Friday, July 20, 2012

Ace Attorney Movie. The Review!


I have wanted to see it since the moment they first published stills of the movie.

It was originally only going to show in New York and possibly LA for film festivals.

Somehow, through the glorious power of the Dallas Asian Film Festival crew, they brought it here. I wasn’t aware of the first showing (my own dumb fault) but was thrilled to see it would play again during closing night.

If I could summarize the movie in one sentence it would be this: Should the movie play in your town, drop everything that you are doing and go see it.

This isn’t some fan girl playing up to the games. This is coming from the point of view of a movie reviewer and a gamer. Ace Attorney isn’t perfect, but it is a gavel bang of justice that is sorely needed for the video game movie genre.

Positives:

- This is by far the best adaptation of a video game to a movie yet. Why? Hollywood didn’t get their hands on it. Capcom stayed away from the project (which could have been bad; look at the Super Mario Bros. movie). They gathered cast and crew that really committed to the characters and cared about the content of the game. Down to the hairstyles and clothing, it was all about bringing the game to life.

- Classic characters and new twists. Even if you haven’t played the games, you knew when Phoenix was on the screen, or when Edgeworth was going to respond with a point and a snap, or that Larry Butz was going to do something in the background to grab your attention. Larry owned that movie. But some of the characters were given a new spin, such as Redd White (spoiler: the murderer in the second case) went from being a flashy man in a pink suit to a disheveled man in black, dark shades, and mangled hair as a reporter, not a hotel manager. And his perky assistant? Gone.

A lot of this possibly had to do with the way they were trying to convey the story; a more obvious note to the viewer that “this guy is bad, this guy is good” so that the final case would be even more of a surprise to new-comers of the series.

While I miss the flamboyance of Redd White, the change wasn’t all bad.

- Making the game come to life. It’s not just the characters, their hair, and their mannerisms, but it was clear that the crew really paid attention to details to make the set alive. The blow-up Steel Samurai from Gourdy Lake? Picture perfect replica from the game. The gavel the judge used? Exact. The attorney badge? Legit. Even the insanity that was the digital projection screens that displayed pieces of evidence (and it was ridiculous) felt like you were right there, playing the game, tapping away to solve the case and exonerate your client.

- Everything old felt new. Takashi Miike and the script writers took on a difficult task squishing 4 cases into a 2 hour movie. The way they approached each case wasn’t like the game at all. They were all inter-twined and some slightly altered to showcase the power of the court system and how the determination of one lawyer can turn the system upside, around, and backwards to ensure the innocent are proven not guilty. The movie was well crafted to interject a lot of fan favorites but keeping the tone right where it needed to be, borderline serious and amusing.

- Subtitles! This gets its own category because it’s obvious that the production company had an influence on how titles would read to audiences. Yes the Japanese names were changed to their American counterparts, which was a nice gesture. What I really loved is that they included accents, tones, and inflections that you see from characters in the game. Lotta Heart, the paranormal photographer, for example, has a Southern twang in the game. Guess what happened with the subtitles? All Lottafied! Now we all know she didn’t really speak like that in the film, but it made it all the more compelling.

Negatives:

- Not all character changes were a good thing. Detective Gumshoe and Maya Fey will probably get the brunt of the blow because their characters are not as they appear in the games. Gummy was more of the hard-nose detective. His charming, cheerful demeanor was lost and at no point did Edgeworth threaten him with a potential pay cut. Maya wasn’t her cute, bubbly self either. She had those moments of a juvenile mini-tantrum, but that sparkle that we expect from her wasn’t there. And what was up with the dead fox around her neck? If that was supposed to be a method of keeping warm it failed because her legs were still pretty bare and open to the elements.

- Lack of context opens up confusion for non-fans. While I understand that they couldn’t squeeze all 4 cases in, some things like the Steel Samurai and The Blue Badger were probably confusing to newcomers, it didn't address all of the game's cases well enough. The sequence involving Dee Vasquez (see guys I knew I’d remember the name eventually) in the courtroom (one of the producers of Global Studios that produces the Steel Samurai). Her part was to help develop Edgeworth’s character as this prodigy prosecutor, and that’s about it. But unless you’re in the know, the in-side jokes/references are for fans only.

- Too much humor and too much seriousness. This is both a positive and a negative for the film because one aspect I did enjoy is how well they blended in the sillyness of the game with the real world aspects of murder, theft, corruption, and all the things that make up a courtroom drama. But then there were these spans where the humor was really high that you couldn’t catch your breath or the drama was incredibly intense that you were pretty freekin’ depressed. It was a bit odd for the movie. The moments when they were blended worked out quite nicely. But to go from the heights of busting a gut laughter to the incredibly depressing back story of Yanni (which you know about in the game but it wasn’t visualized) was a kick to your senses. I know Miike has his style, but this was a little off-kilter even for him. We needed time to recover before the movie could continue.

Conclusion:

This is the video game movie we all have been waiting for. Go see it. They have not announced a release to DVD for the U.S. so you may have to import it. It’ll be available in Japan August 22nd (after a short theater run) on DVD and Germany spring 2013.

This is one of those films where I would LOVE to see a sequel just to see where they take the story from there. But something to keep in mind is that AA is a cult franchise. It doesn’t have a high number of sales, but Capcom knows that the fans will always be there. We buy it and we spread the word. It’s difficult to not get hooked onto AA. Even hearing people leave the theater were talking about wanting to play (try EBay because it’s a little tricky to find these days). There’s a magic to the series. This might be one of those where it did only 6 mill at the box office (limited release for a very short time) but the DVD sales will win people over.



Aside: Hollywood and U.S. studios. If you ever want to make another video game movie, follow what AA did. We won't accept your crap anymore. :)

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