February 28, 2007

Future War - It’s NOT Cyberpunk

Movie Review By: SFAM

Year: 1997

Directed by: Anthony Dublin

Written by: David Huey (story), Dom Magwili

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Very Low

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Very Low

Key Cast Members:

  • The Runaway: Daniel Bernhardt
  • Cyborg Master: Robert Z’Dar
  • Travis Brooks Stewart: Sister Ann
Rating: 1 out of 10


Future War Screen Capture

 

Overview: Based on the very deceptive cyberpunk-looking DVD cover, I felt it wise to give Future War a brief mention - I say brief because this movie sucks so bad that anything more than brief would constitute more effort than was spent on the entire script. Now I would consider giving Future War the same treatment I gave Cybernator, but unfortunately I just can’t possibly call this movie cyberpunk. Sure, it has time travel (I think), and these evil looking cyborg dudes, but Future War can’t put together a semblance of even an incoherent plot to explain things.

 

Future War Screen Capture

Check out the henchmen cyborg! You gotta wonder why they just didn’t go all out and make him into a Vampire Cyborg - that woulda been Kewl! (perhaps they couldn’t afford the fake teeth). And get used to the boxes. They are in about 40% of the movie - so much so that they even have a guy in the credits listed as “box wrangler”!

 

Lets just start with the intro lines from the movie (punctuation and capitalization remain intact from the film - yes, some sentences have periods, others have capital letters at the beginning, but not all):

 

From the future traveled a master race of Cyborgs.

The made abductions from Earth’s past.

The dinosaurs were trained as trackers

The humans were bred as slaves

Now a runaway slave escapes to a place his people call heaven…

we know it as Earth

 

Future War Screen Capture

Doesn’t this dinosaur remind you of the Stonehenge set piece in Spinal Tap? Just a wee bit too small, ey? Don’t worry, he grows another 10 feet a few scenes later

 

Um, OK, so these master race of cyborg dudes, who incidentally get their asses kicked by a second rate martial arts guy (who in Matrix Reloaded, turns into the ultra-cool Agent Johnson) because they don’t use their gun attachment till its too late, go back in time to get dinosaurs and train them to track escaped human slaves. Yeah, this works. Lets be clear here: some jackass with a spare $10,000 bucks wanted to make a really kewl film with cyborgs, dinosaurs and martial arts fighting – oh oh! and also a hawt chick prostitute-turned-nun! – unfortunately this was the best plot he could come up with.

 

Future War Screen Capture

Yes, nothing beats martial artists fighting master cyborgs in a warehouse church! Too bad the cyborg dude died in the last scene. Ah well, why not use the Jason resurrection thing? It works, right?

 

The Bottom Line: Pretty much the entire movie takes place either in the director’s dive house or in this really dull looking warehouse. The warehouse is “decorated” with either cardboard boxes or well-used 8×8 wooden pallets standing upright, depending on whether its supposed to be a sewer (the pallets) or um, a warehouse (the cardboard boxes). Due to a neurotic use of forced perspective, the rubber dinosaurs are constantly changing size. They go from beaver-sized to allosaurus-sized, depending on the scene (well, OK, sometimes in the SAME scene). So, does the prostitute-turned-nun decide to have sex with Agent Johnson or will she say her final vows to become a nun forever? More importantly, who the fuck cares? I understand Future War was also featured on MST3K - I would recommend that route if you must watch this. And just for the record, Cybernator is LOADS funnier.

 

This post has been filed under 1 Star Movies, Cyberpunk movies from 1990 - 1999, It's Not Cyberpunk! Mkay? by SFAM.

February 27, 2007

Gattaca

Movie Review By: SFAM

Year: 1997

Directed by: Andrew Niccol

Written by: Andrew Niccol

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Medium

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: High

Key Cast Members:

  • Vincent Freeman: Ethan Hawke
  • Jerome Eugene Morrow: Jude Law
  • Irene Cassini: Uma Thurman
  • Rating: 8 out of 10


    Gattaca Screen Capture

     

    Overview: Director Andrew Niccol explores the potential horrors of genetic engineering in Gattaca. Originally seen as a flop, taking in only 12 million on a 36 million dollar budget, Gattaca has developed a loyal following from cable and DVD viewings. Whether or not people find this movie enjoyable or believable, virtually everyone agrees that Gattaca is quality film. Viewers will definitely notice a well paced movie that’s wonderfully acted in artfully composed scenes.

     

    Gattaca Screen Capture

     

    The Setting: In an unspecified near future time frame, genetic engineering has altered the course of society. Genetic engineering is employed to remove all major defects when conceiving. Upon birth, each new-born baby is given a Genetic Quotient (G.Q.) that details their potential risk areas, including heart issues and susceptibility to diseases. Some couples still ignore the genetic engineering of children and instead go for a “faith birth” – one where potential defects in the baby are left to chance. Unfortunately, these “faith” children now grow up in a world where their genetic pedigree significantly reduces their opportunities. A surveillance society is now in place where people are divided into having either “valid” and “in-valid” status. Highly sought after jobs are only available to those with “valid” status, while “in-valids” are left to handle the menial tasks of society.

