The development of CGI has happened so quickly that effects that were cutting edge five years ago now look more dated than decades-old traditional model or animation effects. A.Li.Ce is a classic example of this – cutting edge 3D animation that in 2004 looks a more like a cool PC game than feature-length sci-fi extravaganza. Nevertheless, the storyline is compelling enough to make it worth a look.
Alice is a young girl who is found unconscious in the snowy wastes of 2030 by a man called Yuan. Alice was a teen pop idol in the year 2000, and the last thing she remembers is leaving Earth in a space shuttle for a trip to the moon. The shuttle crashed and Alice somehow travelled 30 years into the future, into a world controlled by the evil Nero, who has reduced the population by seven billion people and rules via a giant computer known as SS10X. With the help of a sexy waitress robot, the pair set out to discover why Alice is here.
A.Li.Ce puts a neat twist on that familiar sci-fi plot – used most obviously in The Terminator – where someone is sent back in time to stop a terrible event before it can happen. In this case, our heroine has been brought forward three decades by opponents of Nero because she is the only one who can infiltrate his super computer, on account of the fact she will become his mother. The issue of how her unborn son could become such a monstrous dictator is one of the film's central questions; the answer isn't all that interesting, but the film is well paced and mixes action with drama competently enough. The flirty relationship between Juan and the waitress robot Maria is amusing, and the line between good and bad is nicely blurred. In particular, the rebel chief responsible for bringing Alice into the future seems more corrupt than Nero himself, and Nero's eventual downfall is more tragic than triumphant.
Visually, A.Li.Ce has many impressive moments. The arctic landscapes and the tower known as Kingdom where Nero lives are both captured in imposing detail, while the movements of the characters is realistic – many scenes were initially performed by actors wearing motion-capture suits. Unfortunately the action isn't nearly so well realised, and director Kenichi Maejima's desire for realism results in a series of chases and laser shootouts that are flat and unexciting. While Hollywood continues to pioneer entire-CGI movies, in Japan A.Li.Ce remains something of an anomaly. The country still produces some of the world's finest animation, but the best modern anime – Spirited Away, Metropolis, the Ghost In the Shell movie and series – uses CGI to assist traditional cel-animation, and for all the skill that undoubtedly went into making A.Li.Ce, it can't help but look dated by comparison.
[Artsmagic's Region 2 DVD presents the film in an English dubbed version and the original Japanese soundtrack, both in 5.1, and includes an interview with Kenichi Maejima, together with crew biographies]
Veteran of Japan's animation industry, best know for his work as an animator on the long-running series Urusei Yatsura and for directing the country's first all-CGI film, the 1999 sci-fi thriller A.Li.Ce.