Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

Originality as a qualitative value is overemphasized, to my mind. That something is new does not mean it is good, or even more important than something old. Just because something has been done before does not mean that doing it again, REALLY well, has no value. To wit: the Cowboy Bebop movie.

This is not a film rife with surprises. Rather, if one were to watch the TV show and think, ‘what would a movie of this be like?,’ one would come up with precisely this film. It is not a radical reconstruction of the TV concepts, like the ambitious and horribly flawed Escaflowne movie. It is a two-hour episode of the TV show. Perfect.

Spike Spiegal, interplanetary bounty hunter, and partner Jet Black, are pecuniarily challenged. They needs the woolongs, and in the middle of a simple bounty hunt they become embroiled in a massive plot involving terrorism, biological weapons, and nasty military experiments. There is violence aplenty, a brilliant Yoko Kanno score, and art direction to kill for. Just like the TV show.

What the movie also borrows from the TV series is a thematic depth and consistency which helps to make a lot of other programs seem a little silly in comparison. The episodic nature of the show, criticized by folks who need to be spoonfed depth, played into the sense of thematic unity. What brought all those disparate stories together was not a banal story arc, but the central idea of film noir, the modern gothic that gives the past complete preeminence over the present and eliminates the hope of the future.

CB: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door is structured in a similar manner. The terrorism, the crime syndicates… All are trappings of a typical action flick, but here they’re granted an emotional resonance because of the antagonist, Victor. He is a bad guy whose past dictates his every present action. He is a pawn, even though every other action in the film is a reaction to his terrorism. And in this world, everyone is a puppet, no matter what side they’re on. And nobody pulls the strings.

Weird, then, that all these gloomy themes come packaged in a movie so damned fun to watch, so funny and so weird. The strangest character of all is Ed, the androgynous hacker-genius kid whose cracking programs look like little fishies (really). Then there’s Ein, the dog that’s probably smarter than anyone else. But Jet Black, the world-weary ex-cop, is underused. He spends most of his time on the Bebop (the bounty hunter’s home ship) sighing and wondering where all the other characters have gone.

That’s a minor quibble, though. Everything else in the movie is beautiful. The brilliant visual design takes place in a city on Mars obviously modeled on New York (which includes a beautiful shot of the sun setting between the Mars World Trade Center) but that has a Middle Eastern bazaar right in the center. This melange of cultures is central to the look of Cowboy Bebop. It helps to create a far more convincing futureworld than the typical ‘everybody wears the same jumpsuit’ Star Trek crap.

There are a few problems – there is an unmotivated and fairly incomprehensible dogfight with Spike that seems to exist only to stretch out the length of the story. But so what? Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door is deeper and more fun than almost any action movie in years, anime or otherwise. If you didn’t like the TV series, you won’t like the film. But then, if you didn’t like the series, I can only imagine that you hate all things which are good and true. For the rest of us, who like things because they’re good, see the movie when it comes to town.

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