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Monday, April 15, 2013

Robotech the Movie: "Now That's a Cannon Movie!"

[Review #100 is dedicated to those who have suffered from the Boston Marathon bombing earlier today. To those who have died, may you rest in peace. To those still alive, don't give in to sorrow; it only gives victory to those who perpetrated this. Keep on fighting & living.]

If I had one of those celebration noisemakers I would use it right now... Because this is Review #100 on The Land of Obscusion! That's right, I have hit triple digits, people! Starting off with Haja Taisei Dangaioh, I have been slowly making my way through anime after anime, game after game, & manga after manga, tallying each one up (remember, the Twinbee & Generation of Chaos "Double Features" each count as two reviews). When I hit my first landmark, Review #50, I felt that I had to make it be about a title so legendarily bad that no one had ever given it a complete review; that wound up being the infamous Gundoh Musashi, and for #100 I wanted something similar. It not only needed to be bad but it also needed to have a great backstory, and if it ended up being so bad that it was disowned by its creator then all the better! What company could house such horror?

To Be This Bad Takes Ages...  To Be This Bad Takes Cannon

Who betta than Cannon? When it comes to being an infamously bad movie production company, nobody's betta! Really, the whole story of The Cannon Group is too big for me to cover. Luckily, there's a documentary in production called Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films!, so I'll keep it short. Cannon Films originally started up in in 1967 and did nothing more than cheap movies so that there wasn't as much money to make back. Come 1979, this idea wasn't working too well, so the company was sold to Isreali cousins Menahem Golan & Yoram Globus, who decided to take advantage of the action B-movie craze that Hollywood was getting into & bought extremely-cheap scripts to put into production. Granted, they ended up with some successful films, like Death Wish II-IV, the Missing in Action movies, Cobra (the Stallone movie, not Space Adventure), & Kickboxer, not to mention "classics" like Masters of the Universe, Cyborg, & Superman IV... But Cannon's legacy ended up being a lack of understanding of how movie making worked & effectively screwing over partners at every possible opportunity. And, yes, they did get involved with anime to a slight extent, teaming with one of the big names in television at the time: Robotech.

"For Viewing Purposes Only" is as useless as "Not For Resale"

Megazone 23 is considered one of the true "classics" of anime & is generally called the title that truly started the OVA boom of the 80s; Dallos barely made it's money back, but Megazone was a giant hit. The story of a young man who comes across a motorcycle that can transform into a robot, & finds out that the world he lives in is nothing but a lie was highly original at the time, and some even call it an obvious inspiration for The Matrix, though the Wachowski's deny any influence. The late Carl Macek saw great potential in the title & had Harmony Gold license it, hoping to integrate it into the Robotech universe. Unfortunately, Cannon's control over the end product resulted in a mess of a movie that wound up being so bad that Macek disowned it, & is now an extremely rare product when it comes to owning a legitimate physical copy.

As the Star Wars-esque text scroll states, in 2009 (you know, the future) the forces of Earth fought against an alien empire & was able to claim victory (i.e. the "Macross Saga" of Robotech). The year is now 2027 and a new group, calling themselves the "Masters", is now looking to invade the Earth. The Masters do an initial skirmish, & kidnap B.D. Andrews (simply B.D. in Megazone), an influential officer in the military. They create a "simuloid" of B.D. and send it back to Earth, so that he can order his crew to use the EVE computer system to send information to an abandoned satellite. The Masters use this information to find out what the Earth forces are doing & can plan ahead, while B.D. hides the invasion from the populace. At the same time, though, a young man named Mark Landry (Shogo Yahagi) gets a call from his friend Todd Harris (Shinji Nakagawa) about a new motorcycle called the MODAT 5 (Garland), which Todd stole from the military, & tells Mark to contact "Eve". B.D.'s troops find the two, & Mark gets away with the MODAT, while Todd is killed. It's up to Mark to find out who, or what, Eve really is, and get word out that a new invasion is about to happen, all the while trying to keep his friends Becky (Yui), Kelley (Tomomi), & Stacy (Mai) safe.

Robotech the Movie (sometimes subtitled "The Untold Story") may be using Megazone 23 Part I as a basis, but the actual execution makes it essentially a 95% different story. The scenes are there, the characters look the same, & some elements of the story are still there, but this is not the same Megazone that exists. This is because the movie has been cut up like hell, with scenes bring reorganized all over the place, resulting in some odd inconsistencies (like "Mark" still using his motorcycle after getting the "MODAT"), characters already knowing each other at the beginning (Mark already knows "Becky", instead of meeting each other at the beginning), and some major plot points being dropped altogether. For example, the idea of the city they live in being a fake world inside of a spaceship is dropped altogether, yet the underground city that B.D. & the military uses is still there, but with no explanation why. Also, the movie that "Kelley" is making is brought up before Mark finds out the truth about the invasion, yet he still threatens B.D. that the movie will reveal everything. To be honest, changing the story itself isn't horrible, as some shows have told very entertaining stories by being completely different (just look at Samurai Pizza Cats), but the major problem is that Robotech the Movie's story is just a mess. To properly explain why, one needs to understand the troubled production this movie had.

