Cowboy Bebop Movie: Knocking On Heaven's Door (of 1) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, June 18, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, June 24, 2003
What They Say
It’s just another day when they are after a bounty on Mars, when a strange event unfolds. After a devastating explosion on a highway an unknown disease begins to spread among the people.
The situation gets really disastrous when the disease claims over 500 victims. As the local government sets the highest bounty ever in the history on the head of the culprit it’s time for Spike and friends to enter the action.
But there’s a little problem: the man they search for is someone who’s already dead
This movie takes place between episodes 22 and 23 of the TV series.
After a very successful TV series and rising popularity in the US, it was little surprise that a theatrical movie was going to follow. And instead of doing some sort of retelling or reworking of aspects of the TV series, they smartly chose to tell a “lost” tale of sorts from within the TV series framework.
Columbia manages to get things right here whereas pretty much all anime studios fail in my mind, and that’s the audio department. If you go right into the film itself, it kicks in with the Japanese 5.1 language track and subtitles, providing the original spoken language as the default (though players that can set personal defaults will select those). This basic understanding of the materials origins is reflected in pretty much all of Columbia’s releases and I’m continually pleased to see them doing it with their Destination films line.
Both the Japanese and English tracks are served up in a very well done 5.1 mix in Dolby Digital (no Japanese DTS track exists, so no requests please) as well as the inclusion of a French stereo mix. We listened to the film in its original language as that’s the cast we’re most comfortable with and enjoy the most and this soundtrack was no exception. From the fantastic opening credits song to the incidental music and sound effects throughout, this was a great treat. The rears are used well and not overdone while there is a great depth and sense of directionality as well as clarity to the forward soundstage.
Working with a hi-def film master, the transfer here definitely brings in an amazing amount of detail and sharpness, though there’s still enough of the raw elements visible that it’s not easy to forget you’re watching something animated. The print looks very film-like and has gorgeous colors throughout, from the dark grimy layers of the hidden parts of the city to the lush blues of the bay, never mind the various vibrant colors that come from Ed’s cyberworld. Cross coloration is blissfully absent here and I barely saw anything in terms of aliasing. At most, there’s a bit more grain than I would have expected in a couple of scenes and some of the film dirt was a bit distracting in one sequence. Otherwise, this is a very easy transfer to simply get lost in as it plays out.
I’d normally deride the cover art chosen here, but the Japanese cover art was just as uninspiring as well as most of the theatrical posters I’ve seen for it. The cover here goes for the obvious central image of Spike surrounded by the two main women of the series as well as the gratuitous lens flare set against the image of the Martian cityscape. It’s not bad, but it feels weak against the very strong TV series covers. The back cover offers up a few shots from the film and a good summary of the premise as well as the characters TV origins. The features are all nicely laid out and easy to decipher. The insert uses the Japanese theatrical poster artwork on one side while the reverse lists the movies chapter stops.
The menus are nicely laid out using the visuals of being inside the cockpit of what is presumably Faye’s ship, with the cityscape moving below. Moving to the submenus has you whisk into a different direction and continues the movement once loaded, resulting in only a slight wait for the transitional animations. Load times are nice and fast and the menus are laid out as most Columbia ones are, though I wish they’d move the subtitle selections into where the audio selections are, so there would be one less place to have to fiddle with.
While not overly loaded with extras, there’s a very good selection of pieces included in this release. The featurettes make up the bulk of them with seven separate pieces. They all range around 7 to 10 minutes each, with the first two being the more interesting ones. “From the Small Screen to the Big Screen” tackles what was involved in making the movie, talking with the director, character designer, actors from both sides as well as the music aspects. The “International Appeal” part covers varied ground from Watanabe’s surprise about it being popular outside of Japan to Kanno’s trip through the US when she was 20 and getting a feel for the varied musical styles here. The individual character featurettes are fun as they cover parts of their creation to the actors behind them, each providing an interesting little tidbit about their roles in the characters life.
Outside of the featurettes, you’ve got 4 sequences that run short lengths showcasing the storyboards to the finished product. The character biographies section covers the five main characters (including Ein!) with each providing some basic data and a couple of pages about them, but nothing terribly in-depth. The conceptual artwork galleries, broken down by type such as characters, aircraft, etc, cover just over 100 pieces of artwork that is done in the traditional left/right menu control as opposed to the video galleries. Two music videos are also included, “Ask DNA” and “Gotta Knock a Little Harder”. The first one is essentially a short textless opening sequence, but I love the song and the look of the opening so much that it’s a real treat. The other one looks to be more original and has animation I don’t recall from the movie for most of it and is also quite good.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After the successful and emotional completion of the TV series run, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back into the Bebop universe again, less something new detract from the overall feel that it had given me. The film takes place between episodes 22 and 23, serving as a side story where you know there are no long term effects or real changes, which gives things the feel of a lost tale of sorts.
The movie opens amusingly enough, having Jet and Spike take down a couple of low-grade bounties that are involved in a convenience store hold-up. The encounter goes in a way that it only can for people like them, which is comical, fast and out of control, often all at the same time. The brief encounter sets the stage and shifts into a great opening credits sequence done in black and white, where we see various people living their lives in this city that looks suspiciously like New York City.