     

    Gattaca Screen Capture

     

    Ethan Hawke plays a flawed “faith birth” named Vincent Freeman who dreams of becoming an astronaut. Vincent is particularly flawed, and is predicted to have a 99% chance of heart failure by age 30. All but the most menial jobs are out of reach for “de-gene-erits” like Vincent, and he is told by both is parents and his genetically engineered brother to lower his expectations. But Vincent decides to defy the odds. Vincent seeks out shady characters in the underclass who put him in contact with wheel chair-bound Jerome (Jude Law), a person with an almost perfect GQ score, who broke his back in a car accident. Jerome agrees to give Vincent urine and blood samples so that he can assume Jerome’s identity and bypass the security measures in place at Gattaca, the huge aerospace corporation.

     

    Gattaca Screen Capture

     

    Vincent succeeds in fooling Gattaca personnel with the urine and blood samples, and by almost neurotically ensuring that any genetic tissue of his will not be left behind. He scrubs his body daily to remove excess skin cells or loose hairs, and constantly cleans his office space and keyboard to ensure there is no material left behind other than planted samples from Jerome. Due to his immense personal drive, Vincent quickly climbs the ranks of the organization. He is put on a project to design a year-long flight to one of Saturn’s moons.

     

    Gattaca Screen Capture

     

    Vincent’s dreams are almost coming true, but just as quickly his dreams are jeopardized when the lead flight director is horribly murdered – unfortunately the investigation has turned up one of Vincent’s “in-valid” eyelashes. Worse, his brother Anton is heading up the investigation. Complicating matters further, Vincent has fallen for a fellow Gattaca employee named Irene (Uma Thurman). Irene’s GQ is not good enough for flight, and has accepted her lesser standing in society. Ethan must escape the investigation while still keeping his astronaut and love life dreams alive.

     

    Gattaca Screen Capture

     

    The Acting: Gattaca boasts a terrific cast in which all key roles are wonderfully delivered. Ethan Hawke provides us with a terrific flawed but inspired faith child. Jude Law is just as good as the crippled GQ has-been, and Uma Thurman performs solidly in a supporting role as the love interest who has given up hope for fulfilling her dreams. The rest of the cast is also solid, including Alan Arkin as a beat cop, and William Lee Scott as Vincent’s brother. Along with solid pacing, the quality of the acting allow us to overlook some of the more problematic aspects of the story.

     

    Gattaca Screen Capture

     

    The Visuals: Gattaca goes for an understated, high-tech view of the future, where we are only treated to the higher echelons of society. Director Andrew Niccol plays with a number of oppressive color schemes to give us a dystopic vibe. Yellows and blacks are constantly employed, as are dull blue-grays to provide us a sense of hopelessness and inevitability. Greens and sleek, shiny charcoal grays are employed to convey the high-tech nature of society. Niccol and Cinematographer Slawomir Idziak consistently provide us with well composed shots and artistic visuals and set pieces that take in a range of lighting and shadows effects.

     

    Gattaca Screen Capture

     

    Surveillance Society Through Genetic Profiling: The vision of a domineering surveillance society we see in Gattaca may be more relevant now than when it was released in 1997. In thinking through a variety of policy options, the United States is currently debating the trade-offs between public safety and personal privacy. Worse, the technology surrounding our personal genetic code is right around the corner that will give insurance companies information on predilections we have toward certain diseases. It is hardly a stretch to imagine corporations and insurance companies engaging in genetic profiling within the next ten years or so. In that sense, Gattaca cuts to the heart of the issue – even though percentages may suggest clear issues with the majority of a population, there will still be outliers like Vincent. Gattaca tells us that personal drive can still overcome genetic superiority.

     

    Gattaca Screen Capture

     

    Genetics Is Overplayed: In many ways, Gattaca is a one trick pony in that it examines a world where genetic profiling drives virtually every aspect of society. While the vision is motivating, we are left wondering why extreme advances in genetics don’t lead to improvements in medical care. For instance, a prediction upon birth that a heart has a 99% of failure by age 30 is based on an assumption medical treatments will remain static. For the viewer to buy this vision of the future, we must believe that society has given up on the long-standing notion that technology can cure all ills. On a lesser scale, one wonders why a corporation as powerful as the Gattaca Corporation cannot figure a more streamlined method of ensuring the loyalty of their employees – one wonders who any work is ever done considering the employees seem to spent a significant amount of time verifying their identity and drug free status through the daily gauntlet of surveillance testing.

     

    Gattaca Screen Capture

     

    The Bottom Line: Gattaca is a very well made film that provides us a valuable cautionary tale into how genetic engineering abuses could lead to significant societal maladies. The pacing, acting and cinematography are all of consistently high quality. That said, the world of Gattaca isn’t as coherent as I would have liked. We get no sense of the political implications of genetic profiling, nor do we see any innovations other than genetic engineering. In this sense the future setting is perhaps more simplistic than was necessary. Additionally, some of the plot points seem over-contrived. The last week of Vincent’s life prior to launch has too much going on (a new love interest, a murder investigation headed up by his brother, issues with Jerome), and there was probably a bit of overkill on the sentimental ending. That said, Gattaca is a great flick, and very much deserves a viewing.

     

    This post has been filed under Security-Surveillance State, Dystopic Future Movies, 8 Star Movies, Cyberpunk movies from 1990 - 1999 by SFAM.