When Harmony Gold first got hold of Megazone, Carl Macek's plan was to simply integrate the story into the Macross Saga. Just months before his death, Macek revealed that Mark was going to be a relative of Rick Hunter/Hikaru Ichijou, and the story was going to take place during after the SDF-1's space fold to Pluto. Mark, through the motorcycle, would find out that the government was hiding the fate of the SDF-1 from the public, & Mark was going to try to reveal it to the public, similar enough to how the original story worked. Unfortunately, Tatsunoko was working on Macross: Do You Remember Love? at the same time, & supposedly requested that HG not reference the Macross story in any way for their movie; remember, this is all from Macek's point of view. Macek complied and made the movie into a mostly straight dub of Megazone, with B.D. being a connection to comic sequel Robotech II: The Sentinels. This is where Cannon got involved, because Macek needed help getting it to theaters. They felt the straight dub had "too many girls and not enough robots and guns", making it boring. They noticed the footage of Southern Cross HG had for the TV series, though, and told Macek to fit its action scenes into the movie. Macek hated this idea but had no choice, since the movie wouldn't get released otherwise; B.D.'s character got changed once again to accommodate.

The addition of Southern Cross is really what kills this movie. First, and most importantly, as much as Macek tried to get the two stories to mesh together the end result still feels like it's two separate stories, with the only link being B.D. Andrews. As important of a link B.D. becomes, though, it still comes off as being extremely tenuous, resulting in a story that seems way more complicated than it really should be. Mark's battle against B.D. & the soldiers' fight against the Masters have no real connection outside of B.D. himself, so it's like watching a weird Frankenstein Monster of a story. Second, which simply adds to the whole Frankenstein feel, is that fact that Carl Macek was forced to mix an OVA with a TV series. Megazone was made on 35mm film, while Southern Cross was made on 16mm, so the latter's footage had to be blown up to fit the former's resolution. The result is that the Southern Cross footage looks really fuzzy when compared to Megazone's crisp footage, not to mention the simple animation quality difference between a TV series & a big-budget OVA becomes blatantly obvious when shown one after the other. The mix isn't even rarely done, but rather footage switches between the two fairly often, only making the change in quality even more awkward.

Finally, the addition of this extra footage means that only about half of Megazone is even used in the movie. Entire scenes have been removed, especially those that show off more of Kelley & "Stacy", making them little more than named extras, so when a big scene happens that involves them, the viewer has no real reason to care about them. The involvement of Eve is pretty minuscule, too, to the point that the scenes where she converses with Mark are seemingly only kept because they were impossible to remove without really hurting the story. The Southern Cross footage takes up about 30 minutes, yet I said that only half of Megazone, or roughly 45 minutes, is shown... So where does that last 15 minutes come from? Well, Cannon also hated the downer "non-ending" that Megazone 23 Part I had, it was done to make sure people would buy Part II, so Cannon also told Macek to make the ending a happy one. To do this, HG commissioned AIC, which made Megazone, to make a brand new ending, which makes up that last 15 minutes. This new footage has Mark piloting a jet (it's never explained how he can fly a plane) so that he can save Stacy & her father, the head of the Ministry of Computer Sciences, from being killed by B.D. & his forces at the airport. If there is one truly positive thing I can say about this movie it is that the new footage really does mix in well with the previously existing Megazone footage; no surprise, obviously, but worth pointing out. The characters look the same, the animation itself is fine, & overall it is a neat, if highly cliched, alternate ending; I liked the close-up inserts it used, at least.

In traditional Robotech fashion, Shiro Sagisu's original score has been fully replaced with the Robotech score, which sounds just fine; Sagisu's Megazone music was amazing, though. Replacing the original Eve music are licensed songs done by Three Dog Night, Joanne Harris, Michael Bradley, & Gigi, all of which are pretty good & are definitely mid-80s pop, which fits the movie just fine. The voice cast features the likes of Kerrigan Mahan (Mark), Iona Morris/Brittany Harlowe (Becky), Muriel Fargo (Eve), Gregory Snegoff (B.D.), & Wendee Lee (Stacy), as well as Dave Mallow, Mike Reynolds,  & Tom Wyner, among others, doing additional voices. Overall, it's actually a very well done dub, with most of the voices fitting their characters very well. All right, so that's three positive things I can say about this film.

So why is this movie so rare? Well, upon seeing the final cut of this film, Golan supposedly stated "Now that's a Cannon movie!", but his enthusiasm didn't seem to mean much in terms of promotion. Commercials for the movie apparently only ran in 6:00 AM timeslots, and in theaters it was going up against Transformers the Movie... Or, at least, it would have.  Story has it that Robotech the Movie only saw a limited theatrical release in Mesquite, Texas, where it completely bombed with test audiences. Existing Robotech fans hated how small it's link to the main series was, & parents were horrified by the movie's violence & adult themes. Only one shot from Shogo & Yui's sex scene was kept, but the entire scene were Yui was almost raped was kept with only some minor cuts, while the violence level was higher than that of the TV series. After the failed test market, the movie never saw a wide release & was never released on home video in North America. In other countries, though, it was more successful, with wide theatrical releases & even a VHS release in the UK, Spain, & Denmark.

