Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Bonus #7: Armageddon (1996)


Director: Hyunse Lee
Screenplay: Hyunse Lee
Based on the novel by Hyunse Lee
Voice Cast: Alexis Lang as Heisung, the Delta Boy; Wendee Lee as Marie Kim/Pandora; Abe Lasser as Hades; Steve Blum as Commander Kaseros; Dougary Grant as Narrator; Gil Starberry as Tantharos; Jackson Daniels as Gamma 66-66; Melissa Williamson as Queen Hera
Viewed in English Dub

Synopsis: Heisung, a South Korean student, finds himself the one true hope for Earth's future called the "Delta Boy", part of an Millennia old tale of Earth being one of many planets created as part of an experiment. Rhose who evolved from dinosaurs on an alien world, the 'Eed', will soon to invade Earth and eliminate most of mankind in the future. Thrown into said future, when most of humanity has been wiped out, Heisung must become the chosen one to prevent this.

[Warning: This review will include a spoiler for a early plot twist. I will include a warning where it is and ends in the review so you, the reader, can skip it if you want to keep it secret to yourself.]

Cue a film that looks like a seventies rock album cover crossed with a remake of Space Adventure Cobra (1982). Yet the production is from South Korea, part of a very complicated history of the Korean animation industry. South Korea is famous for its studios which do outsourcing work for anything from anime from Japan to even The Simpsons, the later emphasised when artist Banksy's infamous couch gag, depicting their studio as a sweatshop, actually offended Akom, the Korean studio which has been helping to animate the legendary American series since 1989. This is complicated because, in spite of this or that they have created characters like Mashimaro the rabbit that are popular in other corners of the world, very little South Korean animation is known in the English language countries in the West.

Because of this, I could never give a proper history because I myself know as much (i.e. little) as many would. To however attempt to time stamp Armageddon, before its release in 1996 there have been many animated films made within that country, and not just Robot Taekwon V (1976) or the various infamous examples of studios copying directly from other sources (such as Space Gundam V (1983), a TV series which openly includes details from the likes of the Macross franchise from Japan). After Armageddon, things start to slowly expand out into the West in terms of knowledge of South Korean animation bit-by-bit to the current day. Armageddon was picked up by Manga Entertainment, alongside Red Hawk (1995), within that period. Things picked up considerably when Sky Blue (aka. Wonderful Days) (2003) was picked up by Tartan Video for Western release in the UK, which was arguably big in terms of international recognition. [Sadly Aachi and Ssipak (2006), a film included in promotional materials for the former Optimum Rising (now Studio Canal) DVD distributor, never came to British DVD]. Things picked up even more considerably in the 2010s when The King of Pigs (2011) gained critical buzz as well as international distribution. We are awaiting in terms of South Korean animation to be more widely available beyond this, the question of whether it will be as prolific in availability as with Japanese animation.

Now we return back to the nineties, when Manga Entertainment decides to acquire the licenses to a theatrical feature named Armageddon (1996), predating Michael Bay's tale of miners on an asteroid by two years. One has to be aware that, knowing Manga Entertainment's legacy for tampering with their acquisitions, such as adding gratuitous swearing to English dubs, that Armageddon as we know of it and can only really access it in the West on second hand DVD and video tape is probably different from the original version even if it terms of tone of the dialogue, so that must be in mind too. Credit where it's due, if we're talking about the production designers and background animation, they are to be applauded for at least trying their hardest with this theatrical production. Except CGI from the period, no one should complain about the elaborate intergalactic backgrounds or the details of the spaceships. Even if the dino-robot monster that appears at one-point, and the alien life forms in general, look like children's toys they have character, someone having fun designing them.

When this production is being imaginative, it musters a lot of ambition, especially as the director Hyunse Lee was also the author of the source material. It belongs to the kind of psychedelic, out there sci-fi I prefer over hard science fiction anyway, where the universe is a bizarre spiritual/gonzo reality of elaborate bright colours and strange entities. A galaxy, no matter how silly it sounds, where the main villain is ultimately revealed to be a giant brain in a jar. Even the protagonist's own brain upon entering it, when Heisung is briefly killed at one point, is a world of pulsating bio-bizarre environmental flesh and strange sights, feeding into my love even in the dodgiest of animation of whenever characters enter phantom zones, to either be instructed on their fates or because they've been trapped there, an excuse for the production designers to create the most intentionally unnatural places they can. (Usually with everything floating in the air, which sadly isn't the case here).