    February 24, 2007

    Welcome to the Future-Xray Nudie Pictures From Phoenix!

    Xray Screencap

     

    Ok, so the xray photos on display in Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Arizona aren’t as revealing as the shot above (although this was a competing option) - in fact they claim that they’ve made the image look more like a cookie cutter, but with the gun still visible. Backscatter technology is now in production in Phoenix, and the move towards a top notch surveillance state has taken a great leap forward.

     

    PHOENIX - The Phoenix airport on Friday became the first in the United States to test new X-ray technology that can see through people’s clothes and show the body’s contours with blush-inducing clarity.

    Critics have said the high-resolution images created by the “backscatter” technology are too invasive. But the Transportation Security Administration adjusted the equipment so the pictures can be blurred in certain areas while still detecting concealed weapons.

    During the testing, the machine will be used only as a back-up screening measure. Passengers who fail the standard screening with a metal detector will be able to choose between the new device or a pat-down search.

     

    Cool - so the images the attendants see have been blurred to look cookie-cutter-like. Anyone wanna guess at whether or not the actual images can be saved by this machine? In looking at the feature set some of these backscatter machines have, it’s pretty darn clear that saving and analyzing images is a key selling point. Call me crazy, but I’m guessing its just a matter of months before we get a porno website marketing pictures from airports.

     

    Scanner Darkly Screencap

     

    The real issue though is again this issue of security versus privacy. The US government clearly believes that infringements on privacy are minor annoyances at best. They look at individual point decisions to individual problems versus the trend over time. The Transportation Security Administration seems to be taking this approach, but also seems to realize the public is still skeptical to their safety overtures:

     

    “Privacy and security are not mutually exclusive, and backscatter has potential to be a valuable tool in our layered security approach,” said TSA Administrator Kip Hawley. “There will be opportunity for continued public dialogue as we see how this technology works in the airport setting.”

     

    It’s really nice that they want to continue the “dialogue” as if the public might have a role in this decision. The manufacturers of the backscatter technology used in Phoenix, AS&E, is clearly planning to go after border crossings next. The question though is once previous barriers to our privacy are now breached by the authorities, what’s to stop companies from doing similar things? Why wouldn’t they in fact? Isn’t the argument for going forward the same? Should we expect post offices to start scanning their facilities to stop customers and employees from going “postal”? In fact, other than the price of the systems, what stops the use of this technology anywhere?

    Oh, and BTW, - Good news, New York and LA, you’re next!

     

    TSA plans to expand the backscatter pilot later this year to JFK and LAX. There will be opportunity for continued public dialogue as we see how the technology works in the airport setting.

    This post has been filed under News as Cyberpunk by SFAM.

    February 22, 2007

    Avatar (Cyber Wars)

    Movie Review By: hughie522

    Year: 2004

    Directed by: Jian Hong Kuo

    Written by: Christopher Hatton

    IMDB Reference

    Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High

    Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: High

    Key Cast Members:

    • Dash MacKenzie: Genevieve O’Reilly
    • Victor Huang: Luoyong Wang

    Rating: 6 out of 10

     


    Avatar Cyber Wars Screen Capture

     

    SFAM NOTE: We welcome new reviewer hughie522, who uploaded this review into the Review Forum. If others are interested in joining the review team, please post a message in the review forum.

     

    Avatar Cyber Wars Screen Capture

     

    Overview: Few would consider Singapore to be the home of cutting-edge science fiction and even less would be swayed by the island nation’s first science fiction film, ‘Avatar’. The first forty minutes are cringe-worthy; poorly constructed characters, dodgy VFX and some of the worst dialogue outside a Ishiro Honda film are likely to put many viewers off straight away. However, ‘Avatar’ offers a little more than your cookie-cutter tale of good vs. evil wrapped in a sleek (if not cardboard-like) sci-fi setting. Transhumanism, corporate greed, social engineering, cheating death – all feature in an interesting little science fiction romp that unfortunately suffers from a very limited budget. Our story begins…

     

    Avatar Cyber Wars Screen Capture

    Synopsis: In the early 21st century, the entire free world is connected through the CyberLink (think ‘internet meets cyberspace’), the backbone of all communication and financial trading (ie. the stock exchange). The influence of the CyberLink is most felt in the city-state of Sintawan, a sprawling metropolis where corporate greed and personal gain rise above all else. Men (and women) such as Joseph Lau (David Warner, ladies and gentlemen!) are practically Gods over their own domain, the CyberLink ensuring their continued dominance over Sintawan through the megacorporations. Five megacorporations in particular – one of which is owned by Lau - appear locked in an epic game of wits with the people of Sintawan as the chess pieces.

