Shinji Aramaki's SPACE PIRATE CAPTAIN HARLOCK
Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
Shinji Aramaki’s SPACE PIRATE CAPTAIN HARLOCK might be the most gorgeous intergalactic space movie I’ve ever seen. The ships, ray guns, explosions, spacesuits, smoke effects, cities, costumes, technology, electronics, and interiors are just breathtaking in their detail, design, and coloration. In some ways the look of this film almost beats out WALL•E.
Unfortunately, the story, dialogue, and character design just don’t reach the level of the CGI, artwork, and motion capture on display here. There’s so much eye candy displayed you almost forget about the labored exposition and hackneyed plot. Plus there are details that seriously detract from the level of realism that’s being attempted. Capt. Harlock’s cape, for example, is constantly swirling and swishing about as he moves around his vast pirate ship; what’s the source of the wind?
I know, I know, this is all based on the Manga which eventually became a cartoon show, but the serious goings-on here — an attempt by Capt. Harlock to “restart” time — aren’t reinforced by such distractions and the cursory attempts at dramatic conflict and character development.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie and watched it once in English and once in Japanese with English subtitles (the Japanese version is better). But I’m disappointed that so much incredible art and design work has been devoted to stiff characters and a plot replete with conflicts and themes we’ve seen so many times before. If you’re going to pull out all the stops with art, design, and CGI, why not do something original and creative?
Character wise there are probably too many subplots and back stories to handle adequately. For example, there’s a terrific scene where Harlock and an ethereal female alien sit at opposite ends of a long dinner table and drink wine from fancy goblets. For a second I thought some light was going to be shed on the relationship between Harlock and this sensuous alien — “the last of her race” — who handles Harlock’s mysterious time-defying “dark matter engine.” But the scene is over too soon and we’re none the wiser about the relationship.
Facial expressions on even the main characters are, unfortunately, in the “uncanny valley” class. It would have been nice had more attention been paid to the characters’ facial animation; with the latest Planet of the Apes we see what is possible there.
Anyway, the movie does offer visual delights aplenty and the music is effective and appropriate. Just don’t expect to take the story very seriously.
Review copyright (c) 2014 by Dennis D. McDonald