If Rollerblade sales spike following the release of Alita: Battle Angel, it's probably due to Motorball, the roller derby-meets-Quidditch game that producer James Cameron has wanted to show off for nearly two decades.
Based on the manga Gunnm by Yukito Kishiro, better known as Battle Angel Alita, the cyberpunk adventure has been on Cameron's to-do list since he was introduced to the property in 2000 by Guillermo del Toro. And Motorball has long been one of the elements the filmmaker has been "dynamically excited" to bring to life, with good reason.
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The gladiatorial-style sport pits competitors against each other as they wheel around a banked track and try to land a ball in a basket (some things never change). The fun part is that individual racers can soup up themselves with whatever cybernetic enhancements they can manage, making for a fast and deadly sport.
If you haven’t seen Alita, you’ll be pleased to know the Motorball sequences are easily some of the best in the film to experience in 3D, and watching them will make you wonder when Cameron and director Robert Rodriguez are going to get into the virtual theme park game. Although it shouldn’t go without mentioning that the first time we see Motorball played, it’s not in a massive stadium. It’s a pickup game between neighborhood kids that feels like what The Mighty Ducks would’ve looked like had Cameron been behind the camera.
CBR spoke with Alita: Battle Angel stars Keean Johnson (Hugo), Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Tanji) and Lana Condor (Koyomi) about what went into the filming of that first Motorball race.
“We had a bunch of professional skaters come up and be there as our stunt doubles and they were really fantastic. And for preparation we all did a little boot camp where we all kind of learned how to Rollerblade again,” Lendeborg explained, before Johnson jumped in to expound on the surprising amount of practical effects used in the scene.
“The biggest challenge was figuring out a way as a Rollerblader you have to obviously like, push [off]. The difference between that and Motorball in Iron City is [skates] are motorized,” Johnson pointed out. “So [production] was trying to find different ways of making it look like they were actually moving, being propelled instead of actually their body creating it because it’s all motorized. So they created all these different ways of putting them on wires that would pull them throughout that whole scene, they created a huge ramp that they would fly down and come into the scene, so it would look like they were at top speed. But really, right when we click, they were all on wires [that] just started pulling them forward, so there are a lot of really cool ways of them trying to tackle that.”
Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel stars Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Lana Condor and Eiza González. The film is in theaters now.