     

    Avatar Cyber Wars Screen Capture

     

    Not that the people actually realize this, oh no. They are too busy with their own private agendas to even notice! Although a vast majority of CyberLink users are legitimate, illegal users do exist and often use ‘SIMPLANTS’ to hide their true identities (sort of like using a disguise and a false ID). ‘SIMPLANT’-users are often tracked down by freelance bounty hunters such as Dash MacKenzie (O’Reilly) or, more commonly, by Ident cops such as Detective Vic Huang. Dash is contacted by Joseph Lau – as are the Ident Police – to track down an illegal ‘SIMPLANT’-user, Edward Chang. It seems straightforward enough, until Dash and Detective Huang discover a massive conspiracy involving the CyberLink, Joseph Lau and the other megacorporations. This game just got deadly…

    Avatar Cyber Wars Screen Capture

     

    Analysis: To be frank, ‘Avatar’ is hardly ‘award-winning entertainment’ (though apparently it has already picked up two at a Spanish film festival) and will not blow anyone’s socks off. It is not destined to become a sci-fi classic or even a cult film, and is likely already forgotten by those that noticed it to begin with. Though it is not without its merits; the technology is fantastic: holograms are often used to hide the truth (such as disguising the fact that a prominent, five-star hotel is in desperate need of an exterminator and a few coats of paint), handheld communicators for video calls, micro-scale robots disguised as insects (such as beetles and dragonflies) that are used to project holograms and undertake surveillance, the concept of people that live inside the CyberLink and those that have augmented their bodies with technology (such as my friend below)…it is absolutely incredible that so much was achieved on such a limited budget.

     

    Avatar Cyber Wars Screen Capture

    Cyberpunk Musings: There are a number of interesting aspects of Avatar which benefit from further exploration.

    • Ravers: Ravers are part of Sintawan’s subculture. Augmented human beings with a gang mentality, they are fiercely anti-corporate and anti-government. Ravers are all connected through a telepathic link-up that is separate from the CyberLink and frequently use ‘crash-bangs’ (handheld electromagnetic pulse devices) to damage the city-state’s infrastructure (ie. at one point in the film an organised group of ravers attempt to take down Sintawan’s mass transit system and partly succeed). All appear to have the same ‘left-brain implants’ that have an almost ‘retro’ feel to them. Possibly the coolest part of the film.
    • City-states: There already exists cities with populations and gross domestic products (GDPs) greater than that of most third- and second-world countries. Sintawan appears to be governed by an organisation similar to the United Nations, though the corporations have been challenging this seat of power for some time. It is not too far fetched to stipulate that a large enough city (such as New York) could break off from the mainland and declare itself an independent state in the near future.
    • Avatars/Holograms: Though never referred to as ‘holograms’ as such, these feature predominantly in the film. For example, one of the corporate heads is suffering from terminal cancer and has had his body put in a state of hibernation. His mind, however, remains fully function and an ‘avatar’ (a holographic representation of him) continues to act as the functioning head of the corporation, albeit only within the confines of his office. As mentioned before, holograms are also used to ‘cloak’ certain objects and sometimes create very believable deceptions (such as the six-star hotel).
    • Surveillance and ‘Bugging’: Mini-robots disguised as very believable imitations of dragonflies (and to a lesser extent, beetles) are used throughout the film for audio and visual surveillance and the projecting of holograms. If you think that you have been ‘bugged’, then you are probably right!
    • The Spirit and the Flesh: Several characters (and one in particular) practically live inside the CyberLink. One such character’s body is a complete mess (he is severely overweight and is always ‘jacked in’) while his ‘spirit’ seems almost free within the virtual confines of the CyberLink. The CyberLink also offers a sort of perpetual ‘afterlife’ for those who have died in the real world (much like Armin Mueller-Stahl’s character in ‘The Thirteenth Floor’).
    • Social Engineering: Suppose that chaos theory is true; that every action and every decision radiates outwards and has an effect on other things and other actions and other decisions, exponentially increasing as it pushes out. Now suppose that chaos theory is somehow controlled. That someone higher up is pushing all the buttons, willing us into certain actions and certain decisions that is slowly shaping our culture. Now imagine that person ‘higher up’ is one of five corporate heads, who are all out to win a game of wits with human beings as the game pieces. Scary, no? This is the BIG issue in ‘Avatar’, and the one that ninety percent of the film is structured around. So what if the game has brought great prosperity to the people of Sintawan; it’s still motivated by greed, is it not? Is destroying the game worth the cost destroying modern society? You decide.

     

    Avatar Cyber Wars Screen Capture

    The Bottom Line: If you watch this film as I did – whereby I was expecting your typical, low-budget sci-fi action romp – then you might be pleasantly surprised. Though not that greatly. ‘Avatar’ is a film possibly best suited to die-hard sci-fi fans with no sense of taste (like moi) and who are easily impressed by a few interesting ideas and flashy set pieces (also like moi). Otherwise, steer clear and stick to the bane of ‘thinking-man’s science fiction’ (yes, I am referring to ‘The Matrix’ sequels). ‘Avatar’ has plenty of ideas, though permitting it any more than six stars would be a crime and an insult. The bottom line: CONSUME AT YOUR OWN RISK.

    This post has been filed under 6 Star Movies, VR Movies, Cyberpunk movies from 2000 - 2009 by SFAM.

    Nirvana Screencap

     

    In a a few short decades, we’ve gone from a normal industrialized society that supported people of all technology comforts to a society where people in the most essential of societal jobs need to be fluent in computers just to stay out of jail. Urshanabi brings us this article in the Techy News Picks of the Day thread where Julie Amero, a substitute teacher from the backwards-ass town of Norwich, Connecticut was convicted, and could be sentenced for up to 40 years for the misfortune of having spamware on her classroom computer. I say backwards-ass because any town that could find 12 jurors that would blame this action on a technophobe are as computer illiterate as Julie Amero. The story is as follows:

     

    Julie Amero was convicted of four counts of ‘risking injury to a child’ and will face up to forty years in prison when she is sentenced in March. The conviction was handed down in the Norwich Superior Court. The story behind this and the facts used to convict her have many in the IT world gaping in shock.

