In 1999 the Japanese TV company Sunrise decided to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their long running anime franchise Gundam in a surprising way. They produced a English language live-action movie that doesnt feature the word Gundam in the title or in the dialogue. G-Saviour takes place in the Gundam universe (more on that in a bit), and is even a sequel to the most popular Gundam TV series, but in style and theme it is more akin to standard American straight-to-video sci-fi/action movie.
If you arent familiar with Gundam, heres a quick guide. Most Gundam series -- and there have been over thirty incarnations in various TV shows, movies, and video games -- are about wars fought using giant robots (called mobile suits) as the primary weapons. Usually those wars are fought between the people living on the Earth and people living in space colonies. (The colonies are called Sides.) The term Gundam generally refers to a giant robot that one side or the other builds that features advanced technology and a distinctive red, white and blue color scheme. This robot is invariably piloted by a teenaged boy who fights only reluctantly, but who also has exceptional skills that make him vital to the war effort. In the original Mobile Suit Gundam timeline (there are several) the conflict starts when the Zion Archduchy (Side 6) declares war on the Earth Federation. In the course of the war young Amuro Ray is drafted by the Federation to pilot the Gundam, built by his father. Amuro later discovers that he is a New Type (a kind of psychic) and gains a life-long enemy in Zion ace Char Anzable. This storyline continued over two additional TV series and was finally resolved in a movie, Mobile Suit Gundam: Chars Counterattack (1988). This timeline is called the Universal Century, and is denoted by a dating system that was started when the first colony was built. That was in the year U.C 1, and the original Earth/Zion conflict was in U.C. 79. Chars Counterattack takes place in U.C. 93, and further series have continued the timeline up to U.C. 153. That brings us to G-Saviour.
"That power up must be
around here somewhere.".
Opening narration informs us that G-Saviour takes place in U.C. 223, and also establishes that U.C. 1 was the year 2045. Its a shame that the narration ties the movie to a certain year, because the U.C. dates were always a good way of keeping the Gundam universe in some indeterminate, and therefore slightly more believable, future. Does it seem at all likely well have working space colonies by 2045? With the way things are going well be lucky if our space program in 2045 is a guy on a pogo stick hopping up and down and yelling Im going to the moon!
In U.C. 223 the biggest problem facing humanity is hunger. At an undersea rig named Hydro-Gen scientists work on new forms of aquaculture. The rig is run by Mark Curran (Brennan Elliott), a former military pilot who now works an underwater mobile suit. When a mobile suit from the space colony Gaia accidentally re-enters the atmosphere and falls into ocean near Hydro-Gen. Mark stages a daring rescue and brings the pilot aboard. Soon after military representatives from the main political power, know as the Congress of Settlement Nations (CONSENT), take control of the rig. These soldiers are led by Jack (David Lovgren), who just happens to have been Marks superior back in the day, and who was the primary reason Mark left the service.
"We found this in a briefcase
belonging to someone
named 'Marsellus Wallace.'"
The mobile suit crash, we learn, was a distraction which let a small group of thieves board the station. Jack catches the thieves trying to escape, and his soldiers open fire. One of the unarmed thieves is killed and only Marks intervention keeps the soldiers from killing the other one.
The surviving thief is Cynthia (Enuka Okuma), who is actually a scientist. Shes a resident of the space colony Gaia, and she was collaborating with a certain scientist on Hydro-Gen on a project to create bioluminescence. She explains what the bioluminescence is, but that explanation is what we like to call TFG, or Total ****ing Gibberish. Suffice it to say, bioluminescence would solve the food crisis. When the other scientist disappeared (CONSENT said he retired, but no one has seen him in months), Cynthia and her friends decided to sneak aboard Hydro-Gen to steal the missing scientists work and finish the bio-luminescence project. Mark is so moved by her story that he helps her escape to complete her work. Cynthia and Mark unite with her conspirators outside the rig, who seem unnaturally cheerful about how well the raid went considering that one of their friends was killed, and arrange to flee into space. Along for the ride is Marks girlfriend, Mimi (Catharina Conti). Mimi is ever so slightly shrewish in some of her early scenes, so the laws of bad movies require that she turn out to be traitorously evil later on.
Mark and Darlas first stop is the colony of New Manhattan. New Manhattan is host to a secret organization called the Illuminati, which is headed by Philippe, who just happens to be another friend of Marks. The Illuminati helped Darla arrange the raid on Hydro-Gen because they intend to break CONSENTs hold on the colonies. Increasing food production through bio-luminescence would do this handily. The Illuminatti have also built a new advanced mobile suit they call the G-Saviour. Philippe wants Mark to be the pilot of the robot, to which Mark must decline in order to seem that much more heroic when he eventually acquiesces.
