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Column by Scott Green
Scott from ANIME AICN here...
After years of waiting, production and negotiation, the new Robotech movie, The Shadow Chronicles has been unveiled.
The original Robotech was the localized concatenation of three Tatsunoko produced anime space operas: The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber Mospeada. For fans of a certain age, Robotech was the gateway to anime. For many who haven't maintained an interest in the medium, it's still a well remembered sci-fi epic. Popular during its North American TV run and a perennial cult classic, its producer, Harmony Gold USA planned a number of attempts to produce a new Robotech. In 2005, 20 years after the premiere of the original Robotech, Harmony Gold was able to unveil a trailer for its sequel, Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles.
As well as aiming to entertain both returning and new Robotech fans, Harmony Gold hopes that the movie will serve as a pilot/launching point for further Robotech works. Whether these take of the form of additional movies or TV series depend on the opportunities that present themselves.
Darkwater, one of the internet's most dedicated Robotech fans and the force behind the must-see (Unofficial) Robotech Reporter, has had the opportunity to catch one of the movie's festival screenings and as graciously provided a very advanced review of the feature.
Those looking to catch Shadow Chronicles in a theatre will have the following opportunities:
MechaCon Charity Screening, Aug. 12th
New York Korean Film Festival, Aug 25, 27 & Sept. 2nd
Los Angeles Korean International Film Festival, Sept. 29 – Oct. 5th
International Horror and Science Fiction Film Festival Oct. 28 & 29th
See here for movie information.
FUNimation will be distributing the movie on DVD November 21st.
Slop Reilly was been good enough to us a second opinion on the upcoming film.
In 2005, I ran the only fan site dedicated entirely Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles, the new Robotech movie (it's since been replaced by my more cynical blog). Pouring my heart and soul into it and not collecting a single penny, That all changed when someone from Harmony Gold gave me a call in early 2006. Saying that I was responsible for a lot of people hearing about The Shadow Chronicles in the first place, I should at least get to the chance to see it. I was honored to be invited (and I guess it helped that I lived 10 minutes away from their building).
Now of course I was a totally giddy fanboy throughout the entire experience, and it killed me not to be able to tell anyone about it since the movie was in distribution limbo. But now with a solid release date in place and today marking the first screening of the film to the general public at MechaCon 2.0 in Louisiana, I'm now happy I can share my thoughts of this movie.
Yes, I did see the movie at a screening with almost the entire cast and crew (not to mention that I sat two rows in front Carl Macek himself!), but I'll do my best not to let that cloud my judgment and give the fairest review I can.
About the first half hour the film overlaps with the final Invid battle from the last two episodes of "The New Generation." This time, however, it's from the point of view of newer characters battling it out in space. We also get a few scenes that either re-enact or fit in-between scenes of these old episodes that won't always match up word-for-word to their 80's counterparts, (in some cases they actually fix continuity errors). But only the most hardcore fanboy will be bothered by any discrepancies.
Once this overlapping segment is finished, we finally get into the meat of the story…
Admiral Rick Hunter and the SDF-3 crew are lost. While Captain Vince Grant (from The Sentinels) attempts to find him, he and his crew run into a new enemy which can somehow break through all of their defenses effortlessly. Scott Bernard (New Generation) is still learning to deal with the fact that the woman he loves, Ariel, is actually an Invid. Then there's the only returning character from The Southern Cross saga, Louie Nichols, who forms a rather clichÃ© and nerdy bond to the female android J.A.N.I.C.E. (another Sentinels character). We're also introduced to two young pilots, Alex Romero and Marcus Rush (the brother of Scott's dead girlfriend, Marlene), a duo slightly reminiscent of Rick Hunter and Roy Fokker from the Macross Saga. One of them has a serious crush on his superior officer, Maia Sterling, who happens to be the daughter of Max and Miriya Sterling from the Macross Saga.
The story's a bit convoluted (as you can tell), and the re-cap at the beginning doesn't really help that much. While this movie does tell a complete story, a number of specific story elements will remain a mystery to all but the most hardcore Robotech fan. Yes, you can still enjoy it if you have only passing familiarity with Robotech, but you will be left with questions afterwards.
Some will definitely find it disappointing that the story acts more like a TV pilot than an actual movie. It acts as a decent set-up for future sequels, but it wouldn't act as a satisfying end for the Robotech saga (and contrary to some misinterpretations in the press, Harmony Gold does plan to continue this franchise).
Wanting to remain as spoiler-free as possible, one specific thing I need to mention is the involvement of Rick Hunter, the only returning Macross character. Harmony Gold hyped this project from day one as the answer as to what's happened to Rick Hunter and I must say that the answer we get is pretty unsatisfying. Fans will get an answer, but all I'll say is that It'll leave them wondering why this was hyped as the main focus of the movie.
But all of this isn't to say that the story can't still be quite entertaining at times, because it really can. The character interactions are done pretty well for the most part, and the story's pacing will hold the attention of even the most ADD-stricken fan. And while the story can feel a little uneven at times, it really hits home on the emotional level.