    The story behind the case starts in 2004. Amero was using a computer in a seventh grade class to email her husband. Before she sent the email, she left to use the restroom and came back into the classroom, finding students watching a hairstyle ad on the PC. This is where the trouble starts. Attempting to close the pop-up ad for the hairstyle promotion she was suddenly bombarded with an endless stream of pop-up ads for pornography related services and websites.

    The computer and the pop-up ads continued to run all day long according to court reports and news interviews. Amero, a self-described ‘technophobe’ (someone who is afraid of or does not know how to use current technology) did not attempt to turn off the computer, or unplug it for two reasons. The first, she claims was because she did not know how to turn off the computer. The second is she was trained never to touch anything in another teacher’s classroom. She had only asked to send and email, and in her opinion, disabling the computer or unplugging it would have not been within the scope of what she was allowed to do.

    She attempted to seek help, leaving the classroom to head to the teachers lounge. Later, because she failed to close and lock the classroom when she went to the lounge, this was added as proof of her irresponsible actions. In all, four children were exposed to the ads and images. During the trial, it was suggested that she spent too much time looking at the internet and that she intentionally surfed pornographic websites. If she is a ‘technophobe’ as claimed, it is likely sending email, is the only thing she knows how to do on a computer. Anything else and she would shy away from it. Her husband also confirmed that she is a ‘technophobe’ both at trial and in interviews.

     

    The implications to society from this case are clear - technophobes are not only being left behind, they’re now considered to be criminally negligible. Academic skills such as a degree in education are now secondary to information proficiency. Forget figuring out how to program your VCR, if you don’t know the basics of computer pitfalls, your competence as a professional is shot. Even some letters to the local backwards-ass newspaper, the Norwich Bulletin, back this sentiment up.

     

    If Amero had better competency, she would have unplugged the computer or covered it up until someone who knew how to remove the pop-ups could solve the problem.

    If the school district and principal knew how to use the technology, they would have stood by their teacher.

    The solution here is simple. Dismiss the criminal counts. Fire Amero from her job for her incompetent handling of the situation.

     

    Julie Amero’s beleaguered husband describes this situation in 1984 terms:

     

    Welcome to 2004
    George Orwell was a little off, but not by much. Technology has engulfed the average American at an alarming rate. To think that it is possible for the average layperson to understand all the ins and outs of how a computer works is just not reasonable. What’s worse, our employer’s don’t know any more than we do, and they rely on us to identify problems when they happen. If you are lucky, your employer will know what to do when a crisis happens with your system. If not you’ll end up like Julie arrested, ridiculed, demeaned and left with useless teacher’s degree in special education.

     

    Fragile Machine Screencap

     

    We can all mock Julie for being afraid to turn off the computer because she was “never told” she was allowed to do this, but most of us who have worked with technophobes know the drill - technophobes take as few actions as possible with the computer for fear of breaking something. When the inevitable breakdown occurs, their worst fears are realized and they tend to panic. We see this when new versions of office applications come out - technophobes fumble around trying to figure out how to now do what they used to do in the last version, while computer literate folk seek out all the new features. Worse, we all see this as a generational issue - that older folk are in danger of becoming irrelevant while the younger generation intuitively adapts to the new technology. But is this really so? How will today’s 30 something do with technology coming out 20 years from now?

     

    Parasite Dolls Screencap

     

    So what are we left with? Clearly the case against Julie Amero is horribly flawed and will probably be overturned on appeal once it leaves the confines of Luddite-land, CT. But the larger point remains - the level of competence in information proficiency that people need in order to succeed in today’s world is far greater than it was 10 years ago. We have become a networked society. Internet addiction is becoming the norm among a huge percentage of the population. And the trend is clear - in ten years from now, the amount of knowledge needed to survive will be significantly greater than today. Will the scam artists be gone then? What about the future equivalent of spyware? Where then will technophobes like Julie be? The schism in society between those who “get it” and those who are technologically clueless will only get worse.

    This post has been filed under Cyberpunked living by SFAM.

    February 17, 2007

    The Bionic Man Wears Glasses

    Artificial Retina Project Screencap

     

    The BBC News reported that retinal implants have been approved for trials in about 50 to 75 patients. Early results by a team headed up by the Doheny Eye Institute, with funding by the Department of Energy show that those blinded by retinal diseases can get partially restored vision with an implantable microelectronic retinal device. In the picture above,

    1. The Camera on the glasses views image
    2. Signals are sent to hand-held device
    3. Processed information is sent back to glasses and wirelessly transmitted to a receiver under surface of eye
    4. The receiver sends information to electrodes in retinal implant
    5. Electrodes stimulate retina to send information to brain

     

    Artificial Retina Project Screencap

     

    “What we are trying to do is take real-time images from a camera and convert them into tiny electrical pulses that would jump-start the otherwise blind eye and allow patients to see,” said Professor Mark Humayun, from the University of Southern California.