In fact, one of the best parts of the opening ten minutes or so of the movie is that if you had just gone in blind without knowing anything, not one bit here outside of Jet’s artificial arm gives hint that this is a show with a science fiction backdrop. In fact, that’s a theme that’s relatively well maintained throughout the movie, with only some background areas and transportation pieces really giving clue to the larger than reality nature of the show. We don’t have spaceships shooting it up across the blackness of space or some of the bizarre elements that crept up in the series itself.
With only the small fry bounties as of late, Spike and Jet are both bored and concerned about what to do. On their fourth night of instant ramen meals, they know they have to find a bigger bounty, but they just don’t seem to be out there. This of course coincides with Faye’s return from her own bounty hunt where she failed to capture a computer hacker that’s got a nice bounty on him. When she and Ed had traced him to a tanker truck going down the highway, she was surprised when a completely different person emerged after pulling over and stopping. She was even more surprised when this dark clad and very swarthy looking man was unaffected by the tanker blowing up behind him and then his leaping off the bridge into nothingness.
The resulting explosion certainly left a fair amount of people dead, but it also appears to have unleashed some sort of virus as a number of people in the immediate area are dying from something. The doctors can’t trace it, the police are having no luck and there’s a feel of something bigger impending. This leads the Martian government to put out a huge 300 million bounty on whoever is behind it, and so begins the groups varying searches into finding out what’s going on.
For the most part, this really does play out like a much expanded episode but without feeling like its being padded to do so. The slow languid style of many episodes is something that works quite well here in how this larger story is being told. From the discovery of who is really behind it to the way Spike tracks down information. The TV series rarely shied away from taking some time for quiet moments where people just sit there and contemplate things and the movie only takes that up a few notches, such as providing some good moments of dialogue and thought between Spike and Jet.
That’s’ not to say it’s a dull plodding movie in the slightest. With the quieter scenes scattered throughout, they serve well in really accentuating the more punched up action sequences. The light and almost feisty fight sequence between Spike and Electra at the medical headquarters is wonderfully playful and was very reminiscent for me of the first TV series episode where you had Spike sliding and gliding across the ground. But you also have a wonderfully violent and focused sequence aboard one of the monorail cars over the bay between Spike and Vincent.
The character of Vincent is quite well done, though a villain who doesn’t really deal in exposition to explain his goals, he does spell them out at various times but in a way that doesn’t feel like he’s doing it so the viewers know what’s going on. He fits the bill as the tall, dark and handsome villain that carries a big stick and knows that his words count, so he uses them sparingly for the most part. The initial image of him emerging from the tanker with his jacket flowing was reminiscent of the powerful image of Nicholas Cage from Face/Off early on in that movie. Watching Vincent walk slowly and purposefully as the tanker explodes behind him is a strong visual and really sets the mood for the character for the entire film.
The storyline is pretty much a straightforward detective style type that doesn’t offer up much unique. It plays out pretty well and the journey is definitely enjoyable. With it being so grounded in reality as the characters really do feel like that inhabit this world, the visuals manage to play that thin line between needing to look authentic, as many anime theatrical releases tend to go for the near photo realism look, while remaining true to the less than realistic looking characters. The look of the city is very much a character in this film as well, especially as they start dealing with the Moroccan area and the wide ranging places that Spike ends up visiting.
I also found Spike to be much more appealing this time around than through parts of the TV series, partially due to my greater exposure to the Lupin universe. The more I see of that franchise, the more the influences become noticeable and enjoyable. Spike’s way of dealing with things and reacting to situations, from his movements to his facial expressions, are very reminiscent of Lupin’s that each instance brings a smile to my face. Spike also manages to get a good deal of time to be himself, letting his thoughts loose a bit more than usual, which only adds to his persona.
The film pretty much manages to hit each note just right. From the great Yoko Kanno score where she really expands the Bebop musical universe, to the return of all the cast members for the leads in both languages, the movie is just filled with the things that make Bebop what it is. Director Watanabe really got to tell the tale he wanted to here with only his usual “couple of regrets”. Some people may feel some twinges watching this, since it came out close to the events of 9/11 and there is some imagery in here that invokes reactions. While the bio-terrorism aspect is likely to get the main nod, there’s also the very New York feel of the city here, including a shot of two buildings like the World Trade Center towers where the sun is coming up between them. If anything, I found the imagery to be more reaffirming of the “life goes on” aspect as opposed to the reactions I’ve heard some people have had where it makes them ill.
Columbia has released a top notch release here, with a great transfer, excellent audio and a solid set of extras. As with their release of Metropolis, I’m eager to see how they continue to handle their dipping into the anime market. If Columbia continues to push releases like this out both in theaters and home video, I’m all for it. One of the greatest fears of fans was that a “big company” like Columbia wouldn’t be interested in what the fans want. With the return of the English cast and the excellent work done here, I think that can safely be put to rest.
Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,The Making of Cowboy Bebop: 6 behind the scenes features,"Ask DNA" music video,"Gotta Knock a Little Harder" music video,Concept art galleries,Storyboard comparisons,Character profiles
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.
Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: A
Age Rating: 17 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Running time: 124
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Cowboy Bebop