Harlock Space Pirate (Cert 15)
2 Discs DVD/ 2 Discs DVD-Blu-ray Combo (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 111 minutes approx.
With the legendary mangaka Leiji Matsumoto’s 1974 creation Space Battleship Yamato recently getting a live action upgrade, another of his classic works gets the modern make over treatment – 1977’s Space Pirate Captain Harlock. This time however the character has been modernised via CGI animation, and in 3D to boot.
The core plot around which the story is built around is set in the distant future where humanity had perfected space travel and created many mobile colonies. Many years later when the colonies wished to return to Earth, population growth meant repatriation was impossible. A war broke out, brought to a close by the formation of a governing body the Gaia Sanction, which declared Earth a sacred planet, preventing anyone from landing on it. Captain Harlock (voiced by Shun Oguri), a former leader of the Gaia Defence Force, felt this was a betrayal of the people and rebelled to reclaim the Earth.
One hundred years later Harlock is still at large, in his mighty battleship Arcadia, along with his loyal crew Yulian (Arata Furuta), the loud and burly computer expert, kick-ass babe Kei (Miyuki Sawashiro) and Mimay (Yu Aoi) an ethereal female alien. The Arcadia picks up a wanderer named Logan (Haruma Miura), sent by his brother, Gaia fleet leader Ezra (Toshiyuki Morikawa), to infiltrate Harlock’s ship and gain his trust. However having done so, Logan learns the truth about Gaia’s plans and sides with Harlock in his campaign.
Having not read any of Matsumoto’s works nor the anime adaptations approaching this film without prior knowledge was quite daunting. While it can be enjoyed by first time watchers only a quick recap of the central premise is afforded to newcomers leaving many gaps left to be filled in and character motives and relationships tricky to follow.
Keeping the overall story fairly simple was probably a wise move if this was to appeal to new fans without needing to cover the origin tale, which in itself sounds like a fascinating an fertile premise for a decent film. But this tale isn’t so flimsy or secondary to the superlative visuals as a startling mid-film twist cleverly turns everything on its head.
One drawback is that the characters are not fleshed out enough for newcomers nor is the history between Harlock and the Gaia Sanction presented as anything but superficial. Upon researching this title, the creation of Arcadia has an interesting backstory, as does Mimay’s presence on Harlock’s crew and the importance of black matter.
If anything the story between Logan and his brother Ezra gets more of an airing, detailing the tragic catalyst for their falling out, the cause of Ezra being in a wheelchair and the death of Ezra’s wife Nami (Maaya Sakamoto). Even then the roles are quickly defined and once Logan is settled into the Arcadia, the changes in his personality are not as significant as they should be.
In this incarnation, Harlock himself is a closed book even for long time fans. Speaking in an near inaudible whisper (thank god for subtitles) and hiding his scarred, eye-patched face behind a mane of dark brown hair, Harlock is a brooding dark chap with a cape that blows in the wind even when there is no wind. He cuts an impressive figure as an imposing but morally driven fighter, although his dogmatic demeanour is equal to the haughty arrogance of his opposition.
Yulian is a stocky, stubble faced gregarious tech wizard, ready with a one liner before blasting a foe into oblivion while Kei is the token female, as emphasised by a zero gravity shower scene to fulfil the obligatory fan service quota. She even has a special uniform moulded to the curves of her body while her male colleagues wear bulky armoured suits! Subtly, we hardly knew ye.
But this was designed to be a visual spectacle and it is very much that and then some. The CGI is admittedly astounding and so it should be with the immense budget afforded to it. Most impressive is the flawless physical movements of the human characters, right down to the most subtle of facial expressions. Every single motion is so perfectly rendered and replicated one forgets these are not real actors. They have even managed to create realistic looking hair which has always been the one weak area for CGI, although the faces still have that slight synthetic veneer about them.
The spacecrafts are amazing looking, rich in detail and design both internally and externally, most noteworthy being Arcadia with its giant Skull Head for the command deck. I can only assume they are based on Matsumoto’s original designs and if they are, I doubt long time fans will have any complaints about their modern day revamps.
And then there are the battles. It wouldn’t be a space epic without the battles and we are rewarded with some high-octane corkers here, either in the corridors of the various ships via hand held weapons or out in deep space with the full artillery blazing. The Arcadia’s speciality is ramming into opposing crafts and does some tremendous damage in the process.
Not having 3D viewing capabilities I can only imagine how it looks in that format but even in 2D it is something to behold especially in HD. Now, here is the confusing bit: for some reason the Blu-ray version has the English dialogue soundtrack only; if you want the original Japanese dialogue with English subtitles, you need to watch the DVD version which is on the second disc in the Blu-ray set. No, I don’t get it either.
As far as sci-fi blockbusters go Harlock Space Pirate is a superb slice of popcorn flick hokum with plenty of action and excitement to please fans old and new. It’s biggest triumph however is its visual achievements which have raised the bar for CGI animation as well as proving that some updates of a classic franchise can be done successfully.
A genuine spectacle in every sense of the word.
Play film in 2D
Play film in 3D
English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
DVD Bonus Disc:
Japanese Dialogue version with English Subtitles
Making Of Harlock Space Pirate
Rating – ****
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