There is as well the deeply silly moments which also, in honestly have charm to them, this type of sci-fi being so over-the-top you have to admit it gets ridiculous too. You cannot take serious a film where said giant dinosaur robot does have a name you'd expect for a child's toy. Nor the inexplicably giant shark massacre, a pointless training scene for the protagonist which ends with him and another character getting into peril underwater, defeating the purpose of the practice, and gunning down giant sharks in gory detail for no justifiable reason.


However I will confess that, whilst Armageddon has charm, it's also plagued by the many traits of bad sci-fi in general. Whilst I admire its bright and colourful look, if we're talking about the humanoid characters however, stretches and limitations are there and they are awkward. Alongside the plot itself, the film stretches its limitations with some amateurish issues. The character's faces, especially their facial expressions, are just amiss even for a viewer like myself with no animation training in the slightest. This is more so as even into the final, more serious thirty minutes of Heisung going to fight an evil alien computer in a far off galaxy, there are still random slapstick comedy moments which are abrupt and, in attempting to crowbar a love story which is inherently with huge moral issues within it, enforce this problem when characters are acting comedically with exaggeration at one second and then have to be serious. The switch in plasticity in mannerisms is not well coordinated and, unlike the exaggeration in Japanese anime, a lot of it in this production (or another like Blue Seagull (1994)) feel like they're inspired by old Looney Tunes animation, which feels tonally off. The less said about your secondary villain Commander Kaseros - stoic and boring, a member of the Eed forces who starts to question his place in the world but ultimately wasting time in the plot - never being seen without his black sunglasses the better. It might work for Corey Hart to wear sunglasses at night, but here even when floating in outer space without need for suffocation, as he is at one point, its comical. More so when, due to plot reasons, he's a giant entity barechested and waving a sword, but still got to keep the sunglasses in his new state.

Baring in mind Manga Entertainment may have taken liberties with the script, Armageddon also has the script which crams so much into less than ninety minutes, that  there are plot turns which will give you whiplash. Ten minutes is all that you get for Heisung's personal life as a kid living in present South Korea. His family is briefly kidnapped early on by Eed assassins only to whisked away to safety and never seen again, likely long dead when Heisung travels to the future. Even then his mother's reduced to the Obi-Wan Kenobi state of passing on meaningful encouragement from flashbacks. Heisung's brief moments in his normal is also means he looks like a ten year old, his alien protector and potential love interest Pandora looking like an adult in contrast when she appears to protect him, which makes their romantic montage scored to K-pop weird. Even when he's fully developed into the hero with muscle and gruffness, the man-child's romance with Pandora is so limited in development that the emotional scenes can only use footage from earlier in the film for later.

[Spoiler Warning]

Which is worse when Pandora is killed half thirty minutes in. The sad montage Heisung has, when looking at a replica of her in included in her home planet's hall of heroes, involves all the footage within the previous length of the film that isn't even from romantic scenes with the hero, causing one to want to shout at Armageddon that it hasn't earned the emotional beat. Insult is added to injury when her twin sister, and ruler of her home planet, becomes the new love interest in a way inherently problematic as if one twin can replaced the other. Even her aide and guide for Heisung on his way to becoming the Delta Boy gets into the creepiness by desiring to get the two to fall in love merely to propagate a child, clearly as an alien not used to this idea that one should naturally becoming romantic at least from the beliefs of human beings.

[Spoiler Ends]

The abruptness of the plot twists is intermingled with how the inherent ridiculousness of the plot. An example of sci-fi which blurs scientism with post-New Age tone in imagining giant computers creating worlds, our true villain a literal giant brain in a jar, yet with all the cod-philosophy of such a horrible concoction and a figure literally named Gaia who is the soul of the spite of the fact it's within the same story as Earth being micromanaged by a giant computer. If one ever wanted to see, in CGI of the time, giant sperm entering a vortex in space and (by intentional suggestion) give birth to a giant dinosaur head sticking out in space, and then a primate head, than this is the film for you, but after that its why that as much as I love out there, idiosyncratic (and sometimes utterly corny) sci-fi when its cosmic ideas and willingness to bend conventions of reality, when the tone's muddled like this I realise why I have very little interest in science fiction of any sort. Armageddon as a result is the kind of animation, if you can still appreciate some of the production, that's better with the sound turned off. This is not the horrible disaster that is Blue Seagull, just a film from some time later which is undeniably bad but one can still gain some satisfaction from in places. As a result, its definitely a guilty pleasure, as all the flaws mentioned are impossible to dismiss.


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