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Returner Movie Thoughts
Derivative, you think?
Posted by: Damin - April 24, 2005 - 11:41:17 AM

I've recently rewatched Returner on DVD. Odds are you've never seen it and if you have seen it, you probably watched it on DVD. Back in 2003, this Japanese movie was shown in only 13 U.S. theaters and grossed less than $150,000US in three weeks.

I suppose a quick plot summary of Returner is in order. In the future, an alien species called Daggra are laying waste to Earth, all because of a little screw up that happened 80 years in the past. A girl, Milly, is sent back in time to prevent the event that leads to the destruction of humanity. Once back in time, Milly manages to trick our mercenary hero, Miyamoto, into helping her prevent a future war. Together they go after a local crime boss, Mizoguchi, who will cause the alien invasion in Milly's current timeline if they don't stop him.

Sounds kind of cool, right? If you are a fan of action oriented anime, then you will probably like this live-action movie. However, Returner has to be one of the biggest, unabashed derivative collection of Hollywood sci-fi action bits. Let's just look at how many other movies Returner borrows from. It may sound like I am ragging on the movie, (and to be honest I am ragging on it,) but it doesn't make me not enjoy this 2 hour romp.

Now moving forward, there may be elements that could be considered spoilers for those who haven't seen it. But since Returner has copied from almost every blockbuster flick out there, they probably aren't spoilers at all. Also I'm only showing ripped off ideas and not in any chronological order.

First up, we have Terminator 2 - Judgment Day.

In T2's apocalyptic future, Skynet is laying waste to the resistance with devastating air and ground forces. The resistance, through the use of time travel, hope to change the past to prevent this war. In Returner's apocalyptic future, Daggra are laying waste to the resistance with devastating air and ground forces. The resistance, through the use of time travel, hope to change the past to prevent this war... OK, moving on.

There are also various elements taken from Independence Day.

Besides the oversized mother ship parting the clouds, there is also a scene in the movie where a smaller alien ship starts to go crazy in a top secret lab. It is very reminiscent of the ID4 alien ship floating in the Area 51 lab after the scientists release the mooring clamps.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial gets ripped off too. (Now this is an actual "plot" spoiler. Look away now.)

E.T. is sick and dying and Elliot spends his efforts to get him back home. In Returner, this Daggra is sick and dying and our heros spend their efforts to get him back home. Except if they don't get him back home, Earth will be laid seige to for the better part of the next century.

It is a time travel movie so they have to handle the changes in the timeline the same way as Back to the Future.

Not content with showing Milly fading away in an original manner, they have to make sure the audience understands why she is fading away. The film lets your previous experience with Back to the Future explain it, instead of explaining it themselves.

The movie also has it's share of gun play. One of best directors to emulate when showing ultra-cool gun stand offs is of course John Woo. Now I'm not saying Returner is the only movie to ever be inspired by a John Woo film, but it does emulate more than his trademark style of Mexican Standoff, such as the Mission: Impossible II motorcycle chase sequence.

The shot is almost a mirror copy of the "extreme braking, front tire pivot, swing the gun around to face the baddies" sequence. All the scenes previously mentioned could pass off as inspiration for Returner, but this scene has to be a blatant rip-off.

And finally, if you are going to be ripping off sci-fi action movies, then what better one to rip off then The Matrix?

Yes, both Neo and Miyamoto both have the ability to dodge bullets. Granted, Returner doesn't use bullet time camerawork to achieve the super dodge ability, but the idea to be able to see and avoid bullets is still used.

There are probably even more scenes from other movies that we've seen before in Returner that I've probably missed. But don't let all these rip-offs detract you from renting the movie. Returner is still pretty entertaining if you want mindless action with a half-decent plot. It's a fun little flick if you don't expect the next Citizen Kane.

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January 2023