James Cameron on the Morality of 'Alita: Battle Angel'

The Robert Rodriguez-directed film has been a passion project for Cameron for over 20 years.
Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic
James Cameron and Rosa Salazar

James Cameron, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Rosa Salazar and director Robert Rodriguez all walked the red carpet on a chilly Tuesday night at the Westwood Village Regency Theatre for the premiere of Alita: Battle Angel.

Adapted from Yukito Kishiro’s manga graphic novel, Alita is a cyberpunk sci-fi thriller about a young cyborg trying to survive in a morally comprised world and learn the truth about her past.

The film has been a passion project for James Cameron for over 20 years, and he told The Hollywood Reporter why he was so passionate about the material and how he had hoped it could be a movie to inspire his own daughter.

Alita is a moral character in a very immoral and dark world. In this world of the future, everyone is compromised. Her father figure is compromised. Almost everyone is compromised or has sold out or made their deal with the devil ... except for her and she won’t do it," he said. "My eldest daughter, Josephine, was 7 at the time and I was thinking a lot about being a dad and what it is to raise a daughter and what life will be like in her teen years.”

Salazar, who plays the titular role of Alita in a motion-capture performance, told THR what it was like to work with Cameron and how he prepared her to play the role of her career.

“He had, like, a 600-page document of notes,” he said, laughing. “He also said something interesting in his notes that Alita is like a small pebble, hurling through space, affecting every single thing along the way in a big way, and I loved that.”

Digital effects for the film were created by the legendary Weta Digital, who had to balance between creating a world that felt real while at the same time remaining visually connected to the project's manga roots. It took their technicians and artists six months just to perfect the look of Alita’s eyes and the expressiveness of her face.

While Cameron originally had hoped to direct the pic himself, he eventually passed the helming reins to his friend Rodriguez.

“I’ve always wanted to work with Jim. We’ve been friends for 25 years,” Rodriguez told THR. “We tried to work on something together before and then this project came about. He let me read it and I was so shocked that it had so much heart and emotion because I knew it was a cyborg and sci-fi, but it had all the heart of his other movies and I thought, ‘I really want to work on this,’ because he was going to try to do something that no one had ever done before.”

Pop star Dua Lipa recorded the track "Swan Song" in support of the movie, and she talked to THR about the emotion she was trying to evoke with her song. “Empowerment. Always. Strength, and kind of that message of being able to speak up about things you feel strongly about," she said. "In the song lyrics, we took the motto from an AIDS activist group called ACT UP, and their motto is ‘Silence equals death,’ and we incorporated that into our lyrics in order to say that whatever happens, we should always beat the silence and always speak up about things that are important to us.”

Alita: Battle Angel hits theaters Feb. 14.