Alice (1999) – By Duane L. Martin

Back around the years 1999 and 2000, there were apparently more CGI animated films being made than I was aware of. Sure everyone knew about Final Fantasy, as it was a spectacular feat of CGI animation, but there were several other films like Malice@Doll and this one, Alice, that were also breaking technical barriers that had limited computer animated projects in the past due to a lack of computing power and the expense involved in actually bringing enough hardware and software together that was actually capable of bringing the animator’s vision to life. Technically speaking, Alice seems to fall somewhere in between Malice@Doll and Final Fantasy. The frame rates are not completely smooth, although they are considerably better than the frame rates in Malice@Doll. For those of you who don’t know what I mean by frame rates, I’ll explain. For computers to display real-time smooth animation, they have to display at least 30 frames of animation per second on the screen. Basically, 30 full screens of individual images every second. Televisions run at slightly less than that, coming in at around 27 frames per second. The animation in Alice was smoother in some scenes than in others, and it generally depended on what was in the scene and what was going on. It was never bad or really jerky though, and that’s what’s important. It was simply a limitation of the times and the equipment and software they were using, and you wouldn’t see that in any of the major CGI productions of today, because the hardware and software of today allows the animators to create characters and scenes that are glass smooth and far more realistic than what they were capable of a mere five years ago. What really grabbed my attention though were the beautiful landscapes and the great action and chase sequences that were achieved in this film. The outdoor scenes are pretty incredible looking and quite expansive, while the interiors are rather stunning in and of themselves. Malice@Doll had a very unique look to it, but it felt very claustrophobic next to the expansiveness of Alice.

Alice is a past / future story in which a girl named Alice Hayashi who is brought forward 30 years into the future by a man named Nicolai who’s the leader of the liberation forces. See, Alice’s son Nero used computers and technology to take over the world, and Nicolai needed Alice because only her brainwave patterns could make it through the defences in a place called Kingdom. Kingdom is Nero’s citadel where he keps his computer, the SS10X. It’s also protected by robotic defenders called stealth troopers and multitudes of automated weapons systems and sensors.

Once Alice is brought to the future she crashes in the Laplands, and is hunted down by a group of stealth troopers. Ultimately she’s rescued by a young man named Yuan and together with Yuan and a waitress robot he repaired that Alice named Maria, they embark on a quest to find out how this all came to pass and how to get Alice back to her own time.

During the course of their travels, they come across an old news office where back issues are stored in the computer system. The discover that Alice’s husband was killed in a UN action in Asia and that after she had a breakdown, she went into a coma. Her son Nero was sent to an orphanage. Well during the years since, Nero had used his skill with computers to build a super computer, which he then integrated his comatose mother in. The purpose of the computer was to allow him to hear her thoughts so he would be able to know her, but unfortunately, the thoughts of her friend, who had committed suicide, had implanted themself into her brain, and Nero, assuming that he was following his mothers wishes, began to eradicate the humans from the Earth. Unfortunately, it was Alice’s friend Yumi, who had committed suicide who claimed that the sky was not the sky and that it was the fault of overpopulation and greed that the world had become so polluted and utterly ruined. It was Yumi who thought that taking the world from a population of eight billion down to a population of one billion would allow the Earth to regenerate itself and become the way it used to be before the humans had ruined it. Unfortunately, thinking that this was his mothers desire, Nero took it upon himself to make this happen. People were eradicated, and around 2015, the target population of one billion people had finally been achieved.

Nicolai, the leader of the liberation forces, placed a helmst on Alice’s head that interfaced with a computer that would allow her to use her brainwave patterns to access Alice’s to take down the Kingdom’s defenses, but she was freed my Yuan and Maria before she had fully completed her task. The liberation forces penetrated into Kingdom somewhat, but when Alice was freed from the machine the defenses came back on line and killed the liberation forces.

Alice, Yuan and Maria escaped from the base in a shuttle / time machine that Nicolai planned to use to go back in time to shape the world according to his ideals, and headed off to Kingdom where Alice would confront her son and find out why everything had gone so wrong.

It’s gotta be hard to make animated characters three dimensional, and even harder when you’re limited by technology that at the time, and using this style of design, didn’t really allow for an incredible amount of emotial expression in the faces of the characters. Still, even with the limitations, the animators and voice actors did a good job of making Alice and her friends into characters that you can actually care about. I cared more about the characters in this animated film than I have in the last few big budget hollywood flicks I’ve seen.

The action sequences were really outstanding and there’s a sense of excitement during the chase scenes that expresses in the strongest possible terms what a great job the animators did when putting it all together. The best action scenes tended to be the chase scenes on the rocket sleds over the icy landscape. The way the sleds moved gave you a feeling that at any second they could just lose control and crash in a terrible heap sending bodies flying everywhere.

As for the voice acting, that’s kind of a double edged sword. I mean, you can watch the movie with the English dubbed soundtrack, or you can watch it with the original Japanese dialogue with English subtitles. It all really comes down to personal preference. For me it usually depends on what mood I’m in, but in this case I actually switched from English to Japanese about half way through the movie so I could get a good feel for both. Both versions were quite good with regards to the voice acting, so follow your mood when you select which language you want to listen to and you’ll be good either way.

ArtsmagicDVD always loads their releases up with all kinds of great stuff, and this one has tons of extras as well. There’s a documentary called “Final Fantasies” – A History of CGI Animation filmed at London Sci-Fi 2003, an interview with director Kenichi Maejima, trailers, filmographies and biographies, an image gallery, and a section of artwork. It also has 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound for those of you with home theater systems.

Alice was a visually beautiful movie with great characters and a compelling story that makes you feel like you’re watching something special. Wouldn’t it be nice if more films made you feel that way?

If you’d like to pick up this disc, or check out some of ArtsmagicDVD’s other releases you can check out their website at http://www.artsmagicdvd.com.