Cyborgs: Humans of the next century? How Alita: Battle Angel breathes life into robotics

20th Century Fox

Alita: Battle Angel pushes the limits of of cybernetic depiction in film. 20 years in the making, the film depicts a human-like character with a cyborg body, with Rosa Salazar taking on the role of Alita entirely through motion capture. Here are some films featuring cyborgs that have hugely impacted popular culture and the science fiction genre.

METROPOLIS – 1927

Considered one of the first science-fiction films, Metropolis is a German silent film from 1927. Set in a stylised urban dystopia that exists above a bleak populated underworld, the film follows Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), the wealthy son of a city master, who becomes intent on helping the workers. He befriends Maria (Brigitte Helm) and together they attempt to unite the workers to overcome the class separation. The cyborg featured in Metropolis, called maschinenmensch takes the form of Maria, and is the first robot to be featured in film. The sci-fi epic has hugely influenced pop-culture from C-3PO in Star Wars to Queen’s music video for Radio GaGa.


BLADE RUNNER – 1982

Ridley Scott’s neo-noir, based on Philip K Dick’s novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ Blade Runner is set in a dystopian Los Angeles in 2019. Created by the powerful Tyrell Corporation, bio-engineered synthetic humans known as replicants are indistinguishable from humans. But they have superior strength, speed, resilience and intelligence, and have a four-year life span. The story follows Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) a burnt-out cop who reluctantly agrees to hunt down fugitive replicants who have gone on the run. Blade Runner hugely influenced the sci-fi genre, though not only the cyberpunk look but also the human-like cyborgs featured.

ROBOCOP – 1987

RoboCop tells the story of a part-human, part-cyborg law enforcer (played by Peter Weller) who’s designed to clean up the streets of a crime-ridden Detroit. Set in a near-apocalyptic 2043, the film follows the eponymous character as he is unleashed into an armed confrontation with crime lord Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) . But when RoboCop learns of the company’s plans, he turns on his masters. The technology used to create RoboCop is never fully explained but in real life, six suits were created for the production. WIth a super cool steel design, the cyborg is inspired by Blade Runner and Judge Dredd.

TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY – 1991

Terminator 2: Judgement Day proved to be a breakthrough in computer-generated imagery and was one of the first films to use motion capture, as well as feature the first partially CGI character. The sequel to the 1984 original, young John Connor (Edward Furlong) is the target of the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), a Terminator sent from the future to kill him. But when the revamped T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is also sent back, he must protect the boy and his mother Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), forming an unexpected bond with the robot. The film spawned a further three sequels with a fourth arriving this year. Winner of the 1992 Oscars for Best Effects, Visual Effects and the BAFTA Awards, Best Special Visual Effects, to name a few.

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL – 2019

Starring Rosa Salazar as the eponymous title character, Alita: Battle Angel is the latest film to test the limits of motion capture. 20 years in the making, the film is based on Yukito Kishiro’s manga series, Battle Angel Alita, it follows the story of a young cyborg girl who wakes up in a post-apocalyptic city without knowing who she is. Taken into the care of Ido (Christoph Waltz), a doctor who believes he can unlock her memories, Alita discovers that she has unique fighting abilities and that those in power will stop at nothing to control her. The role was performed by Salazar entirely via motion capture while being able to act on set with the other cast members. WETA were then in charge of creating a photo-real fully-computerised character that resembles the Alita from the comics to stunning results.

Alita: Battle Angel is in cinemas now.