Hollywood manga adaptation ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ to take on film version of author Liu Cixin’s ‘The Wandering Earth’ in China

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2019/2/19 18:53:40

From left: Robert Rodriguez, Yukito Kishiro, James Cameron, Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz and Jon Landau attend a press event for Alita: Battle Angel in Beijing on Monday. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Inset: James Cameron (left) shakes hands with Liu Cixin at the press event. Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Director James Cameron has returned to China, this time as producer of the latest Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster Alita: Battle Angel, an adaptation of the popular Japanese manga series from Yukito Kishiro. Opening this Friday, the film from director Robert Rodriguez will hit theaters at a time when Chinese sci-fi film The Wandering Earth, itself an adaptation of a short story, is still dominating the domestic box office with more than $575 million earned so far. 

Cameron, together with Rodriguez, lead actress Rosa Salazar, actor Christoph Waltz and Kishiro came to Beijing on Monday for a series of promotional activities, including a chat with Chinese sci-fi author Liu Cixin, the first Chinese writer to win a Hugo Award and the author of the story upon which The Wandering Earth is based. 

A film for all

Based on Kishiro's manga Gunnm, also known as Battle Angel Alita, the film tells the story of a human and cyborg living together in a 26th century junk yard metropolis called Iron City. 

At a press event on Monday, Cameron said that as a fan of the manga he originally wanted to bring Alita to the big screen 20 years ago, but "another little film called Avatar got in the way." 

Once that film was finished, Cameron intended on returning to Alita, but the sequels to Avatar, which are currently still in production, ended up taking too much of his time. 

According to Cameron, it was around this time that Rodriguez, who is also a fan of the original manga, told him: "You're never gonna make this movie. Let me make this movie." 

While the film is very loyal to the original manga, both Cameron and Rodriguez said that they don't feel this will present a barrier for non-Gunnm fans. In fact, they said they think Alita, the heroine of the film, will resonate well with teenagers, and teenage girls especially. 

"Generally speaking, I don't know if it's true here, but certainly it's true in North America that women are not as attracted to hard tech science fiction as they are to fantasy or other types of films," Cameron said, noting that the heroine is sure to bring them into theaters. 

He also noted that the female-led film "is a movie for women, as much as for the guys, as the guys will like the action and go for the tech and because she [Alita]'s hot."

A diverse future

A huge fan of sci-fi, Cameron noted that he has read Liu's award-winning Three Body Problem trilogy and hopes to see the story adapted to film, which he feels could end up encompassing six movies. While Liu wasn't against a film adaptation of his trilogy, he said that since the China film industry is still in the early phases when it comes to the genre of sci-fi, it would be better to start with something easier to handle than his Three Body Problem.

While this was the first time that Liu and Cameron met, the two had similar opinions toward the future development of sci-fi films: we will see a diverse range of films. 

Cameron noted that while the films of the 1970s, a high point for the genre, were mostly dark and depressing, today's market has room for both lighter sci-fi films such as DC and Marvel's entertaining superhero works as well as deeper films that tackle more serious issues.  

Liu mentioned that previous to its release he had no idea how Chinese audiences would react to The Wandering Earth

"The tastes of Chinese audiences was a mystery for everyone," he said, adding that the positive reaction to the film, which is now the second-highest earning film in the Chinese market, has provided him and producers of the film a few clues. 

"As for the future, I think the right direction is to have different types of sci-fi… both very scientific ones as well as more soft and popular ones." 

As to whether there is room in theaters for both Alita and The Wandering Earth, ticketing platform Maoyan currently predicts that Alita will get a screen share of 64.1 percent on its opening day, pushing the screen share of The Wandering Earth to 18.9 percent from Tuesday's 39.2 percent.  

Released on Thursday in North America, the $170 million budget Alita has only earned an estimated $43 million as of Monday. With a long road left to reach profitability, all eyes are turning to China to see if the market can bring the film out of the red.
Newspaper headline: Season of sci-fi

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