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Jon Landau and Robert Rodriguez introduced new clips from Alita: Battle Angel on Thursday at CinemaCon. After their onstage appearance, they talked with The Hollywood Reporter about the making of the sci-fi epic, opening Dec. 21, and the potential of new technologies including LED cinema screens.
Produced by Landau and James Cameron, and directed by Rodriguez, Alita is based on the graphic novel series GUNNM. In the story, Alita (a performance-captured Rosa Salazar) awakens with no memory of who she is in a future world she does not recognize and must adjust to a new life in Iron City while trying to find clues to her past. The first clip saw her waking up, uncertain of her surroundings. The second was an action sequence.
Landau described the film as having “heart and soul, a strong female protagonist and relatable characters.” The cast includes Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley and Keean Johnson.
On casting Salazar, Rodriguez said she displayed a high “level of emotion, commitment, heart” and “could play the lost child who doesn’t remember who she is” as well as show her “full power.”
Landau also praised her “multidimensional performance … innocent to becoming ferocious and determined.” He added, “She thinks of herself as an insignificant girl but she’s able to make a difference to the people she meets and the world.”
Rodriguez praised the collaboration with Landau and Cameron, and their Lightstorm Entertainment, saying Landau was on set during production and Cameron was just a call or email away while working on the Avatar sequel scripts. “He’s so generous as a teacher,” he said, “he wouldn’t send back an answer, but a thesis.”
It was filmed in Austin, Texas, at Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios. The director related that they built a 90,000-square-foot Iron City at his studio for filming (they are filming in native 3-D with the 3-D cameras that Cameron developed.) They also combined the talents of the Avatar sequels’ art and editorial departments since both films were in production. Weta Digital, which handled the VFX on Avatar and will do so again on Cameron’s sequels, worked on Alita.
In regards to any sequel plans for Alita, Landau noted that “the audience will tell us,” but explained Yukito Kishirowho, who wrote the original manga on which the film is based, has “written 30-plus stories in this world and about this character. This pulls from the first three, so the opportunity is there if the public wants more.”
The filmmakers have long been on the cutting edge of cinema production and exhibition technology, and Landau confirmed that Alita, as well as the Avatar sequels, will each have a release for HDR (high dynamic range)-supported cinemas, meaning there would be a wider range between the whitest whites and blackest blacks. The Avatar sequels will additionally incorporate high frame rates.
Asked about LED cinema screens replacing projection systems — a much debated subject at CinemaCon — Landau said, “We have historically and will continue to be agnostic as long as the quality is equal.”
He added that what he has seen in terms of LED, as well as today’s laser projectors, the images themselves look “spectacular” though he warned that the community “can’t come up with a solution that’s impractical in the field” and should “go into the modern-day cinema very efficiently.”
This week at CinemaCon, LED discussions in Hollywood circles have included how to play back the sound and the deliverables (potentially a new version of the film would be needed).