Reviewby Carlo Santos, Sep 12th 2005
Gundam Seed the Movie: The Empty Battlefield
In the Cosmic Year 70, humankind has been split into two factions: the genetically enhanced Coordinators and non-enhanced Naturals. While most Naturals live on Earth and Coordinators have moved into space, Kira Yamato lives happily in the neutral orbital colony of Heliopolis. However, Heliopolis has been secretly working on a weapon for the Earth Forces, and when ZAFT (the military wing of the Coordinators) attacks the colony, Kira finds himself aboard the secret weapon—the mobile suit Gundam. Although he wants to protect his friends, Kira is a Coordinator himself, and fighting against his own kind is a moral battle that can't be solved by gunfire alone. With his childhood friend Athrun on the ZAFT fleet and his own allies unsure of his motives, Kira must convince everyone including himself that he's fighting for what he believes in: peace.
When Yoshiyuki Tomino transformed the giant robot genre from superhero fantasy into serious drama, he probably wasn't expecting it to become a multimedia empire. And he probably wasn't expecting a remake two decades later, including a condensed movie trilogy version. The Empty Battlefield is more like a crowded battlefield, stringing together fight scene after fight scene just to keep the story rolling. Anyone who wants to face off against Kira and the Strike Gundam ought to take a number and get in line. For those wanting to relive Gundam Seed's greatest moments, it's an adequate rehash, but newcomers wanting to get into the series are better off watching, well, the actual TV series.
As to whether "the actual TV series" means Gundam Seed or Gundam 0079, take your pick, because this remake echoes many of the characters, events and themes in the original. The production staff, probably having grown up on the original Gundam, recreates Tomino's world with respect for his vision. That kind of respect, however, also leads to creative timidity, a fear of fandom that locks the animators into old-fashioned ideas. The tragic heroism, character drama, and political rhetoric are all carry-overs from the formative years of modern mecha anime. Kira's moral dilemma is timeless but too simplified, and the other characters are defined by ideologies rather than personalities, which may have been okay in the early 80's but feels lacking today. Nevertheless, fans who enjoy classic Gundam philosophy will find it all here.
Gundam philosophy, however, is hard to muse on when you're being shuttled from battle to battle all the time. The shoddy execution of this movie abbreviates most of the themes and ideas into rough notes rather than thoughtful discourses, because there's no time to sit down and talk. Although there are occasional scenes of dramatic weight, they come and go so abruptly that the viewer never gets a chance to be emotionally affected. Even battles are poorly paced, coming out of nowhere, and by the time you figure out who's fighting whom, it's over and they're preparing for the next conflict already. Sometimes entire shifts in locale go unexplained, and every time Kira pops up in a new setting—aboard a starship, or in the desert—it would be really nice to know how he got there in the first place. This haphazard pacing just goes to show that trying to condense a multi-episode story arc into 95 minutes is rarely a good idea.
The visuals are all about updating the classic Gundam look with the polish of digital animation. The robots are detailed enough for modern aesthetics, and in a surprising artistic decision, are never rendered in 3-D CGI (although it must have been a tempting shortcut). In fact, 3-D imaging seldom shows up, and whenever it does, it looks terribly awkward anyway. The animation itself is clean but not stunning, telling the story in a straightforward manner. There are still a few unique touches, however, that make the space battles distinct—multiple missiles snaking outward from their source, Strike Gundam slashing away with its blazing sword, constant thrust equaling constant velocity. (Hey, if you want proper physics, go watch Planetes.) Hisashi Hirai's character designs are probably the most drastic act of modernization: the mainstream anime look has changed a lot in two decades, and it's represented here by the wide-eyed, angular features of our heroes.
No epic space opera is complete without its epic music score, and this movie guarantees plenty of soaring orchestral moments. Every battle is accompanied by enough brass and string firepower to destroy a smaller ensemble, while quiet conversations go hand in hand with heartfelt solo passages. In fact, were it not for the music during Kira's moments of reflection and angst, it'd be almost emotionless. Somehow the shoddy pacing still interferes, though: at one point the music suddenly cuts off right after a touching dialogue scene, which is a tragedy in itself.
Bandai's English dub is a passionate performance that brings out the spirit of each character. With technical jargon and melodramatic space opera dialogue littering the script (and yes, it's just like that in Japanese too), don't expect too much, but the English cast does fine with what they have. Some might accuse them of over pronouncing their words and putting on stage voices, but this is galactic warfare we're talking about—if you're going to say something, you might as well say it like you mean it! The adapted script takes a few liberties from the direct translation, but nothing more than re-arrangements of phrase or a matter of word choice.
Extras on the DVD include previews and nothing more. The "bonus footage" in the movie (i.e. anything that wasn't slice-and-diced from the TV series) doesn't really count as an extra.
"I didn't mean to kill him!" Kira cries at the abrupt, anticlimactic ending of this film. At the same time, the staff at Sunrise might be thinking, "We didn't mean to hack it up!" The Empty Battlefield illustrates the tragedy of war, but more than that, it illustrates the tragedy of an epic anime series crushed into three haphazard movies. This first one is barely comprehensible, and that's if you're familiar with the series already. Imagine showing this to someone with no knowledge of Gundam—would they be impressed? They'd see slick giant robot battles, lots of stuff exploding, and people being sad—but it wouldn't make sense. Anyone who wants to really get into the world of Gundam had better be prepared to watch the TV series in full.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : D
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Classic mecha action and drama with a fresh, modern look.
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