I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really know much about anime or manga, beyond Akira, Ninja Scroll, Ghost in the Shell and the other “standards” so I can’t really tell you how accurate or faithful this live action adaptation is to the original source material. What I do know a lot about (some might say too much) though are midnight movies, and this adaptation of Terra Formars checks out as certifiably of the midnight movie breed, so here we are. The fact that Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer, Audition) helmed this absurd film should be your first indicator that this isn’t just some run of the mill, (bad) effects driven mess but something with a bit more depth and, to be completely honest, weirdness to it. Picture how weird you think this movie is. Good, now amplify that 100X and that’s roughly where Terra Formars lands on the what the fuck scale. It truthfully is one of the strangest modern films I’ve seen in the last little while, and almost doesn’t have any reason to look as good as it does or have as much fun as it’s having but here it is in all its roachy glory and I’m all for it.
The rough plot is that five hundred-ish years ago, humans sent a whole load of cockroaches up to Mars to begin the colonization process, preparing the red planet for humanities eventual pilgrimage. Once it comes time to clean up the roachy mess that is Mars so humans can move in your typical rag tag group of misfits and outcasts is assembled, strapped into body armour (minus helmets because you’ve gotta show off all the glorious hair cuts) and shot off into space with a minimum of information about what they’ll find once they get there. Turns out that the cockroaches have gone through an accelerated evolution over the last few centuries as they’ve worked to make Mars hospitable, now standing seven feet tall and very much humanoid. Also angry; so very angry. This is where our crack team of misfits and other assorted criminals come in, as they’ve undergone surgeries you wouldn’t inflict on an “upstanding” member of society that have infused each of them with the powers of a different insect, activated by injecting a chemical into their neck. The movie from this point on is essentially a series of absurd, bug based fight sequences, escape plans gone awry, weird death scenes, and a load of other strange imagery you can only expect from a director like Miike.
The transformations and ensuing bug fights are obviously the money shots of the film, as ‘60s monster movie inspired character designs take the front seat to logic, physics and basically every other kind of rule that governs the universe. Each time we are treated to a transformation, of which there are many, we get a fight card up on screen of the bugs powers and effects, which really help to amplify the cartoon vibe that the film is going for. Of course, combat is all hand to hand with the humanoid roach men (because of course it is. Why bring a gun?) so we’re treated to plenty of high energy, visually explosive fight sequences punctuated by typical Miike strangeness and brutality. Admittedly, these fight scenes are where the movies shines, which does drag a bit during what little bits of exposition and what amounts to character development that we do get. Again thought, I’m looking at Terra Formars as a midnight movie and if we’re being honest even the best in that category don’t often make a lick of sense story-wise so I’ll allow a lot to slide given just how much fun this one is. The movie does suffer from a few painfully awkward information dumps toward the start of it that attempt to catch the audience up to all the finicky details of the world that has been built here, but it’s easy enough to sit through knowing the visual feast that will come shortly afterwards. Plus, we really need to take in just how great everyone’s hair looks, something these boring but ultimately necessary scenes really allows that level of hair appreciation. The visual effects overall deserve a lot of praise, while not quite as top-tier as say a Marvel movie there is nothing glaringly hard to look at like you’d find in a ScyFy original or other films at that level. I bring that up because that’s definitely the category I can see this movie getting unfairly lumped in at first glance, because let’s be real, it’s a completely out there concept that would only get this kind of budget from a Japanese studio. Even then, it’s still amazing that an outsider director such as Takashi Miike managed to wrangle this kind of budget and a cast that features this level of star power (Rinko Kikuchi, Hideaki Itō, Tomohisa Yamashita) and actually produced a film with such an strange concept, manga adaptation or not. Is the movie cheesy? Most certainly but I think that extra layer of cheese only makes it more deserving of your attention. The fact that Arrow Video picked this up and is releasing should also raise a few eyebrows, because we all know they don’t just too any old movie out there. Of course, Arrows involvement also means that it comes packed with extra features so you can really dive into the process behind making the film.
You’d be hard pressed to find a science fiction outing that has more fun or throws more at the audience that’s come out in the first half of 2019 than Terra Formers and for that alone I recommend searching this one out.
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