    Both diseases cause the retinal cells which process light at the back of the eye to gradually die.

    The new devices work by implanting an array of tiny electrodes into the back of the retina. A camera is used to capture pictures, and a processing unit, about the size of a small handheld computer and worn on a belt, converts the visual information into electrical signals. These are then sent back to the glasses and wirelessly on to a receiver just under the surface of the front of the eye, which in turn feeds them to the electrodes at the rear.The whole process happens in real time.

    …”It’s amazing, even with 16 pixels, or electrodes, how much our first six subjects have been able to do”…The new implant has a higher resolution than the earlier devices, with 60 electrodes.

     

    Now clearly we’re seeing significant improvements in a relatively rapid timeframe - so much so that one wonders when the contact lens retinal implants will hit the market. After that, color is just around the corner. I can already see the bionic eye folks screaming, “I want HD quality contacts!” Seriously though, this is fascinating stuff, and shows yet another fantastic innovation in overcoming limitations with our bodies.

     

    Nirvana  Screencap

     

    As these things become commonplace, the notion of a “natural” human may go by the wayside. Currently, prosthetics and implants are meant to overcome real loses so that patients can lead normal lives. It’s not too much of a stretch to see these advances used to further existing human capabilities. Imagine for instance, adding an implant to your eye to allow you to “see” through a mobile robot that you “control” with your mind (we already have direct prosthetics control connected to our nervous systems). In effect this becomes another limb, but is one detached from your body (I’m going to call mine a tachikoma!). You can give it commands, watch its movements, and even ignore it if you like while it goes through predetermined programs.

    This post has been filed under News as Cyberpunk by SFAM.

    I.K.U. Screencap

     

    Now as most of you know, I don’t do any advertising on Cyberpunk Review, which means it’s a massive time sink that doesn’t generate a dime (this is exactly how I want it to be!). Collecting advertising revenue on a site devoted to cyberpunk concepts just seems wrong somehow. That said, I have absolutely NO qualms about accepting gifts! Cyberpunk movies, books, figures (the Borg Queen, if you have it), games - I’d be more than happy to accept (send an email to sfam”at”cyberpunkreview.com if feel the urge!). While I have gotten a number of movies sent for me to review, this is my first cyberpunk book:

     

    Bachelor Machine Book Cover

     

    Successful erotic fantasy author, M. Christian, sent me a wonderful message saying how much he liked Cyberpunk Review, and offered to send me his book of “smutty cyberpunk short stories,” called The Bachelor Machine. I just got it in the mail today, so I can’t give a review of it yet. But often when I find a new author I’m interested in, I like to take the book and open it to a random page and start reading. Here’s a sample for you from the first place I opened it to - page 132, halfway down:

     

    She walked with purpose down Ringold. Black plastic raincoat, cheap leather boots, a threadbare purple Zo/courier bag - showing what her last straight job was - and coal mine shades. Invisible in the SOMA turf, she was average enough not to catch a second glance.

    But I knew her - we’d fucked. But never in the flesh. Cybersea fucking: interactive chat and visuals. Breasts just the right size for filling hands, she said. An electric cunt tight enough to rip condoms off, she said. We’d fucked so many times, but I’d never seen her in the flesh, and I’d never asked her real name.

    Trust.

    Bytebitch saw me. Didn’t smile. The brown eyes behind the shades might have, but I had no way of knowing. On the corner with me was the picked-clean corpse of a Saab. She moved to the pitted fender and propped herself against it.

    Cybersez: Get Comfy…

     

    I think I’m gonna like The Bachelor Machine! Thanks, Chris! Better yet, M. Christian mentions he has another cyberpunk erotica book due to come out in a year from now. I’ll be looking forward to it. And if you want to learn more about him, M. Christian has this cool blog.

    This post has been filed under Books, Site Development by SFAM.

    Hackers Screencap

     

    An article on Boing-Boing detailed the plight of the Blu-Ray and HD DVD copy-protection crowd: after spending years creating an unbreakable code, a mere few weeks later, it is already OBE:

     

    Arnezami, a hacker on the Doom9 forum, has published a crack for extracting the “processing key” from a high-def DVD player. This key can be used to gain access to every single Blu-Ray and HD-DVD disc.

    Previously, another Doom9 user called Muslix64 had broken both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD by extracting the “volume keys” for each disc, a cumbersome process. This break builds on Muslix64’s work but extends it — now you can break all AACS-locked discs.

    AACS took years to develop, and it has been broken in weeks. The developers spent billions, the hackers spent pennies.

     

    Poor studio houses. Yeah, it sucks that all those evil law breakers have stolen your profits. And no, it just doesn’t look like your latest annoying copy-protection scheme is gonna work. Not only do we have to deal with the asinine sticky tape on the outside of the package, to get HD quality, we’re also forced to use a shoddy input standard (HDMI) which degrades its signal after 30 feet (component video/digital audio doesn’t have this problem) - worse, we put up with this so that your lagging business model can be saved by AACS Copy Protection (BTW - we won’t be buying ANY HD products until you pick a single format, Mkay?). After inflicting this approach on us, and after millions spent in developing this technology, arnezami describes how easy this was to crack in saying:

     

    Hope you enjoyed the ride. I’m thinking about a concept of proof proggy which does all the steps (from Processing Key to C-value to Media Key to Volume ID to VUK). It would require a Volume ID as input (which might be retrieved/guessed in another program or extension whatever). But the most important part is done: we have a Processing Key.

