Robert Rodriguez Rewrote Alita: Battle Angel For Free Before James Cameron Let Him Direct

Alita preparing for battle

Avatar and Titanic director James Cameron was talking about doing a feature film adaptation of the Battle Angel Alita manga since the early 2000s, but he never got around to it. Now, roughly two decades later, Alita: Battle Angel is finally in theaters; but James Cameron only produced the film, while Robert Rodriguez directed it. James Cameron didn’t just give up the reins to his passion project easily though, Robert Rodriguez had to work for it, as the latter explained:

Jim would rather put something in a drawer and not do it at all than do it incorrectly with the wrong director. I saw his original drawings and they took my breath away. The main character had porcelain arms and huge manga eyes, and I thought, Wow, he’s going full manga with this. And he trusted me with the version that was in his head, and he said: if you fix the script for me, you can direct. So a month later I come back and say: here you go, free of charge. And he said: all right, it’s yours.

It sounds like Robert Rodriguez basically had to prove himself to James Cameron to take on a project that was so important to the Aliens director. That test required Robert Rodriguez working on the script for Alita: Battle Angel and fixing its issues, thereby not only proving himself capable, but also proving that he had a grasp on the material. He understood how it should be adapted, and was clearly the right fit to direct.

It’s quite a vote of confidence because, as Robert Rodriguez told The Irish Times, James Cameron has no problem shelving a project he has the rights to indefinitely rather than see it done poorly. That’s an admirable trait, but with the can getting perpetually kicked further down the road thanks to the priority of his multiple Avatar sequels, it risked never happening if he didn’t pass it off to someone else.

As we’ve heard, Robert Rodriguez wanted to see James Cameron’s Alita: Battle Angel and since James Cameron wasn’t going to make it, he did and endeavored to make it feel like a James Cameron movie. Fortunately, James Cameron was still involved and gave him a great starting point.

Robert Rodriguez didn’t have to start from scratch, because James Cameron had already laid out his vision for Alita: Battle Angel in 600 pages of notes and drawings. And we’ve previously heared how Cameron introduced Rodriguez to Alita with a 15-minute presentation complete with narration, artwork and story concepts.

That all made it clear that James Cameron indeed wanted to make a manga movie that felt like the source material, retaining the weirder elements less familiar to Western audiences, like Alita’s giant eyes. So the movie was all there, Robert Rodriguez just had to fix the 186-page screenplay and it was his. He did just that and it sounds like he did it with style too, taking only a month and doing it for free.

Now Alita: Battle Angel is finally in theaters and despite mixed reviews, it has gotten a positive audience response and recently crossed $350 million at the worldwide box office. Although it still has a ways to go to become profitable and hopefully get a sequel greenlit.

Alita: Battle Angel is now playing. Check out our 2019 release schedule to keep track of all the year’s biggest releases and for all your movie news, stay tuned to CinemaBlend.

Nick Evans

Nick grew up in Maryland has degrees in Film Studies and Communications. His life goal is to walk the earth, meet people and get into adventures. He’s also still looking for The Adventures of Pete and Pete season 3 on DVD if anyone has a lead.