Movie Review By: Mr. Roboto
Directed by: Jonathan Mostow
Written by: Michael Ferris & John D. Brancato
Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Low
Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Medium
Key Cast Members:
Greer: Bruce Willis
Peters: Radha Mitchell
Elder Cantor: James Cromwell
The Prophet: Ving Rhames
“What??? Only six stars? What happened?”
Overview: After reading the graphic novels, I thought I was ready for the movie. Unfortunately, Hollywood decided to “tweak” certain elements until there’s little left resembling the books. Not that ink-on-single-colors would work for a live-action film, but they could have left the action in Georgia instead of moving it to Boston, and leaving Greer (Harvey, not John) as a city detective as opposed to an FBI agent. While some “tweaking” might not have hurt, totally deviating from the books doesn’t. This could probably be traced to the trio of Mostow, Ferris, and Brancato, who were also behind the train-wreck of Terminator 3.
The good news is the message remained intact.
The Story: In a near future (no exact year given), humans spend all their time at home jacked into stem-chairs while piloting their surrogates, robotic avatars that interact in the real world now abandoned by humanity.
Two surrogates are destroyed by a mag-pulse type weapon. The destruction kills the operators, one of whom is the son of the surrogate’s inventor. FBI agent Greer searches for the weapon and is lead to the walled “Dread Nation” where his surrogate is destroyed by the anti-surrogate group. He continues without it as he probes deeper into a conspiracy that involves the military, Virtual Self Inc., the company behind the surrogate phenomenon, and the surrogate inventor, Dr. Cantor.
William Shatner, you are not.
What else went wrong? Another problem, other than the deviation from the books, is the look of the movie. Other than scenes showing the stem-chairs and a couple of scenes showing the “central control” of the surrogate grid, it is virtually impossible to tell if it is 2053 or 2009. Having live actors playing the robotic roles only adds to the confusion, though there were times where they not only looked like robots, but acted like robots. That was a surprisingly interesting touch.
… And the message? You can hear just as the movie starts: Does living life through a surrogate mean you’re actually living? Does being a robot make you less of a human? Have you been so plugged into your surrogate that you can’t unplug? And once you are unplugged… then what?
Those kind of questions about humanity being (over)connected to technology are what cyberpunk writers and fans have been asking since William Gibson’s first draft of Neuromancer.
Conclusion: If you’ve already read the books, the movie may only disappoint you with how far off it is. Bruce Willis fans and fans of action films may get a kick out Surrogates. Cyberpunk fans should find the message familiar, though you would be better off with the books.
“Holy father, I pray that you keep Jonathan Mostow, Michael Ferris, and John D. Brancato from ever making another cyberpunk movie, lest they cause the universe to collapse on itself.”
Review By: Mr. Roboto
Authors: Robert Venditti & Brett Weldele (illustrator)
Year: 2006, 2009
Category: Cyberpunk Books; Graphic Novels
NOTE: This review will cover both graphic novels The Surrogates and The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone.
Coming to a big screen near you.
With the Surrogates
movies opening this Friday (Sept. 25), I’d thought we should check out the book that it is based on. Originally a five issue comic, The Surrogates
shows life in 2054 Georgia (US) as a police detective searches for a person who is destroying “surrogates,” robotic avatars that people use to interact with the real world from the safety of their homes. There is also a prequel, The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone.
The two books are combined into the The Surrogates: Owner’s Manual.
Synopsis: Lieutenant Harvey Greer investigates the destruction of two surrogates that is first attributed to a “flash storm.” A data-recording unit on one of them shows that they were actually destroyed by an electrical discharge from someone or something that would be called the “steeplejack.” Greer suspects that the steeplejack may be working for a religious cult called The Church of The Prophet, aka the “Dreads,” who are known to have a history against surrogates.
As Greer delves deeper into the mystery, his own surrogate is destroyed by the steeplejack, who plans to disable or destroy all the surrogates. Instead of replacing it, he decides to continue without it, and does find who is behind the steeplejack and the anti-surrogate plot.
In the prequel, Flesh and Bone, a homeless black boy is beaten and killed by rich white kids using their parent’s surrogates. This causes the Dreads’ anti-surrogate movement to swell, leading to a riot when the most reliable witness to the beatings is killed before them. After some negotiations, the Dreads are allowed to leave the city and setup a “nation” where they can govern themselves. In this book, Greer is a patrolman waiting to hear back about his detective test.
Back Stories. In between the chapters of ink-on-single color pages come some ephemera that sets a bit of background: A research paper on the benefits of surrogates, a questionnaire, news clippings, and even “pamphlets” from Virtual Self, Inc. (Life… Only Better) and The Church of The Prophet (The Dreads). These add to the story by filling in some back details about how and why the surrogates became so popular and despised. In particular, a news transcript about Zaire Powell III proves quite revealing on how he murdered his baby sister and then set fire to his home killing everyone else. After his release he founded the Dreads movement.
But is it cyberpunk? If you need to ask, you must not be paying attention. I can say with confidence that *YES*, The Surrogates series IS cyberpunk. If the beating at the beginning of Flesh and Bone didn’t beat that point home, consider this: Greer’s wife commits suicide when her surrogate is disabled.
But, there are still some questions left; Will the movie follow the novel(s)? Probably not exactly, but Blade Runner didn’t follow Phillip K. Dick’s novel exactly either. Will the movie be any good? I’ll let you know this weekend…
This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Books
, Graphic Novels
by Mr. Roboto.
