Avatar (Cyber Wars)

February 22, 2007

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 – current by SFAM.
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Virtuosity

March 6, 2006

Year: 1995

Directed by: Brett Leonard

Written by: Eric Bernt

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Medium

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Low

Key Cast Members:

  • Lt. Parker Barnes: Denzel Washington
  • SID 6.7: Russell Crowe
  • Dr. Madison Carter: Kelly Lynch
  • Rating: 6 out of 10


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    Overview: Overview: Sometimes we find movies are able to rise above truly absurd stories and transform movies that had no business being watchable into something enjoyable. This is what we find with Virtuosity. Virtuosity has a story with is barely bothers to try to hold together, but yields memorable performances by all the major leads. The pacing is at least fast enough that its possible that some unsuspecting viewers might not notice some of the absurdities presented.

     

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    The Story: In the near future, Crowe plays SID 6.7, a virtual reality (VR) composite of 200 personalities, each and every one a killer. His purpose is to serve as the key bad guy in a new police officer training simulation. To test the simulation the corporation uses former cops – now criminals – to test the hyper-real VR training system. Former Lt. Parker Barnes, convicted for killing a mass murderer (and some bystanders) who murdered his family is one of the lucky ginea pigs. After entering the simulation, all is not as is seems, as SID 6.7, who has grown sentient, has modified the safety controls to allow him to actually kill the test subjects. Barnes’ partner is killed and Barnes barely escapes the Simulation.

     

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    After the corporation decides to shut the project down, Dr. Lindenmeyer (played by Stephen Spinella), SID 6.7’s creator finds a way to save SID 6.7. It just so happens that another scientist in the corporation has just completed a nano-android – the first of its kind – and is now wondering how to embed it with sentience (yes, they really expect us to buy this – companies always have magical projects just hanging around that anyone can get access to!). Lindenmeyer tricks the scientist into uploading Crowe’s program into the nano-droid, which serves to free SID 6.7 from his simulated cage.

     

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    It turns out that one of SID 6.7’s “dominant” personalities which he has been created by is none other than the murderer of Parker’s family. Parker is offered a pardon if he can capture or kill SID 6.7. Parker is joined by Dr. Madison Carter (Kelly Lynch), an expert on serial killers. From this point on, we get a police-serial killer chase movie with a good bit of cool nano-droid restoration visuals. The rationale for why the police can’t stop SID 6.7, or why Dr. Carter must join parker are both pretty weak. More interesting is the fact that the police never seem to bother showing up when SID 6.7 decides to kill people in front of massive crowds. But such is life – again, at least the leads all play this far more believable than this film has a write to be.

     

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    The Bottom Line: The VR visuals are decent, the acting is very good, but the story really doesn’t hold together. The worse part of the story is that the the nano-droid and VR sentience are essentially posed as magic. We get no explanation from the key cyberpunk aspects of this, such as how 200 real-life personalities from dead serial killers are embedded in a VR simulation, nor are we are given an explanation for how this incredible nano-droid is developed, or could be developed while not having a purpose. Still, Russell Crowe as a very memorable crazed villain and Denzel Washington both put in great performances, and are very well supported by Kelly Lynch, William Forsythe (a crusty police chief and Parker’s former boss) and William Fichtner (who plays a creepy corporate type). In short, they make the movie worth watching.

     

    ~See movies similar to this one~

    This post has been filed under 6 Star Movies, VR Movies, Android Movies, Cyberpunk movies from 1990 – 1999 by SFAM.
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    Automatic

    February 5, 2006

    Year: 1994

    Directed by: John Murlowski

    Written by: Patrick Highsmith (story), Susan Lambert & Patrick Highsmith (screenplay)

    IMDB Reference

    Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Low

    Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Low

    Key Cast Members:

    • J269: Olivier Gruner
    • Nora Rochester: Daphne Ashbrook
    Rating: 6 out of 10

     


    DVD coverDVD cover

     

    Overview: While some might argue that Nemesis is a better film, I actually like “B” action movie master Olivier Gruner’s performance in Automatic better. Automatic has Gruner starring as J269, a “J Series Automatic” cyborg who’s job it is to protect human life, and most importantly, employees of the RobGen corporation. During the course of his duties, he encounters a RobGen senior manager attempting to rape Ms. Nora Rochester (played by Daphne Ashbrook). In preventing the attack, he ends up accidentally killing the RobGen manager. Not only does killing a human this unlock his freewill, it causes the Goddard Marx, the founder of RobGen to try to kill him and Ms. Rochester in order to cover up the fact that an “Automatic” killed a human.

    The Bottom Line: As with many low-budget derivatives, there is nothing truly new storywise here. Unfortunately, I only have a VHS tape of this, so I can’t give you screencaps, but there’s nothing new visually here either. Eventually Automatic turns into a cyborg version of Die Hard. But Gruner plays 4 separate roles pretty well; the action is good, and the FX are just believable enough to keep this interesting. And the twist at the end provides a nice solid ending.

     

    This post has been filed under 6 Star Movies, B Cyberpunk Cinema, Android Movies, Cyberpunk movies from 1990 – 1999 by SFAM.
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