into the Robotech canon. I suggest watching the movie and reading the book as one exercise.

I can only suggest Robotech the Movie if you are fan of Robotech. If you aren't you won't get a lot of whats going on and you won't be able to get past the choppy storytelling.

On one final note. Robotech the Movie did miserably in the theaters. However, the DFW are was one of the few places where the movie was released (as a test). I got to see it when it came out and I must say I didn't give a crap about it (at the time).

Here is the trailer for the movie.

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