It’s rare to find a really good science fiction film based around a high-concept premise. Expelled from Paradise almost delivers on the really good part but succeeds in the high-concept department. This is a Japanese animated film that came out in 2014. My feelings on the film are rather mixed.
The gist is that it is the far future. The Earth has been devastated by some ecological catastrophe that happened long ago. The few people on the surface scrape out a meager living. The majority of the human population resides in a large habitat called Deva that orbits the planet. But not only that, the residents of Deva have had their consciousnesses digitized and reside in a digital realm Matrix-style. The Deva citizens are happy and content with their entirely digital lives.
The conflict comes when some outside force from Earth hacks into the digital realm with limited success. The hacking incidents are sudden but rather harmless and are conducted by an entity called Frontier Settler who is trying to contact the Deva citizens for unknown reasons. A security agent named Angela Balzac is assigned to go to Earth to determine the source of this hacking. Seeing as how she is basically a bunch of digital information, the authorities clone an artificial body that she can download into so she can interact with the corporeal world. Angela rockets to Earth with a fresh body and a giant mecha to help her.
Most of her equipment is rendered moot when she meets her partner, an Earthling named Dingo. Dingo comes across as an easy-going person with a surprising pragmatic streak to him. He disables most of Angela’s equipment when he takes out a radio antenna on the back of her mecha. This eliminates her link to Deva but prevents her from being hacked.
Angela and Dingo travel across the Mad Max-like Earth as a sort of odd-couple. The two have some chemistry between them. Angela is initially haughty and convinced that she is a more evolved human than the Earthlings. Dingo is casual and laid back and is quite subversive in how he goes about his job. The two go about like detectives to look for Frontier Settler.
There are some interesting sci-fi concepts at work. Angela is not used to a cloned body and has never been sick or hungry before. She has never been tired, either. She has rations to sustain her but the equipment meant to monitor her condition was rendered useless when Dingo cut her link to Deva. She turns ill when she exerts herself because she is unused to feeling her condition with her organic senses.
Dingo and Angela debate the merits of both digital life in Deva and physical life on Earth. Neither one is perfect and they both have their flaws and uncertainties. It would have been easy to say that the new digital existence is inherently flawed but Expelled from Paradise is not so luddite as that. I was a little bummed when it is revealed that Deva’s authorities are rather totalitarian in their rule.
The animation is hit and miss. The entire film is rendered in 3D polygons but in a way that makes it look hand-drawn. Anime has rarely been good at 3D but Expelled from Paradise makes it work. (Just barely) A lot of 3D anime has a super low framerate, which makes it look like crap, but EfP partially avoids that by having the characters move as if they were hand drawn. There are still shots where only the characters mouths move. The film only looks 3D when entire bodies move. The animation may not do it for everyone but I found it tolerable. The only thing that really looks really out of place is Angela’s long hair. The strands move like plastic.
The film climaxes with a big robot fight in which Angela fights off a bunch of other Deva agents while they pilot giant mecha. This is the best animated part of the film and you can tell that the animators really put their all into it. I guess staggered animation is more acceptable when it shows machines moving. The mecha are designed to fold up into easily transportable balls and shells. The armored shells break away to form armor in robot mode and one can see the exposed working underneath. I want to say that I have seen a similar aesthetic before but I cannot recall from where, exactly.
Overall, Expelled from Paradise made me feeling like I wanted more. I want to know more of how Deva works. What kinds of jobs are available to people who are digitized consciousnesses? What is the full extent of the relationship between Deva and Earth? Does memory storage act like a sort of currency?
I would not call Expelled from Paradise a must-see-movie. If you’re a fan of Gen Urobuchi’s and Seiji Mizushima’s work, then I do suggest that you see it. Those two turn out fairly consistent work. I also suggest this for people who like strange sci-fi ideas.