APPLESEED: EX MACHINA R3 Hong Kong DVD review
By far the flashiest title on the roster of this year's International Film Festival Rotterdam, we've covered Aramaki Shinji's "Appleseed: Ex Machina" extensively. Fond memories abound: it was my first press screening ever!
I wrote a review in January and, working together with GhibliWorld.com's Peter van der Lugt, even had the good fortune to interview the director himself!
At the end of my review I stated I'd get to reviewing the DVD of it as quickly as possible.
Problem is, which edition?
"Appleseed: Ex Machina" has been released worldwide by Warner Brothers, and everywhere you can buy more or less the same one-disc and two-disc editions. Exception to this rule is Japan, as Warners is not doing the domestic release. This is a big exception though as the Japanese LE seems to be a gorgeous monster indeed!
But for this article I review the Hong Kong two disc edition because it's the cheapest of the two-disc editions, hence most likely to come under consideration if you take one of the worldwide Warner releases.
And I was somewhat surprised at the contents.
"The Story" and "The Movie":
For a (brief) plot and (less brief) movie description I refer you to my review from IFFR 2008.
But I have to say, this is just about a perfect movie to own on disc. As with all movies which are slightly overfull, a second viewing can be more pleasurable than the first: you won't be disappointed twice but you can be delighted by things you newly discover after having missed them during the first viewing.
And you WILL have missed things the first time. There is such an exquisite attention to detail on display, both in the designs and in their execution, that you can virtually watch the whole movie frame-by-frame.
Also, this being an uneven movie, you can watch just the good parts over and over again at your leisure. Which is bliss.
In a nutshell: even though I have some reservations about the movie as a whole, this DVD has already gotten many repeat viewings in my household because it is a delectable collection of CGI eyecandy.
On to the DVD:
This is the Hong Kong edition so it's region 3 decoded. Or so it says...
But the first thing which greets me when placing the first disc in the tray is an FBI-warning. So next I put it in my region 1 player, and yes, it works!
Warner Brothers does this often: releasing the same NTSC disc for both region 1 and 3, and a PAL disc for both region 2 and 4.
After the scareslide two short segments follow: one is a trailer for the upcoming "Justice League of America" animation, the other is a short preview for the animated Batman anthology. Which is cool, but the preview is actually filled with American people telling me how brilliant the Japanese artists were... without mentioning a single one of them. Lots of talk about how wonderful it is when the East and West meet in this collaboration, and you see some nice images, but no Japanese people get to say anything, no Japanese names are mentioned, no Japanese faces are shown. Odd, and a weird foreshadowing here concerning the extras on these discs...
Videowise this edition is fine. When I pulled screenshots I noticed a slight softness but nothing to get grumpy about. No interlacing, no annoying amount of edge-enhancement: good.
Next is audio. This disc has several soundtracks. Advance info stated that the English language track would be Dolby 5.1 while the original Japanese track would be 2.0 only. However, reading reviews about the American R1 turn out to be very puzzling: half mention 5.1 tracks for English and Japanese, while the other half mention 5.1 English and only 2.0 Japanese. Most vendors state this last option and it confuses the hell out of me.
Anyway, I double-double-double checked using my ears, computer and DVD-player soundtrack info, and my HK region 3 DEFINITELY DOES have a Japanese 5.1, thank God.
No DTS (remember, this is Warner Brothers) but both English and Japanese mixes are nice and aggressive. My preference goes to the Japanese track because of the extremely intricate and successful lip-synching done on this movie. The English track tries to keep up but has to change texts in places to try and match the facial movements. It's a fine effort but it never matches as good as the Japanese does.
Also included are Dolby 2.0 tracks for Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese and French. All logical choices for a Hong Kong disc, you'll agree (?). Subtitles are in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean and English HoH. Good subs, by the way, they're real and not "dubtitles": the English dub occasionally differs in meaning from the Japanese, but the English subs follow the Japanese dub, not the English one. I approve!
(Note: one of the comments below by Running Man describes in detail that these subs may not be as good as I make them out to be...)
Now for the extras:
First and foremost is a commentary track in English by producer Joseph Chou and animation expert Jerry Beck. It's a very friendly and informative track, surprisingly self-critical. There is of course the usual praise and backslapping for all involved but it never gets cloying, and the conversation also covers general anime issues like the depiction of women in Japan, the huge eyes etcetera. Definitely one of the better commentaries out there!
Next are the trailers. And the first thing I notice is: no trailers for either "Appleseed" or "Appleseed: Ex Machina".
Ouch. That's bad, Warners!
You might be forgiven for not putting a trailer for the first movie, as it wasn't released by you (Geneon did the honors on that one), but no trailer for the feature film itself is sloppy, especially since you included so many others.
What we DO get are trailers for "Speed Racer", "Welcome to the Sick House", "I Am Legend", "Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D" (which looks terrible when compared to, say, "Beowulf") and "King Kong: A Fistful of Quarters".
Oh, and a cheat code for the "Speed Racer" videogame, for infinite time.
Next are the documentaries. All of the previously mentioned extras are on the first disc together with the movie, but there was space enough left over to put two documentaries on there.
The first is "Team-Up: John Woo And Shinji Aramaki" and is a 16 minute look at the input John Woo had in this film.
Thing is, most of what is shown here is also covered extensively in the commentary track. And there is something odd: you get a bunch of American experts telling us who John Woo is.
Eh? This is (also) the Hong Kong disc, right? I think in Hong Kong they might already know who this John Woo guy is! And whenever Chinese or Japanese is spoken, the voice is turned off and some American guy starts dubbing the text.
Yes, it's safe to assume that these are American documentaries aimed strictly at an American audience even though this disc will be released throughout region 3.
Checking the second documentary, "Revolution: Animating Ex Machina", this gets annoyingly clear. The 18 minute segment shows the technical creation of the movie, although it never goes very in-depth. Still it's interesting to see and even funny when they show how some of the more extreme fights were motion-captured.
But when they get to recording the voices, they say the following: "voice-acting is considered a form of art in Japan...". And next follow several minutes showing how the American redubbing was done. Not a single bit about the original dub, not a single Japanese voice-actor gets shown or even mentioned. Of course the American voice-actors get interviewed, and Briareos voicer David Matranga mentions how he always listened to the original Japanese voice to base his own performance on because the original was so good. Would people have died if they mentioned the name of Japanese voice-actor Yamadera Kouichi? Who is indeed a famous artist and a very well known voice from many anime and videogames?
And this continues throughout each and every documentary on these two discs.
As full as the first disc was, so empty is the second: there are only two short documentaries on it. Thankfully, one of them is really nice!
"The Appleseed Chronicles" is a very interesting look at the original Appleseed manga books, and unbelievably this contains a written interview with the notoriously reclusive writer Shirow Masamune. It lasts nearly 20 minutes and hardly contains any fat. The American viewpoint here is less overbearing than in the other documentaries and the knowledgeable fans speaking here all have something to say.
The second is probably the most pointless extra on an Asian release: "East meets West" is an 18 minute look at how American culture starts to embrace some things Asian.
This is a very nice disc with good video, good audio, good commentary, good subs, and some nice extras (amongst some flawed ones). And it's exactly the same disc as the US region 1 (so maybe I should have bought that steelbook after all...)
All images of APPLESEED: EX MACHINA are (c)2007 SHIROW MASAMUNE / SEISHINSHA・EX MACHINA FILM PARTNERS.