Sky Crawlers on Blu-ray

Saturday, 29 May 2010 11:40

Mamoru Oshii, reknowned director of “Ghost in the Shell” and its sequel brings aerial combat and the psychology of war dramatically to life in this new Anime release. Despite being set in a fictional time and place, “Sky Crawlers” feels very much as though it belongs to mankind’s tragic past, present and future.

The Sky Crawlers of the title are a bunch of teenage, non-aging, genetically engineered pilots known as “Kildren”. The Kildren fight on behalf of two gigantic industrial corporations called Rostock and Lautern, each armed with its evenly balanced wings of junior combatants. Day in, day out these bands of aeronauts confront each other in the skies in a ceaseless bid to gain economic and strategic dominance.

Sky Crawlers on Blu-ray and DVDThe central character is Yuichi Kannami, an ace pilot who turns up at a military base commanded by the enigmatic Suito Kusanagi. In between bouts in extremely intense air warfare, Yuichi gradually uncovers the dark secrets of the base, including what happened to his plane’s previous pilot, who the Red Baron-esque “Teacher” is who fights for their opponents, and why the pilots’ collective memories are so clouded.

This is a film of extreme contrasts. In terms of the animation, the airplane combat is depicted using fairly realistic CGI, with Battlestar Galactica-style imprecise camera work and occasionally disorienting motion, as we watch the planes roll and weave through through the air.

The battles are genuinely thrilling to watch and the direction takes us right into the searing heart of the conflict. Pilots fight against their relatively primitive 1940s-style propeller-driven technology, as they desperately try to out-manoeuvre their enemies and get a bead on their hulls, before tightening their trigger fingers and unleashing volleys of bullets.

It is dizzying stuff made all the more immersive thanks to some stunning sound effects. Reminiscent of the Tie Fighters in “Star Wars”, but immeasurably more nimble and raw, these planes scream through the leaden sky, engines roaring fiercely. Bursts of cannon fire rip through feeble metal hulls and resulting explosions send shrapnel in every direction.

Counter-posed to this realism is the character animation and most of the muted artwork for scenes on the ground. The characters are overtly simplistic in comparison with the aeroplanes, with clean, uncomplicated outlines and details, and solid colours from a stunted palette rather than textures for faces and clothing. The building interiors are finely detailed but hand-drawn; most aspects are manually animated rather than by computer. Oshii states in one of the extras that this was a conscious design decision; in terms of the plot it does make sense, but can be quite jarring none-the-less.

This is a movie that both glorifies war and acts as a staunch anti-war discourse. The aforementioned aerobatics could not be more exciting, but down on the ground events and slow plot revelations are far removed from such excitement. The pilots live remarkably monotone existences when they are not in the air, sitting around drinking beer, reading the papers, going bowling and sleeping. They seek simple, fleeting pleasures like visiting hookers and their lives are a repetitious blur with nothing ahead of them but more of the same.

Without wishing to give too much away, there are close similarities to “The Matrix” in the way the plot unravels. This is an intelligent film with a stark, if clumsily-delivered message about both the motivations behind warfare and possibly the blinkered behaviour of the youth of today.

It is not a perfect film. As indicated above, the contrasts are often jarring and not at all subtle. The pace of the ground-based scenes is slow and sometimes frustrating, and much of the dialogue is spoken quite slowly and unemotionally, rather like a video game where you almost feel the film is waiting for the viewer to press a button before the next line can be spoken. I appreciate that Oshii intends to depict the military base existence as a mundane one, but I cannot help wishing he had found a cleverer way to do so without nearly throttling the life out of the film.

Fortunately the frequent sky battles do more than enough to re-invigorate the movie each time it starts to flag.

The extras on the disc include an interview with the director (accompanied by some concept art and clips), a featurette on the sound design (where the makers pay a visit to the studio in San Francisco where they farmed the work off to), another on the animation design and lastly a few trailers.

The HD picture quality of this Blu-ray release is very good without being exceptional; it is far better than DVD-standard, though. The audio options include a pretty good English dub in Dolby 5.1/DTS HD Master and stereo to accompany the original Japanese track. The English voice cast appears to include Sigourney Weaver and other capable actors, and the cockpit voice effects are well done.

“Sky Crawlers” (2008) is out on DVD and Blu-ray now, courtesy of Manga Entertainment. The main feature is 122 minutes approx, certificate ‘15’ and retails for £19.99 on DVD, £24.99 on Blu-ray (version reviewed), or less from www.culttvstore.com

 

 

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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