Update to Nirvana Review – Get the Italian Version!

April 16, 2006

Sometimes the US DVD distributors really piss me off. They unilaterally decide that dumb Americans like myself will only watch a movie if it’s spoken in God’s Language (Which is English, of course – this is verified by checking the earliest versions of the “real” bible – turns out it looks exactly like the King James version. ;) ). If a movie is from one of those foreign places (woe is them!) that haven’t agreed to speak God’s language yet, we must correct this flaw by providing a dubbed version prior to releasing it in God’s country. In one egregious case, Miramax, in their infinite wisdom, provided us this piece of shit:

 

Nirvana Region 1 DVD

 

Based on this version, my earlier review of Nirvana started off like this:

All in all a decent cyberpunk flick from Italy, but unfortunately suffers horribly from bad dubbing. The dubbing here is as bad as your average anime dubbing, and unfortunately here in the US, this is all we get. :( I wish I could get a copy of this in Italian with subtitles – if I did, I’m sure this would shoot up significantly on my cyberpunk list, but alas…

 

Since then, based on a personal pleading at the bottom of my review, a number of you offered advice on how I could obtain a copy of the Italian version. Case provided me a link on XploitedCinema.com where I could buy the copy – something I eventually did, even though it set me back $30 bucks. Now my updated review of Nirvana reflects this copy:

 

screen capture

 

My rating bumped from 6 stars for the English dubbed version to 8 stars for the Italian language version. I must say though, I’m still pissed about having to drop another 30 bucks to get this – truly, the Italian sound track should have been included on the Region 1 disc (hence the ranting above – I really don’t hate religion, but do detest the arrogance in the US at times – this is one of those times). I don’t know that Nirvana is worth $30 bucks though – I rarely pay this much for a DVD. But if you’re planning on buying Nirvana, I would advise skipping the R1 version altogether, and instead save up for the Italian version. The dubbing on the R1 version is truly horrid – like low quality Japanese anime dubbing horrid.

This post has been filed under Site Development by SFAM.

Nirvana

January 15, 2006

Year: 1997

Directed by: Gabriele Salvatores

Written by: Pino Cacucci, Gloria Corica, Gabriele Salvatores

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Very High

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: High

Key Cast Members:

  • Jimi Dini: Christopher Lambert
  • Solo: Diego Abatantuono
  • Naima: Stefania Rocca
  • Joystick: Sergio Rubini
  • Lisa: Emmanuelle Seigner
  • Rating: 8 out of 10


    ~Revised Review: The star rating is for the Italian language version. ~
    They US Region 1 English Dubbing version only merits 6 stars

    screen capture

    If you aren’t buying this cover, you probably aren’t getting a DVD with Italion (with English Subtitles). The US version only has English Dubbing.

     

    Overview: Previously, my review of Nirvana, which was based on the Region 1 English dubbing only copy started as follows:

     

    All in all a decent cyberpunk flick from Italy, but unfortunately suffers horribly from bad dubbing. The dubbing here is as bad as your average anime dubbing, and unfortunately here in the US, this is all we get. :( I wish I could get a copy of this in Italian with subtitles – if I did, I’m sure this would shoot up significantly on my cyberpunk list, but alas…

     

    Now that I’ve purchased the Italian copy (which set me back about $30 bucks!), I still agree with my comments above – the dubbing ruined it. Truly. In Italian, the movie has the necessary spark of energy and emotion missing from the dubbed version. The story itself always held up at least decently well. What was missing is any connection to the actors. The Italian version fixes this. The picture below really captures the colorization of this film -we get lots of drab, dirty settings with shocking neon colors intermixed.

     

    Nirvana screen capture

     

    The Story: Nirvana is NOT Tron meets Blade Runner Meets Matrix as the cheesy tagline on US version of the DVD suggests. However, Nirvana is a pretty good low-budget cyberpunk flick with a strange virtual reality (VR) angle. Jimi (Lambert) is a computer programmer who is working on a VR simulation game with very realistic seeming characters. Somehow a strange virus infects his game and turns one of his VR characters into a self-aware program. The VR character has to “relive” the game sequence almost in a groundhog day type fashion, only each time he has to figure out how to avoid getting killed so he can progress further into the plot. The game is 3 days away from being distributed everywhere and the program doesn’t want to be duplicated everywhere, and worse, feels trapped in a nightmare. Lambert feels bad for the VR character and starts working to get the program deleted from corporate.

