November 20, 2006
Saturday night at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, the main question on my mind was whether Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles would break the curse that had plagued Robotech spinoffs. The first movie (Robotech: The Untold Story, a bastardized Megazone 23) died ignominiously, and rightly so. The wholly original Robotech II: The Sentinels series got caught in an economic crossfire and had to be released as a direct-to-video movie. The Shadow Chronicles, the first spinoff effort to hit the screen in almost 20 years and the first not to have Carl Macek at the helm, has a lot to overcome.
The first third of the movie overlaps with the last two episodes of the TV series, focusing on the Robotech Expeditionary Force's return to Earth in a last-ditch effort to expel the alien Invid. Robotech fans know what happens next: Thanks to a small band of resistance fighters and the human-Invid hybrid Ariel, the Invid leave Earth, leaving humanity to try to rebuild a world ravaged by three interstellar wars.
Fans also know that to claim the title Robotech, the Shadow Chronicles has to serve up love, loss, the fear and eventual acceptance of an alien race, a new and mysterious enemy, and thrilling combat scenes. It does offer all these things in principle, but the execution stops just short of really delivering.
Emblematic of this problem are the computer-animated battle scenes. CGI presents all kinds of opportunities for space combat scenes—just watch Battlestar Galactica for proof—and none of them are taken here, with directors Dong-Wook Lee and Tommy Yune opting instead for a "more of everything" approach instead of actually choreographing the battles. If anything, the scenes here make you admire the hand-drawn work in the original series all the more. Demerits, too, for the unnecessary and fan-service T&A, which not only includes two female characters on a warship's bridge in skintight outfits that display awe-inspiring cleavage, but two shots of women with their butts sticking up in the air.
But the real problem with The Shadow Chronicles is that it spends too much time just doing stuff, rather than fleshing out characters. Marcus, a new character and a hotshot pilot clearly destined to be the focal character, is a complete cipher. He's got a thing for his commanding officer, the half-Zentraedi Maia Sterling, he's still mourning the loss of his sister Marlene (killed at the opening of the TV series' third part), and... that's it. Outside of that, the three things to look forward to in this movie are Louie Nichols's dialogue, especially in scenes with commanding officer Vince Grant; catching obscure Robotech and anime in-jokes; and finding out more about what kind of alien threat will bedevil our heroes now. Frankly, that's pretty thin. Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles is better than The Untold Story and Sentinels, but that's damning with faint praise; they'll have to do better if they want us to keep watching this new story unfold.