I'll get right down to it - the animation feels cheap and rushed. It won't take away all of your attention from what's going on, but it'll come close. The 2D does its job but lacks detail and fluidity while the CG feels cutting edge for 10 years ago. A few CG shots here and there can actually be quite impressive, but for the most part it's pretty stiff and flat.
Even though I saw this on the big screen, I did keep in mind that it was made to be seen on television. Some will get the chance to see this in digital theaters when it goes to its limited theatrical run, but the majority will be seeing in on their screens at home – and seeing it in that way will be much kinder to the animation overall.
And I can't pass up mentioning the design of the women – all of whom were given triple-D cup breasts. Sure, while any guy likes to look at big boobies, the way the women are depicted here is more ridiculous and distracting than sexy. Honestly, it feels like it takes away a small portion of the movie's credibility.
The music, simply put, is unbelievable. This score will make you keep your full attention, even when you're having trouble following the story or the animation isn't blowing you away. Not once does the composer treat this like a low-budget animated movie, and at times the score will make you forget that you're watching one. This music is definitely the movie's saving grace.
A close listener to movie's score will hear influences from John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, and Hans Zimmer, just to name a few. In the end, it brings the movie to a whole new level and I hope the composer, Scott Glasgow, will be back for any future Robotech sequels. The music can be over-done during certain dialogue sequences, but that's a small price to pay for just how engrossing it becomes later on.
A majority of the franchise's original cast was brought back and doing so was an excellent decision. Not only does it add to the film's nostalgic value, you can hear the experience the cast has gained since originally recording Robotech 20 years ago. A few roles were re-cast and the new actors fill the roles quite nicely, even if fans would have preferred to hear the older voices. The only downside comes from having such a large cast of characters, leaving many of these great performances to be heard only briefly.
Being a huge Robotech fan, I'll always remember the huge smile I had on my face after seeing this. It was damn entertaining, even if a part of it was just the novelty of seeing new animated Robotech. While it did leave me wondering why it took 4 years to make, and while I would have preferred a more closed storyline and more of Admiral Hunter, in the end I thought "yeah, that was really fun."
Hardcore Robotech fans will see this without question and watch it repeatedly (and pick it apart to no end), but even passive Robotech fans will probably enjoy seeing this at least once. If you want to catch up a little bit on Robotech before seeing this, I'd suggest the final 3 episodes of "The New Generation."
It was also kind of interesting to see this with a sci-fi fangirl friend of mine who had never seen Robotech in her life. At first she was like "I didn't get all of it," but later on said, "You know, it's growing on me," and even asked to borrow some of Robotech DVD's.
While Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles isn't perfect, it definitely reminded me why this whole Robotech thing is so exciting. It just gets in your blood or something, I don't know.
3 / 5 stars
Slop Reilly's Review
I have been a huge fan of Robotech since 1985, and have dreamt for over 20 years to see a continuation of the story. But I am not your typical fan boy. Unlike so many others, I can objectively watch these films and give an honest critique. For example I hated the Star Wars prequels, and felt that it tarnished the legend of the once great Star Wars. And regrettably, I feel much the same for "Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles."
First, I commend those involved with the production for completing this production. It is obvious that much hard work and sleepless nights went into it. And all should take a bow for seeing this to its conclusion.
Secondly, it's not that I HATED this film. There were some real "Robotech" moments to cheer about. But, it seemed like the producers and director of this film forgot, or never actually knew what made "Robotech" so special in the first place. There also seemed to be a real struggle at the movie's core of what it was trying to be and what it was trying to do. The word "schizophrenic" kept coming to me during the screening. At one end of the spectrum there seems to be a desire to adhere to cannon and continuity. And on the other end of the spectrum it seemed like the creative directors were trying to put their own, unique spin on the production and make it "their own," rather than be compared to the past and the creators who originally made their mark on this legendary series.
Scott Glasgow's score was beautiful. He was able to take the original theme music and make it both nostalgic and fresh all at the same time. The quality was definitely motion picture quality, and not your average run of the mill TV animation quality. Scott should be commended.
The voice acting was very effective. The actors did a tremendous job with lack luster dialogue and at times almost made up for the inferiority of the script. That is the test of good acting. Chase Masterson should be commended for a beautiful singing voice. She gave me chills when she began to sing "We Will Win." All of them were fantastic.
The plot was well developed. Whoever made the decision to go back and revisit the events of Episode 85 should be praised. A good job matching the action with the new storyline of the Expeditionary Force returning to Earth. (Where were Lancer and the gang though?) The basic idea of how Rick Hunter became lost was a nice touch, and the decision to have Earth be depleted of protoculture and have only a year's supply left was well done. This leaves the story possibilities open whether you continue with a second film, or return to series format.
I'm sorry, but this is one of the weakest elements of the film. In my opinion, Ford Reilly did not do a good job with the script. The dialogue was poorly written and filled with clichÃ©s. The addition of the Children of the Shadows, a race that are puppet masters manipulating events behind the scenes, is a rip off of " Babylon 5" and the Shadow storyline in that series. The script also lacked any real emotional depth for the characters. As much as Mr. Reilly says he is a fan of "Robotech," it seems he does not understand what made it special. As cool as space battles always are, it is in fact the characters, their growth, and their interaction with each other that makes "Robotech" stand out of the crowd of the many animes in existence.
