This marks the first professional collaboration between James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez. Due to his prior commitments to direct the four sequels to Avatar (2009), Cameron could only serve as the producer and co-screenwriter on this film, with Rodriguez taking the directorial duties. In an interview with Empire magazine on December 8, 2017, Rodriguez said of the collaboration with Cameron, "This just doesn't happen. Guys like Quentin [Tarantino] and Jim [Cameron] only write scripts for themselves to direct. When Avatar (2009) becomes the biggest movie of all time, he told me that he's going to spend the rest of his career making Avatars, so I said, 'What happens to Battle Angel then?', because as a fan I was just interested! And he said, 'I don't think I'll ever get to do that. Hey, if you can figure out the script, you can shoot it!' So I took it home, spent all summer working on it, cut it down to 130, 125 pages, without cutting anything that he missed. It was a great gift. We had a blast; anytime I had a question I could just call him or email him and he would send back these hugely detailed answers that were so helpful. He just loves being the producer that he always wants. The guy's just so freakin' smart. Getting to learn from someone like that was the greatest internship ever."
The manga series is titled "Battle Angel Alita." In 2010, producer Jon Landau commented, "I'm telling people that we have to call it 'Alita: Battle Angel,' because Jim (James Cameron) only does T&A movies." Most of James Cameron's movie titles begin with the letter "A" or "T," such as Titanic (1997), Aliens (1986), The Terminator (1984), The Abyss (1989), True Lies (1994), and Avatar (2009).
Director Robert Rodriguez based the second Motorball sequence on a NASCAR rally. Instead of aerial and impossible shots, he used the physics of real cameras in placements seen in NASCAR. It includes long lenses capturing things whizzing by, as well as cameras on the track with the players to keep it as real world as possible. It was the longest sequence in the film that he worked on, about three years from start to finish.
The film is based on the nine-volume Japanese manga "Gunnm," released in North America as "Battle Angel Alita." Written and illustrated by Yukito Kishiro, the comic book ran from 1990 to 1995. It was followed by the 19-volume sequel "Battle Angel Alita: Last Order," which ran from 2000 to 2014, and later by "Gunnm: Mars Chronicle," which began in 2014.
Upon the release of the film's first theatrical trailer, Alita's appearance, especially her big eyes, have provoked strong mixed reactions from audiences. Director Robert Rodriguez, in an interview with Empire magazine on December 8, 2017, explained the decision for the design of Alita's eyes: "It was always Jim [Cameron]'s intention to create a photo-realistic version of the manga eyes that we're so accustomed to seeing. We really wanted to honour that tradition and see that look standing next to any human character. To have the right person to emote behind it was really essential. Her origins are in the film and you understand why she looks that way. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, we have some pretty big windows. You can see a lot going on in there! When it gets to the emotional scenes it's really uncanny and striking. And captivating!"
Announced in 2003, production on and release of the film were repeatedly delayed due to Cameron's work on Avatar and its sequels. After years of languishing in development hell, Rodriguez was announced as the film's director in April 2016, with Salazar being cast the following month. Principal photography began in Austin, Texas, in October 2016, lasting through February 2017.
This is the first film Robert Rodriguez has directed since Spy Kids (2001) in which he wasn't also the film editor, director of photography, camera operator, steadicam operator, composer, production designer, visual effects supervisor, and sound editor.
Some of the world's top-inline skaters performed as the Motorball competitors, among them Chris Haffey, Franky Morales and Dave Lang. 2003 X-Games competitor Katie Ketchum doubled for Rosa Salazar during these sequences, while Salazar was skating off the side capturing facial expressions for the reference cameras. Both Ketchum and Salazar's performances were combined in post-production.
James Cameron had wanted to direct and produce a feature film adaptation of Yukito Kishiro's "Battle Angel Alita" manga since 1995, but the project stalled for two reasons: (1) prior commitment and his own interest to direct Titanic (1997); and (2) the technology, at the time, had not caught up with the story and vision he needed to present to do justice to Kishiro's world of Alita.
Alita: Battle Angel has also led to a fruitful collaboration between Cameron and Rodriguez teams, including Lightstorm, the Los Angeles-based company, and its own production facility in Texas (Troublemaker Studios). Many of Lightstorm's special effects designers then paused in their work on the Avatar sequels to focus on Alita.
This was Robert Rodriguez's third film to be shot in native 3D after Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003) & The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D (2005) and cinematographer Bill Pope's second film to be shot in native 3D after The Jungle Book (2016).
This was the first film directed by Robert Rodriguez to be shot primarily in widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Although Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003) and Grindhouse (2007) (segment Planet Terror) were released in theaters at said ratio, the DVD/Blu-ray versions are presented in his preferred 1.85:1 ratio. This film was also specially formatted in IMAX 1.90:1 for over forty minutes, which closely matches the 1.85:1 ratio.
Composer Junkie XL has done several other significant post-apocalyptic / dystopian film scores besides Alita: Battle Angel (2019). He has also composed the scores for Divergent, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Dark Tower, and Mortal Instruments.
When James Cameron and his producer, Jon Landau met Robert Rodriguez, they started by showing him some impressive videos and storyboards that testify to the visual and scripting potential of Alita: Battle Angel (2019). Rodriguez was immediately interested and asked if he could reduce the size of the basic script.
An April 2016 article in The Hollywood Reporter reported that Maika Monroe, Rosa Salazar and Zendaya were among the final actresses being considered to take the role of Alita in the film, with a decision due within a few weeks. The article reported that Zendaya's former co-star, Bella Thorne, had also auditioned for the role. Near the end of May 2016, Collider reported that Salazar had been chosen.
Jorge Lendeborg Jr. plays Tanji, who is a friend to Hugo, who has a romantic connection with Alita, a cyborg. In Bumblebee (2018) Jorge plays Memo, who has a romantic connection with Charlie, who is a friend to Bumblebee, a human-like robot.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
James Cameron confirmed in an interview that this is a combination of the first four books in Yukito Kishiro's series of manga books ("Motorball" from books 3 and 4, and the story from books 1 and 2). In another interview, Cameron also said that should this film be successful, he hopes to make another two "Battle Angel" films.
Originally, "Gunnm" is a manga written and illustrated by Yukito Kishiro. "Gunnm" has nine volumes of about 220 pages each. These were published for the first time between 1990 and 1995 in the Business Jump magazine. The first French version was released between 1995 and 1998 by Glénat. The particularity of this manga, related to the cyberpunk genre, lies in its extreme violence and its very dark vision of humanity, which does not prevent some characters from having very deep feelings, contrasting radically with their environment. "Gunnm" takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in the twenty-sixth century, which is divided into two main parts: on the one side; the dump, a filthy and ultra-violent city populated mainly by cyborgs; beggars, criminals, bounty hunters, etc. And on the other side; Zalem, a city floating several thousand meters above the dump whose inhabitants are humans living in an idyllic environment. These are two places in perfect opposition and separated by impassable boundaries. The majority of the manga's action takes place in the landfill. In this world ruled by the strongest, a scientist, Dr. Dyson, discovers the carcass of a young abandoned cyborg. After having repaired it, and thus bringing it back to life, he calls it Alita ("Gally" in the manga). Having no memory of her past but showing impressive combat skills, she will try to unravel the mystery of her origins and better apprehend the world in which she now lives. This is to protect those she loves from terrifying enemies who relentlessly pursue them.
Doctor Dyson Ido is a similar role to the role Christoph Waltz played in Django Unchained (2012). In that movie, Dr. King Schultz (Waltz) is a German dentist, bounty hunter and mentor to the movie's titular protagonist Django (Jamie Foxx).