     

    Unfortunately, this involves hacking into the corporation’s corporate system. To do this, Jimi has to go to the seedy part of town outside the barriers to find the expertise he needs. Jimi is also distraught by recently losing the love of his life, Lisa, who left him for still undetermined reasons. Jimi stumbles upon Joystick, a former cowboy (hacker), who has lost his eyesight and now has to rely on failing eye implants to see. Jimi tells Joystick that the corporate system is also home to millions in illegal funds, that can be stolen with the right hack. Joystick and Jimi work out a plan to break into the corporate system. Along the way, they meet up with Naima, a computer expert, who also has a way of bringing Jimi back to Lisa. Unfortunately, the corporate agents are on Jimi’s trail, and want the final verison of the game.

     

    Nirvana screen capture

     

    The Atmosphere: The atmosphere is similar to Blade Runner in the sense that its a seedy futuristic setting. More interesting is the Neuromancer-style cowboy hacking that Nirvana embraces. The idea that we can allow our consciousness to “ride the net” in order to break in to data systems is one that currently doesn’t jive with modern computing, but it is very motivating. There are also a number of cool cyberpunk elements in Nirvana, including eye implants, hard drives embedded in people’s brains, etc. I’ve gone ahead and made a few screencaps of this to give you a better idea of the visuals:

     

    Nirvana screen capture

    Just your average eye surgery…

     

    Nirvana screen capture

    There are lots of Indian visuals here. This is really the setting.

     

    Nirvana screen capture

    This is one of the many sequences of Lambert talking to his self-aware VR game character.

     

    Nirvana screen capture

    Here’s our self-aware VR character, trying to convince a non-self-aware VR whore that they are not real. This chick’s dress changes color every few seconds.

     

    Nirvana screen capture

    This chick is implanting a memory capture of Lambert’s wife’s memories.

     

    The Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a really good low-budget cyberpunk movie, Nirvana is your flick – AS LONG AS you get the italian version. I’m not sure it’s worth $30 bucks, but it’s LOTS better than the dubbed version. Truly, I don’t get US DVD distributors sometimes, but hopefully this trend towards dubbing is slowly changing. Even if you are stuck with the dubbing, which pretty much ruins the story, at least the visuals are more than decent. On top of this, I truly love Lambert, so I was able to put up with it.

     

    PS – thanks again to the comments below that enabled me to find a copy of this in Italian :)

    ~See movies similar to this one~

    This post has been filed under 8 Star Movies, Dystopic Future Movies, Memory Modification, Good low-budget movies, Awesome Cyberpunk Visuals, Hacker Movies, VR Movies, Cyberpunk movies from 1990 – 1999 by SFAM.

    Beware Techophobes – Be Assimilated or Go to Jail!

    February 20, 2007

    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.

    Transhumanists: Ushering In the Posthuman Era or…?

    June 8, 2006

    Animatrix Screen Capture

     

    The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), recently held a conference at Stanford University Law School on Human Enhancement Technologies and Human Rights (HETHR). The description for the conference described the purpose as follows:

     

    Defenders of enhancement argue that the use of biotechnologies is a fundamental human right, inseparable from the defense of bodily autonomy, reproductive freedom, free expression and cognitive liberty. While acknowledging real risks from genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive enhancement, defenders of enhancement believe that bans on the consensual use of new technologies would be an even greater threat to human rights.

    Health care, disability and reproductive rights activists have argued that access to technology empowers full and equal participation in society. On the same grounds a generalized right to “technological empowerment” might connect defenders of enhancement technologies with disability activists, reproductive rights activists with would-be parents seeking fertility treatments, the transgendered with aesthetic body modifiers, drug policy reformers and anti-aging researchers with advocates for dignity in dying.

    Yet, what, if any, limits should be considered to human enhancement? On what grounds can citizens be prevented from modifying their own genes or brains? How far should reproductive rights be extended? Might enhancement reduce the diversity of humanity in the name of optimal health? Or, conversely, might enhancements inspire such an unprecedented diversity of human beings that they strain the limits of liberal tolerance and social solidarity? Can we exercise full freedom of thought if we can’t exercise control over our own brains using safe, available technologies? Can we ensure that enhancement technologies are safe and equitably distributed? When are regulatory efforts simply covert, illiberal value judgments?

    Between the ideological extremes of absolute prohibition and total laissez-faire that dominate popular discussions of human enhancement there are many competing agendas, hopes and fears. How can the language of human rights guide us in framing the critical issues? How will enhancement technologies transform the demands we make of human rights?