"Sir, this outfit still smells
like Casper Van Dien!"
Oops, no time to talk! Otherwise the audience might become engaged in the story! Everyone piles into a shuttle heading for Gaia. On the way the shuttle is trapped in debris field, and the only way out is for Mark to fly the G-Saviour Wait a minute, why is the G-Saviour on the shuttle? In any case, Mark uses the mobile suit to clear the debris field and they arrive at Gaia.
Gaia is the most successful agricultural colony, and is therefore a threat to CONSENT. As Cynthia wrangles with the chief administrator of the colony (who just happens to be her father) over how involved in orbital politics the neutral colony should be, CONSENT manufactures a provocation to declare war on the troublesome colony. Strangely enough, this provocation comes when Mimi, in collusion with the CONSENT military, uses the computer terminal in her guest room on Gaia to take control of the colonys defensive guns and fire on a nearby CONSENT space cruiser. Why would the computer in whats essentially a hotel room be able to access and control the colonys deadly weapon systems? Sure, we can imagine that complimentary artillery barrages might be selling point for a hotel (Stay at Red Roof Inn while you visit Washington DC! Bombard IRS headquarters with high explosives at no additional fee!), but filling out the insurance forms would be a nightmare.
With the bucolic Gaia threatened, Mark plays the reluctant hero card and agrees to fly the G-Saviour. No one seems bothered that a perfect stranger is about to lead Gaias mobile suit militia against the far superior CONSENT forces. Need we mention that those forces are led by Jack?
"Luke, Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your
If youre a Gundam fan the first question on your mind is: how convincing are the first-ever live-action mobile suit battles? Its a mixed bag. On one hand the special effects in G-Saviour arent too bad. Everything is CGI, and its roughly equivalent to what youd see on the last seasons of Babylon 5. They're not photo-realistic, but neither are they phony to the point of distraction. On the other hand the mobile suits are portrayed as heavy and clumsy even in space, and what mobile suit action there is isnt very imaginative. There are some nice shots of Mark and Jacks robots dueling with beam sabers while standing on a huge solar panel, but dont expect any of the lightning fast action thats been a Gundam trademark since 1979.
"By your command!"
Another Gundam trademark is the bewildering variety of mobile suits. Typical Gundam projects, whether TV series or movies, feature dozens of varieties, all of which are then lovingly recreated in toy and model form and sold to nerds worldwide. G-Saviour features all of six, two of which are only seen briefly. The G-Saviour is a good design, a Gundam variation with more muted colors. It is a logical follow-up to the Gundam F91 (from 1991s Mobile Suit Gundam: F91) and the V Gundam (from the TV series of the same name), thus providing a desperately needed link to the previous Universal Century series. The G-Saviour has modular armor and weapons that allow it to take two forms, Space and Terrain, but this ability is barely mentioned and the Terrain mode is shown only briefly and not very clearly. CONSENT uses two mobile suits, the stout Burgu and the more graceful Rai, while Gaia fields the workmanlike Freedom against them. Beyond those four, two other suits have cameos. One is Marks underwater Guppy, and the other is the Illuminati designed I-Savior. The latter suit was probably supposed to look really cool, but its reflective silver paint job makes it look like a computer generated hood ornament.
One thing that will never change
is that people in the future
will dress stupid.
The mixed-bag metaphor extends to the acting in G-Saviour as well. The movie was shot in English but because it was intended for a Japanese audience casting competent actors in every role was not a priority. Brennan Elliott is okay as Mark, and we applaud the casting of Enuka Okuma as Cynthia because shes adorable. Outside these roles things get dicier. Most of the supporting cast is strictly from the lower end of the professional acting pool, and David Lovgren plays Jack as if he were handed the part of Snidley Whiplash in a community theater version of The Dudley Do-Right Story. We also couldnt help noticing that the pool of extras was a little thin, with some of the same people playing reporters on Hydro-Gen and militia members on Gaia.
"No! It burns like the sunlight
I rarely see in Canada!"
Speaking of the cast, were going to go out on a limb and guess that G-Saviour was filmed in Canada. We base this on the fact that most of the cast members sport complexions that could be described as somewhere between alabaster and albino polar bear caught in a blizzard on an ice floe. We understand that most of these characters are supposed to be living under the sea or in space, but we were still concerned that they were going to come down with rickets.
With its relative paucity of action, G-Saviour is probably not going to win many converts to the Gundam franchise. Unfortunately its lack of connection to previous series has kept it from being seen as a vital piece of continuity by fans. As such G-Saviour is just a curiosity, and not the international breakthrough for which Sunrise had likely hoped.