Warner Brothers and Harmony Gold are pressing forwards with their plan for a live-action adaptation of the 1980s animated series Robotech, finally assigning a director to the long-gestating project.
Robotech was a combination of three separate Japanese anime series - Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA - into a single 85-episode storyline. The story opens in 1999 with the world about to destroy itself in a Global Civil War (WWIII). An alien spacecraft crashes on an abandoned French nuclear test island in the South Pacific, Macross Island. The existence of alien life and the threat it potentially represents convinces the warring factions to stop fighting and begin rebuilding the alien craft to help defend Earth from future incursions. They retro-engineer the ship's technology to create new weapons of war, most notably mecha (piloted, armoured war machines, some capable of transforming into different modes). Ten years later, forty-foot-tall humanoid aliens known as Zentraedi (cloned soldiers serving the enigmatic Robotech Masters) attack Earth in an attempt to reclaim the ship, which it is revealed holds the only energy matrix capable of producing protoculture, an energy source which powers mecha. The ship - the SDF-1 - makes an accidental hyperspace jump to the orbit of Pluto, dragging along most of Macross Island's civilian population with it. Under constant Zentraedi attack, the SDF-1 has to return to Earth over a period of two years. During this period there are major revelations about the SDF-1, its origins and the nature of protoculture, the Zentraedi and the Robotech Masters.
Robotech was a significant hit when it first aired in the USA in 1985 and has spawned TV movies (the most recent, The Shadow Chronicles, aired in 2006), roleplaying games and novels. However, the creators Harmony Gold have also attracted notable criticism for editing the three series into a new story and for refusing to allow the original versions of those stories to be released in the USA. This is most disappointing in the case of Super Dimension Fortress Macross, a huge franchise in Japan which has spawned a significant number of sequel and prequel TV series in its own right.
The Robotech film has been in development since 2007, when former Spider-Man actor Tobey Macguire began pursuing the live-action film rights. Macguire will produce and his original intention was to star, although it is unclear if this is still the case. More recently Leonardo DiCaprio has been linked to the project. In terms of writers, Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back) was developing a script for some time, but it is unclear if this is still being used (Kasdan is now working on the new Star Wars movies). Nic Mathieu has been tagged to direct. Mathieu has so far only worked in commercials, but his work has been applaude for its use of inventive CGI on a shoestring budget. The Robotech movie project will require significant use of CGI in order to work.
The immense success of the Transformers trilogy has no doubt played a role in Warner Brothers's decision to move forwards with the project. However, the more muted response to Guillermo Del Toro's mecha movie Pacific Rim may serve as a warning on the project: Pacific Rim has made its money back and should be modestly successful overall (probably enough to warrant a sequel), but that has required substantial non-US box office. Outside of the USA, Robotech is not a particularly known property, with Macross being much bigger across most of Asia and Europe. Particularly dangerous is the risk of a boycott by anime fans who only want to see a Macross project on the big screen, not the 'bastardised' Robotech. Existing Robotech fans will also likely be unimpressed to learn that the movie will use all-new mecha designs (the live-action rights for the vehicles were not included in the original deal, so new ones will have to be made) and likely a significantly rejigged storyline and characters.
However, the Robotech fanbase in the USA is still quite strong: just a few months ago a Kickstarter launched by Palladium Books for the Robotech RPG Tactics miniature wargame exceeded its target goal by a startling twenty times.