     

    The IEET is associated with the World Transhumanist Association, which is headed up by Citizen Cyborg author and Cyborg Democracy Blog contributor, James Hughes.

     

    Immortel Screen Capture

     

    The Reviews: George Dvorsky, a Board member of IEET had a quick post listing a number of the reviews. Depending on which review you read for the HETHR conference, you could take away that this was either one of the most enlightening debates of the decade or that was a conference filled with left-wing crackpots espousing half-baked theories one would expect after a bad LSD trip. Not surprisingly, George thought the event was a smashing success:

     

    The central focus of the conference was to construct a case for human enhancement based upon the lofty principles of human rights, liberalism and bodily autonomy. The event was in no small way a direct challenge to the burgeoning anti-enhancement camp that has arisen in recent years to combat what is perceived to be a threat to human dignity and humanity itself. Organizers of HETHR hoped that the conference would demonstrate that a viable and compelling case could be made in favour of enhancement. Based on what I heard at the event, I would say it was mission accomplished.

     

    Hmmm…Mission Accomplished seems to have taken on a different meaning these past few years – yet in this case, perhaps the words were well chosen. Others clearly disagree. Wesley Smith from the Weekly Standard writes:

     

    I just got home from a transhumanism conference (”Human Enhancement Technologies and Human Rights”) being held at Stanford through tomorrow (Sunday). Among the items I learned today are: Feminist bioethics supports genetic engineering so that men can be altered to have babies and women can be freed from the tyranny of menstruation; animals should be enhanced to permit them to become equivalent to humans, including the ability to use the Internet–before, that is, all animal life is transformed into non biological states of existence, which apparently the living planet Gaia requires in order to survive; funding anti-aging research is more important than funding treatment for fighting disease in Africa; we probably should permit people who want to be amputees to achieve their desires; and, freedom requires a maximum morphological license to enhance our biological units.

     

    If this is at all representative, I would have to agree that the animal part is especially odd. Who gives us the right to transform elephants or Dolphins, for that matter? Modifying our brains to be able to communicate with Dolphins – Cool! Modifying dolphins to communicate with us, and only then asking their permission if this was a good idea? Not cool. Then again, I’m guessing this is a slightly biased assessment. William Saletan from Slate.com submitted a slightly kinder assessment, although not by much:

     

    Remember those kids who played Dungeons & Dragons and ran the science-fiction club in your high school? They’ve become transhumanists….De Grey, the guy with the beard, called for higher taxes and research funding to “end the slaughter” of human aging. He argued, incoherently, that our failure to do everything possible to stop aging this instant was tantamount to mass murder. He also floated the creepy idea that overpopulation might not become a problem because once we’re immortal, we might realize children are no fun. Even so, he asked the kind of penetrating question only a big-thinking oddball would come up with. Are we stuck in a “trance” of fatalism about aging? If we realize it can be slowed or stopped, “will aging become repugnant,” like any other disease?

    My favorite panel began with the president of the Toronto Transhumanist Association. He runs a Web site called betterhumans. He and I share a moral objection to killing animals. But letting animals live isn’t enough for him. Inspired by an experiment in which chimpanzees were given a kitchen and flush toilets, he wants to use cyber- and biotechnology to elevate all animals to human status. “Anything less than human-level capacity would be unacceptable,” he declared—including the ability to operate tools remotely through the Internet.

    He was followed by a transsexual transbemanist. Transhumanism, apparently, is too parochial. It’s too focused on humans, too narrow for the “mindfiles,” “mindware,” and “virtuality” into which we’re going to upload ourselves. According to the speaker—picture Willie Nelson with a shave—our identities can be broken down into units called bemes, in the same way that culture can be broken down into memes. These, in turn, can be “bemed up” and preserved in media outside our bodies. As examples, she suggested your smile, how lasagna tastes to you, and your memory of your first bike ride. The idea of extracting such plainly body-dependent things is ridiculous. But her basic point is right: Bemes, not genes, are what capture and preserve our essence.

     

    Considering I used to play D&D non-stop (I was too busy with D&D to help organize the SF&F club at school), I felt sort of an affinity here. Again though, I got the feeling from reading the reviews that perhaps the most extreme aspects of the conference were being relayed. Dale Carrico from IEET responded to this already, so I won’t too much more into it.