Menahem Golan truly wasn't lying: Robotech the Movie certainly is a "Cannon movie", but in all of the worst ways. Cannon Films didn't understand what made Robotech work, and instead forced Carl Macek to create a giant mess of a movie that really didn't understand what it wanted to be. When this movie was "released" in 1986, Cannon was at their busiest, releasing more than 40 movies in that year alone, and that truly killed any chance this anime release had at making any money. According the Macek himself, the original masters of the film were destroyed by a flood in the mid-90s, so any hope for a release is essentially dead. Oddly enough, though, Mike Toole told me that he saw a photo of the masters in HG's vault just last year; maybe it's the masters for the original, pre-Cannon cut? Also killing any chances at a release, though, is the fact that it's already been released... Sort of. The most recent DVD release of Robotech by A&E Home Video features an edited version of the movie that uses only the Southern Cross footage, likely resulting in an even more incoherent mess of a story. As it stands, one can find Robotech the Movie fairly easily online nowadays, but like Warriors of the Wind it's nothing more than an oddity at this point.

Luckily, Megazone 23 has seen better days since this movie. Macek finally got his original wish granted by giving Part I a 100% accurate dub & a limited theatrical release by Streamline Picutres in 1995, making it one of Streamline's last releases ever. ADV then gave all three parts a DVD release in the mid-00s, complete with a brand-new "80s-ized" dub for the entire production, followed by two boxset re-releases, most recently in 2009, though Streamline's dub (& Manga UK's dub for Part III) were not included. I myself have only seen Part I so far, but I intend to watch the rest next, and while I'm watching more Megazone I might as well start my next 100 reviews with a true oddity of a dub: A Part II dub produced by Harmony Gold that's completely unrelated to Robotech the Movie, yet also related in a some small ways at the same time.
Thank you to everyone who has been reading this blog, thank you to everyone who has commented to my posts (even if I don't reply to all of them I do read them), and thank you to everyone for all of the compliments. It's been a great journey getting to 100 reviews, and I don't plan on stopping anytime soon.


  1. That should be "ADV Films" who released a Robotech box set some years back that featured several things relating to "Robotech: The Movie", but they were just a TV spot, a music video, and an animatic of the ending with the audio from the film playing through it.

    The real problem Cannon Films had with trying to market the film was not getting the actual demographic to come to the test screenings around the Dallas/Ft. Worth area where it played in. They were aiming for the usual kid crowd (ages 6-11) and ended up with those in their teens and twenties instead. They weren't aiming this for the older set and it failed because of it (which Macek felt the movie did fine since it was bringing in the money from those people anyway).

    1. I know of ADV's DVD release of Robotech, but in 2011 Harmony Gold teamed with A&E Home Video to put out another DVD collection for Robotech. This 2011 release featured the cut version of Robotech the Movie. As for whether the marketing messed up, that just shows who exactly were big fans of Robotech at the time, I guess.

    2. Hmmm, I guess I've been under a rock or hard place not to know of the A&E release. Interesting they got something out at all. I pretty much wasn't quite a big a fan of Robotech myself since I never saw the show back when it first aired, but I use to wear a pair of PJ's with the Robotech logo/characters on it to bed every night when I was 8 (I can't find an image of it, but some kid in the 1987 film "The Monster Squad" has 'em I think).

  2. Last time I checked youtube, there was a Megazone 23 Part 2 dub that is titled "The International Version," which has Shogo as Johnny Winters with a Japanese sub at the bottom. I have to say, the dub is pretty good. I prefer that VA of Shogo over the nasally talent of one Vic Mignogna any day.

    1. This is exactly the version I will be reviewing next. Also, yeah, I tried to spot-check ADV's dub of Megazone and I just couldn't get into it. I can understand the idea they were going for, i.e. making it truly sound like the 80s, but I think they went too far in that direction and it wound up sounding too ridiculous to take seriously. I am curious how the Streamline dub wound up, though, and I hear that Manga UK's dub for Part III was just dreadful.

    2. It is hard getting into ADV's dub surely, I liked what Kerrigan Mahan and others brought tot heir characters in the earlier versions. Carl Macek once explained his problems with working at ADV in an old interview he gave with Anime News Network before his death that is still enjoyable to listen to simply for the problems he had in getting anyone outside the fandom to watch this stuff.

  3. Um...

    Well, I think Macek may have well been indulging in his usual 'pandering to puff himself up' deal because just a cursory check shows that the Macross Movie was out in '84, MZ23 was '85, so no interference from Tatsunoko.

    The whole purpose of the single theater showing of the Robotech movie was for international sales, so Cannon could put on the sales pamphlets "as seen in American theaters".

    I suspect ties between the Agrama Brothers (Harmony Gold, based in Italy) and Cannon. It's likely HG dealt in some specific rights to Cannon's films in Europe such as Broadcast.