I’ve no way of knowing personally whether or not any or all of the creative folk behind SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO grew up as fans of the 70’s anime program of the same name. I think it’s a safe bet that they were. (I wasn’t a faithful watcher, but I caught it from time to time.) After all, why resurrect the popular property after all this time if not a fan of it? One would think that fandom and film projects go hand-in-hand, but maybe – just maybe – that worked against this 2010 film adaptation. Perhaps it could’ve used some new and uninitiated hands at the reins in order to produce a better product.
In 2199, Earth has been all but decimated, the results of a five-year war with the Gamilas. Indeed, the surface of the once green planet has been irradiated, and survivors are left to fend for themselves in the subterranean world below. When a chance message from the stars reveals that a cure for our planet’s radiation may wait on a distant world named Iskandar, the Earth Defense Force does the unthinkable: they launch our last battleship into space with hopes that this one last team can uncover the remedy and return it to save humanity from certain doom.
It’s a great premise – one that has fueled countless sci-fi properties throughout the years – and much of YAMATO carries it off stylistically to great success. In fact, one could argue that setting a feature of this type aboard a ‘battleship’ is more than a bit inspired as it gives set designers and dressers a chance to work with far more ‘homegrown’ settings. I’d imagine quite a bit of the production budget for such films as STAR WARS and the ALIEN franchise goes into building ships – with their various rooms and settings – that look as if they’re part of a future technology, but a good amount of YAMATO resembles ships of our time: destroyers, battleships, frigates, etc. You rent out a decommissioned ship, throw up a fresh coat of paint, splash up a few futuristic graphics, and viola! Spaceship!
Arguably, that’s the appeal of YAMATO, probably stretching back to the days of its infancy. It always seemed like a closer tomorrow than, say, STAR TREK or ALIEN as those environments were clearly a distant future. It’s an inspired choice, one rooted in present technology as well as it is things to come. However, it’s a sound conclusion that didn’t gel with the entirety of the film.
Special effects here are, actually, downright disappointing at times. Fighter craft tend to zip and scoot and flip and bebop around much the way they do in anime, and that’s entirely incredulous when shown alongside the grim, utility-like images of the YAMATO. In the world of STAR TREK, technology like ‘inertial dampeners’ make it possible for man to survive in the high-tech environment of warp-speed and futuristic combat craft, but that healthy grounding in a real, relatable science seems to be at a loss to the crew bringing YAMATO to the big screen. It’s almost as if these space fighters ‘skid’ through open space when their movements are decidedly cartoonish.
And … who knows? Maybe that’s precisely what the producers wanted, given the fact that YAMATO is based on an anime. Maybe they wanted – much like elements of DICK TRACY did a while back – to essentially deliver a live-action-adaptation of a cartoon with all of its cartoonish elements specifically to throw viewers back to those days of the TV adventure. If that’s the case, then they may’ve succeeded, as the ship’s Wave Motion Cannon looks decidedly much like it did on the boob tube. I would’ve expected (and hoped) for something better – a contemporization of the beloved TV show instead of something so similar – or, at least, something that built on the program while still serving reverence to it. Instead, the viewer is treated to some decidedly low budget effects visuals (albeit there’s some smart cinematography here) more akin to computer games than they are a tent-pole franchise property.
Still, the YAMATO – in all its militaristic grace – sure looked good out there. Instead of B-movie status given here, I’d rather they gave it an A-movie upgrade, complete with characters far more dimensional than these carbon-copy fighter pilots and their hokey TOP GUN camaraderie.
RECOMMENDED. Meh. I think it’s a failure, but what a glorious failure indeed! SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO looks and sounds mostly the way fans of anime would probably expect a filmed adaptation to look and sound – entirely harmless, covered in sugar to its cinematic roots, with plenty of flash and sizzle for the young-at-heart. At best, there’s a basic story of good-versus-evil here, though much of it is buried under C-grade special effects seen on shooter games in the late 90’s; and, at worst, you could find hundreds of worse ways to kill 138 minutes. As I said, I never cut my teeth on the televised anime in my youth, but, if I had, this might’ve been right up my alley.
Space Battleship Yamato was the source material for the anime that would become known in the U.S. as Star Blazers. This movie takes the twenty-six episode series and whittles it down to a 135 minute film, only using the sections of the series that are absolutely necessary to tell the main story of the series (the Earth being polluted by the Planet Gamilus, the crew of the rebuilt Yamato making the 148,000 light year voyage to Iscandar to get a neutralizer to rid Earth of the pollution... and must … more