Movie Review By: Mr. Roboto
Directed by: Shane Acker
Written by: Pamela Pettler & Shane Acker
Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High
Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: High
Key Cast Members:
9: Elijah Wood
1: Christopher Plummer
7: Jennifer Connelly
Scientist: Alan Oppenheimer
“We had such potential. Such promise. But we squandered our gifts. And so, 9, I am creating you. Our world is ending. Life must go on. “
Overview: Tim Burton sees Shane Acker’s short and helps to make it a feature length move about 9 robotic rag dolls, a.k.a. the “stitchpunks,” who are left to fight the machines that exterminated humanity. Together, the stitchpunks must find a way to pull the plug on the nightmare creations (without John Connor’s help) that have turned their attention to the them.
The story of 9 may not be the most complex, but the straight-forward approach does work with the CGI effects, though the backstory of how the world got into the sorry shape it is in helps makes the doll’s fight more relevant.
The Story: In an unnamed country, a scientist creates the B.R.A.I.N., an AI that was supposed to help humanity. But the country’s chancellor forces the scientist to install the B.R.A.I.N. in a fabrication machine, which is used to create machines of war. The machine rebels and launches a massive war that exterminates humanity. The scientist, the last human left, creates the 9 “stitchpunks” (Acker’s name for the rag doll-bots) and infuses them with a “life force.” When 9 is complete, the scientist dies, leaving it to find the other stitchpunks in their quest to stop the machines.
A stitchpunk in time saves… 1 through 8. The other stitchpunks he finds are: #1 - the “leader” of the group, who shows much cynicism regarding 9’s plans to rescue #2, the inventor of the group who gets captured early on.
Numbers 3 and 4 are twins who hide out in a library. Through them, we learn of the machine’s war against humanity.
5 is a journeyman who was trained by 2. He is missing an eye due an attack during the war.
6 can probably be best described as an “artist” whose paintings are clues about the machines.
7 is the only female in the group. An agile warrior who wears a bird’s skull as a helmet.
8 is a big but dumb brute who acts as 1’s bodyguard. He give a slight clue that the stitchpunks may be robotic when he uses a magnet near his head like a mind-altering drug.
But, is it cyberpunk? Some might question if 9 is cyberpunk enough to review here, but from what I’ve seen (and from the definition on this site), there’s enough to make it cyberpunk; The negative impact of technology (the machine revolt), the man-machine fusion (the scientist transferring his life force to the stitchpunks), the underground (stitchpunks), and the visual style (the post-apocalypse scene and darkness occasionally punctured by light). The only things missing are the access to information and the control over society, though the machine threat could cover the control aspect. Can this be called steampunk? Possibly, though no signs of steam-power is immediately seen. Can this be called “stitchpunk?” Only the doll-bots should be called that.
Conclusion: Those looking for a deep storyline are going to be disappointed. Those who prefer bleeding-edge eye-candy will have a ball with 9. Those looking for a good cyberpunk movie, this should hold you… until Surrogates hits the screens next week.
Movie Review By: Mr. Roboto
Directed & Written by: Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor
Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High
Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Very High
Key Cast Members:
Kable/John Tillman: Gerard Buttler
Simon Silverton: Logan Lerman
Ken Castle: Michael C. Hall
Humanz Brother: Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges
Are you the player… or the played?
Overview. At first glance, Gamer would seem to be about first-person shooters (FPSs) taken to new extremes… and the people who play them. Beneath all the explosions, spent bullet casings, and piles of fragged corpses, there’s a story about how one man is using nanotechnology for more than just sick entertainment. While the concept of technology to control humanity is nothing new to cyberpunk, how it is being used to that end in this movie may make you look at Quake and Unreal Tournament (and maybe The Sims series and Second Life) differently.
The Story. Ken Castle is the mastermind behind Nanex, the nanotechnology that fuses to human neurons in the brain to effectively control it. With this level of control, one person can make a Nanex-infused human his/her personal meatbot-slave. This results in the creation of the two largest, most successful live-action MMORPGs: Society, a Sims style RPG, and Slayers, the FPS where convicted death-row inmates fight to survive thirty matches where they win their freedom.
Kable, convicted of murder and separated from his wife and daughter, has won 26 matches already, thanks in part to his “controller” Simon. Kable has become a virtual god worshiped by the world, while Simon has become a rock star equivalent. But as Kable closes in on his 30th victory, a hacker group called the Humanz inform the duo that Kable’s appearance in Slayers is no accident as he hold information that can bring Castle’s empire down.
“This is not something you can control. It ain’t just a game, we’re all slaves.”
Who’s playing you? The potential danger of Nanex becomes all too obvious near the end of the movie, with Castle seeking godlike status. The immediate problems can be seen as Angie (Kable’s wife) is often seen as a Society meatbot to a controller who… let’s just say that which once seen cannot be unseen.
Kable: “You pull all the strings around here.”
Castle: “I think it, you do it.”
As if to drive the point of control home, you should see the “Under My Skin” scene with Castle and some of this personal meatbots doing a little song and dance for visiting Kable, a’ la West Side Story.
Also worth noting: The contrast of the bright neon-and-flesh colors of Society vs. the blood-drenched gray war zones of Slayers.
Conclusion. Some people might love watching meatbots fight for their freedom. Some might be turned away from the movie’s explosive (literally) battle scenes. But if you look past the blasts, you can see how it makes for a pretty good cyberpunk film.
And if you don’t think meatbots are possible, you should take a quick look at this article from 2006…
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