    I’m also thinking about doing a full explanation of the AACS protection system (or at least the subset-difference technique). But only if there is any demand for it .

    Regards,

    arnezami

    PS. For the keen observer: I’m not telling which player I used (well you can guess but you might guess wrong) to retrieve the Processing Key because I don’t want to give the AACS LA any extra legal ammunition against any player company. Nothing was hacked, cracked or even reverse engineered btw: I only had to watch the “show” in my own memory. No debugger was used, no binaries changed.

     

    The dynamics of the old market just don’t work that well any more. Blaming the hackers and immoral customers isn’t going to make it better, nor are the copy protection schemes. Steve Jobs, in describing the dynamics behind iTunes’ copy protection explains the problem perfectly - Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI are demanding it, even though it’s nonsensical. And while its clear that copywright holders need to get paid for their work, as Boing Boing States:

     

    There is no future in which bits will get harder to copy. Instead of spending billions on technologies that attack paying customers, the studios should be confronting that reality and figuring out how to make a living in a world where copying will get easier and easier. They’re like blacksmiths meeting to figure out how to protect the horseshoe racket by sabotaging railroads.

     

    Now I’m generally an honest dude. I own over 900 DVDs and paid for them all (other than those given to me by directors to review - any more of those, send’em my way!). However, I do draw the line on the ridiculous region code crap. When a movie like Natural City gets released overseas years before coming to the US, I’ll be damned if I’m gonna wait to pay top dollar here. And if I can get an import of an anime like Serial Experiments Lain on Ebay for 10 bucks for all 13 episodes or buy them 4 episodes at a time for 20 bucks, guess where I’m goin? While I don’t have an innovative answer for how the future market could work, I’m guessin the studio houses and distributors rarely get their head out of the sand to even think about it.

     

    X-Files Kill Switch Screencap

     

    Note to the Studio Houses and Distributors: The market is global. Other countries sell products too. There are even movies produced overseas that some of us want to see here in the US the same day those in Europe and Asia watch them.” If you don’t give us a way to do that legally, we’ll find other options. If you want to slow the downloading issue, one obvious answer is to go for global releases. When Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society is released in Japan, it should be released in the US as well. And perhaps there might be a backlash when you screw the US citizens by charging higher prices here than other countries pay - just a thought.

     

    Serial Experiments Lain Screencap

     

    Note to Illegal Downloaders: Just a note to those of you engaging in illegal downloads - not all copyright holders are equal. You wanna stick it to Sony by downloading and then posting their entire catalog online? Fine - go ahead. Chances are they won’t be going bankrupt any time soon. But what about the Indie movie makers and underground music labels? You really think these guys are loaded? They ARE the little guys - there is no mega-corp backing them up. Most are living hand-to-mouth, and are working for the love of their craft. They aren’t planning to use your money to purchase a second Maserati; they’ll be using it to buy dinner and pay the rent. They WILL be going out of business if you illegally download the products of their labor. And then where will we be? I’ll tell you where - you’ll be stuck with bloated studio house monstrosities like I, Robot and The Island, while movies like Fragile Machine and One Point O start to disappear. Your choice…

     

    This post has been filed under News as Cyberpunk by SFAM.

    Movie Review By: SFAM

    Year: 2000

    Directed by: Udo Blass

    IMDB Reference

    Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Very Low

    Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Very Low

    Rating: 3 out of 10

    Sexual Matrix Screen Capture

     

    Overview: Every so often, I get around to reviewing something more to point out that it is NOT cyberpunk. I intended this category for movies like New Rose Hotel - while Gibson’s short story is top-notch, awesome cyberpunk, the movie of the same name is an unmitigated non-cyberpunk mess. The other reason I review a non-cyberpunk movie is because even though the movie packaging or description may indicate some cyber elements, movies in this category are going for deceptive advertising to sell their flick. Some erotic spoofs of popular movies are downright awesome. My favorite cyberpunk spoof is probably the Terminatrix (I still need to do some screencaps for that movie). However, in many other cases, soft core porn productions will try to leverage off a big title, but in fact really doesn’t have much of anything to do with it. Sexual Matrix fits this pattern, having nothing whatsoever to do with the Matrix movies, or much of anything else cyberpunk other than VR love scenes.

     

    Sexual Matrix Screen Capture

     

    The Story: Sexual Matrix is pretty straightforward – a professor looks to get funding to build a prototype for helping people act out their fantasies in VR. To get started, he cons a local university into thinking he has funding lined up from a major corporation. The university, in their infinite wisdom doesn’t check his lie, and instead sends an ultra-hawt grad student to “oversee” his research. For some reason, the prototype appears already built, so no real work is necessary, other than a few twists of knobs on the Star Trek looking light panel. From this point, most of the movie involves students and test subjects coming in for fifty bucks to try out the VR system. There’s a brief human interest story dealing with the professor and his hawt assistant, but this isn’t worth going into.