     

    Mystique Screen Capture

     

    Brian Alexander of MSNBC linked transhumanism with the new X-Men movie – I guess this means the Transhumanism movement will suffer many key deaths along the way, but will ultimately be responsible for a problematic narrative with lots of explosions (hmmm…maybe this is accurate!). Actually, Brian’s article seemed a bit more balanced:

     

    Transhumanism is being taken seriously by an increasing number of scholars. The fact that Stanford’s respected legal bioethics program hosted the 150 or so attendees from Europe, Asia, New Zealand and North America to discuss issues raised by human enhancement is testimony to how far transhumanism has come in from the fringe…

    Still, the idea of modifying people does have a great many ethical implications, as keynote speaker Walter Truett Anderson pointed out. Anderson, president of the World Academy of Art and Science, a consultant, and an author of books about the human future, asked his audience to consider the health of the planet when they thought about what rights people should have to change our biology. There is more at stake, he said, than just ourselves. We are part of something bigger.

    “We will have to think about it in a global context,” he told me. “A new population problem looms, which has to do, not with birth rates, but death rates and the question of whether we can begin to increase life spans for large numbers of people,” a prospect that could tax global resources.

     

    The best account of the conference for those like myself who did not attend comes from Nydra’s Existence is Wonderful blog. Nydra’s Introduction and 5 Part Series goes in-depth at a number of sessions, and gives the perspective that perhaps some in-depth thought actually took place there. She does a terrific job at laying out the POV of the speakers, and then gives her thoughts on it. While I may not agree with her on everything, I certainly very much appreciate the detailed effort she put into this, and will probably spend lots more time perusing them.

     

    The Breed Screen Capture

     

    Left Wing Loonies or Something More? The Slate review above briefly mentions a struggle for the heart and soul of the Transhumanist movement in saying, “A while back, I’m told, there was a left-right battle for the soul of transhumanism, and the left won..” It appears that one casualty of this struggle is Simon Young. He has the belief that the World Transhumanist Association and its leader, James Hughes, are members of the “Loony Left,” who have essentially gone off the deep end of transhumanist thought. He details his thoughts in Wesley Smith’s review above. His biography states the following:

     

    “Son of the pioneering English cybernetician and author, J. F. Young ( 1929-94), whose seminal books included Cybernetics (1969), Robotics (1973), and Cybernetic Engineering (1973) , Simon Young is an accomplished pianist and composer who has performed across Europe . This unusual combination of influences, musical romanticism and scientific rationality, informs his Transhumanist philosophy – the passionate belief in striving to transcend human limitations through reason, science and technology.”

     

    I have a masters in Cybernetics and General Systems Theory, but I must confess that I’ve never heard of his father’s books (more to add to the stack I suppose). In any event, Simon has created a competing organization called the World Transhumanist Society. On the whole, I sort of like his evolution over revolution approach, but the WTS at this point seems like nothing more than a web page. Has anyone joined this, or is Simon a lost voice in the wilderness?

     

    Nirvana Screen Capture

     

    So What Do I Think of All This? As for my own thoughts, I must admit, I’m still thinking about this whole movement, so if my thoughts seem ill-formed, please feel free to set me straight. The part that really bothers me about this whole debate deals with the seemingly single-minded pursuit of transhumanism without regard to the massive potential for unintended consequences. Our cyberpunked future may indeed be wonderful, but it has just as much potential to turn into a modern-day dystopia, not unlike many of the movies we see here. If my schooling in anthropology and cybernetics has taught me anything, it’s that most people think in terms of cause and effect changes, while actual change is very counter-intuitive and interlinked – making explicit wholesale changes to society really should involve an understanding of the complexities involved. Societies are held together by stable patterns of interaction and some semblance of a shared way of life. Simply because we develop the power to change every aspect of ourselves or our society doesn’t necessarily imply that doing so will result in the betterment of mankind. By no means am I advocating we should rise up in anger at the transhumanism movement, but we should demand enlightened thought, and a comprehensive societal risk assessment for innovations that could lead to massive societal change.

    In terms of priorities, it seems rather clear that the HIGH priority for posthuman research (after the development of high quality vampire teeth, of course) should be in helping those with disabilities and lost body parts. If there is anything good about the Iraq conflict, its the massive dollars going into research in prosthetics.

    Thoughts?

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

    Cyberpunk Movies by Decade

    While not complete (meaning all cyberpunk movies aren’t listed here), below are the cyberpunk movies I’ve reviewed ordered by decade.

     

    Cyberpunk Movies prior to 1980

     

    Cyberpunk Movies from 1980 – 1989

     

    Cyberpunk Movies from 1990 – 1999

     

    Cyberpunk Movies from 2000 to present