Alita: Battle Angel trailer reveals live-action adaptation of manga

A live-action movie based on the manga Battle Angel Alita has been in the pipeline for more than a decade, but it's finally becoming a reality thanks to two unlikely collaborators: Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron.

Initially, Cameron considered adaptaing Yukito Kishiro's 1990 Japanese manga classic about a robot girl salvaged from a scrapyard. But he instead decided to work on Avatar and put Alita on the back burner. When Cameron committed to four more Avatar sequels, he showed his screenplay and notes about Alita to director Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Desperado), who edited it into a shooting script. Cameron was impressed and asked Rodriguez to direct.

"When I first [read] Jim's script, I didn't know much about it," Rodriguez told Entertainment Weekly. "I knew it was based on the manga. So I came in cold. When I read his script and saw the images that he had [made for it] it was arresting and completely captivating and I could identify with all the characters—Alita is someone who starts down in a trash dump and finds out that her true destiny is becoming something much greater than who she thought she was. And just having this huge spectacle-type world but with a story that can really connect—that's what Jim does best. I was so happy to see all of that was in there, it was crafted with all the love and care with any of his other projects. It was a real dream to be able to take on the project in his place since he was going to be doing the Avatar movies."

The result is Alita: Battle Angel, which combines actors who are either partially or completely computer-animated with live-action performances. Rosa Salazar (The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials) plays Alita in a motion capture suit, while other performers including Christoph Waltz and Jennifer Connelly are featured more traditionally. 

"When I first saw the images Jim put together, it was really embracing the idea of bringing in a very manga character with the enlarged eyes—which we haven't seen since Astro Boy in the '30s and has never been cinematically photo-real," Rodriguez said. "It seemed like an opportunity to get the look of a manga in a cinematic way, and to do that Alita would have to be completely CG, and it's now possible to bring a photo-realistic person to life. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, we got some nice big windows to view—her eyes are extremely captivating and show everything that's going on inside of her."

Cameron originally envisioned Alita as a trilogy, so there's a decent chance this could just be the start of a franchise. "We wanted to make this a self-contained story, so you'll see a movie that's very complete but it tunes up a world and a character that could go on and on," Rodriguez said.

Alita: Battle Angel opens July 20, 2018.