     

    Sexual Matrix Screen Capture

     

    The Bottom Line: Again, nothing special here from a cyberpunk perspective. The movie itself is decent quality production. Their “fantasies” are done up in decent quality production soft-core porn, but there’s no cyberpunk aspects and only one that shows cyber-type scenery. Most are regular soft-core porn scenes. If you’re interested in a decent quality soft core porn showing lots of breasts in a façade VR setting, Sexual Matrix may be of interest. I do however deduct a quality point for the misleading cover and description.

     

    ~See movies similar to this one~

    This post has been filed under Soft Core CyberPorn, VR Movies, It's Not Cyberpunk! Mkay? by SFAM.

    February 10, 2007

    Rammstein: Live aus Berlin

    Movie Review By: SFAM

    Directed by: Hamish Hamilton

    IMDB Reference

    Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High

    Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Low

    Rating: 9 out of 10

    Rammstein Screen Capture

     

    Reviewing Concert DVDs: As this is my first review of a concert DVD on Cyberpunk Review, I thought I’d mention a few words about my intentions. These will not be reviews of the actual bands, but of their performances - specifically of their performances in movies or concert DVDs. I won’t be “tagging” these posts so that they show up intermingled with my movie reviews. Also, while I have about 70 concert DVDs, and have reviewed them in one or two places, I have very few that I would consider cyberpunk, either by visuals or theme. Rage against the Machine, for instance, has the cyberpunk themes or ideas down in songs pretty solidly, whereas Rammstein, in this performance reviewed here, has what I might consider cyberpunk visuals down fairly well. Because I’m relatively new to cyberpunk concert DVDs, it wouldn’t be too surprising if after reviewing a number of them I updated my reviews somewhat. Finally, like the movies, my reviews will be based on the quality of the performance and production. Hopefully, you all can help update the Cyberpunk Wiki with some examples of other really great cyberpunk concert DVDs.

     

    Rammstein Screen Capture

     

    Overview: German’s Industrial Metal band Rammstein puts on a truly phenomenal show on DVD. Atmosphere and other-worldly cyberpunk-like ambiance are in abundant supply. Virtually every song has actual fire shooting out from the most unlikely places. On top of this, the band really RAWKS. That said, there may go a bit overboard on the glitz and flash. But you would never notice it from the way their audience reacts - they LOVE them!

     

    Rammstein Screen Capture

     

    The Visuals: The stage for Rammstein oozes with futuristic dystopia. Invasive metal is the order of the day. Tubes and piping pop out from all angles throughout the stage. The outfits Rammstein starts the performance out with fit perfectly. But throughout, it becomes clear that most every aspect of this performance has been wonderfully choreographed. Truly, Rammstein is putting on a show - and what a wonderful show it is!

     

    Rammstein Screen Capture

     

    The Cinematography: One of the most impressive aspects of this performance is that the MTV style camera work actually works wonderfully to add to the atmosphere. Usually when you get this style of quick-cutting camera work, you feel more like you’re in a music video. While this feeling comes through at first, the constant and supremely interactive crowd, which sings right along with the band, brings you into the concert. The overall feeling is both immersive and edgy. Often, the lead singer stops singing and points the microphone at the crowd, and EVERY TIME they are screaming back the exact lyrics, perfectly in time with the song.

     

    Rammstein Screen Capture

     

    The Band: Rammstein’s music is best characterized as brute force, crunchy and repetitive industrial metal. Most of the songs are driven by the drum player. The keyboardist is bizarre in the extreme, but then again, he fits right in. The guitarists have pale blue contact lenses, and pretty much everyone, from the ultra-muscular lead singer, Till Lindeman to the cyberpunk bassist really emphasizes performance as much as the music. However, the performance makes clear that Rammstein seem far more about show then they are ideas. Similar to Kiss here in the US, Rammstein is creating an immersive facade - one which the crowd is all to eager to take part in.

     

    Rammstein Screen Capture

     

    The Sound: The quality of the sound track is superb, but is not really done in surround-sound in the sense that say, the Eagles When Hell Freezes Over DVD is. You get mostly crowd noises out of the rear speakers, and band from the front speakers. This approach actually helps with the “front row” feeling, but it is at odds with the video-like shooting style. Had they gone for a straightforward Talking Heads “Stop Making Sense” type camera style, the sound would have fit better. But again, the quality is terrific. The band is completely tight throughout.

     

    Rammstein Screen Capture

     

    The Highlight: I first heard of Rammstein on the Matrix Soundtrack. Song #12, Du Hast, really hit me. While I couldn’t understand a word (as its all in German), I was blown away. In this concert, Rammstein REALLY comes hard on Du Hast. The whole thing is just magical. There’s a part where Lindeman completely stops singing (during the slow “Du Hast…Du Hast Mesh” part) adn the crowd does the entire thing PERFECTLY. Watching it, you get caught up in the moment.

     

    Rammstein Screen Capture

     

    The Bottom Line: I have somewhere between 70 concert DVDs and Rammstein’s Live aus Berlin performance definitely sits somewhere in the top tier. The performance is wonderfully choreographed, wonderfully shot, and the energy is contagious. The performance leaves with a sense of pure power. This truly is an experience not to be missed.

    ~See movies similar to this one~

    This post has been filed under Concert DVD, Cyberpunk Music by SFAM.

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