This leads me into my main gripe with the screenplay…the characters. I cared about none of the characters except for Louis Nichols. Louis was a more fully realized individual, with quirks and habits, which were not explored as fully during the Southern Cross segment of the original series. As far as the other returning characters, Rick Hunter we didn't see nearly enough, so judgment on him must be held. But Scott Bernard didn't seem like Scott Bernard. Scott was always a strong leader. He had particular mannerisms that were unique to him. He always seemed like a real person. But in this new film, he is nothing more than a cardboard cut out character. Gone is his spitfire leadership style. Instead he is merely a follower, a throw away character with very little emotion. He went through hell for Christ's sake fighting the Invid. He should be the most complex character in the story. Ariel is so bland, that I care not even go into.
As far as the new characters, General Reinhardt is the best. I'm not sure if it was more Dan Warren's amazing performance, or if the character was just really interesting. I wanted to know more. Vince Grant on the other hand was flat as a door. Alex Romero was just so absolutely annoying that I wanted to cheer when he died. Were we supposed to care about him? It is obvious that he was supposed to be the "Ben Dixon" of the story, playing off Marcus, the "Rick Hunter" of Shadow Chronicles. But the original story showed us clearly why Rick, Max, and Ben were friends. They goofed on each other, they joked, and they were there for one another. So when Ben perishes, we the audience were as heart broken as Rick and Max were. Here, I didn't even feel that they were friends. Alex totally disrespects Marcus at every chance he gets. Marcus doesn't even seem like he cares about him. AND then there is the Mya Sterling and Marcus relationship. Marcus has a crush on her, and we are supposed to see their chemistry through the few verbal spats they get into. But they had no chemistry. It was always easy to see why Rick fell for Minmei, and it was easy to see that Lisa and Rick were meant for each other; even long before the characters themselves realized it. In this new story, there is no development of real bonding between the characters. Each of the relationships seems staged and clichÃ©d. By far, the character development was the weakest link in "Shadow Chronicles."
3D / CG Animation
By no means was this up to the standards promised by DR Movie after the brilliant Yukikaze. It isn't horrible. I have seen far worse. And in fact, in comparison to other CG animated films, the quality is better than most and would normally be one of the bright spots for this movie. But based on the quality of work DR Movie turned out with "Yukikaze", the end result can only be described as disappointing.
The colors were vibrant and at times the animation looked truly beautiful. But the biggest fault of this aspect of the film is the character movement. The character movement seemed lifeless and not human like. One of the complaints I have always had about Tommy Yune's art is that his characters seem lifeless and that he doesn't understand human movement. Well the characters here suffer the same fate. They move in a blocky and unnatural way. The whole time I kept thinking that someone should send the animators to a Human Kinesiology class. And as director of this project, Tommy Yune is to blame. He should have caught these flaws and ordered the animation team to correct it. But perhaps the reason he didn't catch it is that he, like his animation team need to go back to school and enroll in Kinesiology 101.
Most of the characters, with a few exceptions (Mya Sterling, Louis Nichols) looked the same. No facial expressions, especially Vince Grant. The man definitely does not look black. Claudia Grant looked black. But not Vince. Drawing an obviously Anglo looking character and painting them black does not constitute creating a truly ethnically accurate character. The Heidenites (sp?) / Children of the Shadows were ripped off character designs from the Vorluns on "Babylon 5." Rick didn't look like Rick Hunter. They could have done a better job of making him look like the original character. Especially with the decision to make him gray and have a scar, they shouldn't worry about legal ramifications. Lastly, the design for Scott Bernard wouldn't have been bad if he were a new character. But the drastic redesign of an already existing character was unnecessary, and not a good decision.
These are all flaws that can be corrected before production begins on the next chapter of "Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles." But it is my belief that those in charge of "Robotech" at Harmony Gold fail to recognize exactly what kind of special property they have. They see it as a niche product with a cult following. But I argue that "Robotech" has the potential to be bigger that "The Transformers" or any other animated property from that time period. When I was in middle school, it was "Robotech" that all the kids, not just the boys, but the girls too, talked about. It was more popular than the aforementioned "Transformers" or "G.I. Joe." And many regular people I talk to when "Robotech" is mentioned to them remember it fondly. They might not watch it any more, but they remember it well. And it is my belief that if "Robotech" was produced and marketed in just the right way, those older fans who don't watch anime, might watch it, remember back to a time when they rushed home from school to catch the new episode, and then introduce their kids to it, creating a whole new fan base that will allow "Robotech" to live on for many years to come.
As it stands though, I do not think that "Shadow Chronicles" will have much appeal beyond the die-hard Robotech fan. I believe that the average person who knows nothing or very little at all about this world will shrug and move on quickly. In the end, I believe that this new movie will tarnish the legend and memory of "Robotech" much in the same way as the new trilogy has done for "Star Wars."