– by Joseph Jammer Medina


Robert Rodriguez has a very distinguishable style. If you’ve watched a lot of his films, there’s a real kinetic feel to them. For the most part, they aren’t grounded in our reality and largely exist in a fantastical world only one’s imagination could dream up. From the goofy Once Upon a Time in Mexico to the ultra-stylized Sin City, there’s a real creatively-kinetic and pulpy nature to his work that one wouldn’t think would be at home with a more traditional mainstream action film.

In fact, when it was first announced that Rodriguez was attached to direct Alita: Battle Angel, a project that James Cameron had been wanting to do for over a decade, I figured he’d bring to the project his own pulpy style. I expected lots of over-the-top visuals, blood and gore, and a ridiculously fun tone. While there are a lot of interesting visuals, when we were shown off that first trailer for the film, I couldn’t help but realize something: in spite of the visuals, there was something more emotional and grounded than what I expected from him.

RELATED – Alita: Battle Angel Featurette Highlights The Important Of A Close-Up

In later interviews, he would go on to say how he was trying to adopt producer James Cameron’s style. But what exactly does that mean? Our own Gig Patta had a chance to speak with Rodriguez in anticipation of that film, where he asked that very question: What is it about James Cameron’s style that he was trying to bring to this film?

“Instinctually it felt like I shouldn’t just do what I normally do. The script was written so clearly for him to direct, and I can see it so clearly. I really wanted to make it feel like the lost Jim Cameron movie than go off and just do my process. I didn’t even know what my process even meant until he told me something about sci-fi and fantasy genres in general and the way he sees it.”

“I tend to be very whimsical with my stuff. Because I started as a cartoonist. He started as an illustrator. That’s different. That’s more realistic. Cartoony is more whimsical, kinda fun like Spy Kids or El Mariachi or Desperado. A guy can fire a missile from a guitar case, and I don’t think the audience really needs to know how it works. I think they can just buy into the dream logic of it. But that wouldn’t fly with Jim. He’s much more grounded and real. He would ask, ‘How does that work? I don’t understand the engineering. I wouldn’t work without blowing up in the guy’s face. I don’t buy it. Pulls me out of the movie.'”

“So I asked him how he’d approach a movie like this. He said science fiction and fantasy, especially for him, has to be really grounded, otherwise you don’t buy the fantasy. If it’s not utterly believable, you don’t believe it.”

“I thought, ‘Wow that’s cool. I really shouldn’t shoot it like I do my normal movies.’ I don’t want it green screen like Sin City, or have this whole sheen of artificiality to it, if I try to make it look like a living manga or really stylized. I lobbed that out the window and decided to shoot real locations, build real sets, have a lot of actors around her, have her really bite an orange. You know, just so it has to feel more real and grounded a lot more than I normally would do. So that’s really what helped feel like it feels more in line with the science fiction films he would do. Where it just feels more grounded an believable. That why’s people fall in love with the character more, because they believe she’s actually real. And that’s the genius of Jim and I wouldn’t have figured it out on my own.”

This certainly explains a hell of a lot. For better or worse, Rodriguez’s ridiculous style is exchanged in favor of something slower, more meditative, and more grounded. Of course, the visuals are still off-the-wall, but I’d argue there is a lot more humanity in what we’ve seen in the trailers for Alita than most of what Rodriguez has done in the past (for reference, check out the first teaser for the movie above). From the sound of it, it has everything to do with the filmmaker trying to capture what Cameron found important about sci-fi storytelling.

Do you think he captures that based on what you’ve seen of the film so far? Let us know your thoughts down below!

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Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.