Once in a great while a TV show comes along that wake you up. And when it’s a cyberpunk show…
Overview: Almost missed out on Almost Human, Fox TV’s latest attempt at a cyberpunk/sci-fi show. Really didn’t know about this until mid-Febuary, and then it was almost too late. Mostly because of a similar sounding show on SyFy called Being Human which was more supernatural than sci-fi. Now I need to catch up with the reruns, or try video on demand (even if I have to purchase), or wait until the DVD, or maybe Pirate Bay… only as a last resort (Amazon already has season one for download). But based on what I have seen from the pilot and season finale, this may be one that’s going to stay for a while… but it has some serious past history to overcome, more later.
At first glance, Almost Human sounds like your typical police-buddy drama with a cyberpunk twist. That might be true, but there’s more to it. Check this:
The Story: The year 2048 sees rapid advances in science and technology; Too rapid for legal and government systems to control. The crime rate has jumped 400%, fueled by organized crime groups quick to exploit the lag. The most successful organization is the Insyndicate group. Desperate to combat these groups, police departments implement a new strategy: Pair human officers with an MX series advanced combat android.
Detective John Kennex (Urban) leads a raid on an Insyndicate warehouse, only to have his team wiped out in an ambush. Refusing to leave a critically injured partner, he is abandoned by his MX android. While trying to evacuate the scene with his partner, an explosive device goes off, amputating Kennex’s leg and killing his partner.
Two years later, Kennex is left with a prosthetic leg, damaged memories, psychological problems, and a girlfriend who abandoned him (possibly joining Insyndicate). While seeing an unlicensed “recollectionist” (a doctor who helps people recover lost memories), Kennex is called back to duty when Insyndicate robs an armored transport carrying synthetic, programmable DNA. Unhappy with his MX android partner wanting to report his behavior, and still stinging from the last one abandoning him, Kennex decides to gently “dismiss” his partner:
With no more MX androids available, Kennex is assigned an older android: DRN-0167 (Ealy) who prefers to be called “Dorian”. DRN androids were programmed to have human emotions, but many became “unstable” and were decommissioned and replaced with the highly-logical MX series. Dorian had been “offline” for three years before being reawakened to be Kennex’s partner. Despite their differences, they will need to work together to bring down Insyndicate and stop a mole in the police ranks.
Any similarities between Almost Human and Blade Runner is somewhat intended.
The Lighter Side of Cyberpunk? If the above screenshot looks too similar to Blade Runner, that was intended. Creator J.H. Wyman claimed that he “deliberately wanted to create a ‘hopeful’ interpretation of the future” as opposed to the darker visions of cyberpunk we’re accustomed to. Surprisingly, this doesn’t seem to detract from the overall cyberpunk-ness of the series, especially since it’s really about Kennex and Dorian, and their growing “ro-bromance” (The leading term for this budding human-android relationship). Such buddy-ships are often keys to a good cop film or series, and Almost Human takes it to a new level with the emerging android technology. Like any relationship, there are bound to be good times, there are bound to be bad times,…
“I apologize for scanning your balls.”
… and there are bound to be times that will totally rustle your jimmes.
History Never Repeats… We Hope. Sounds like Almost Human has what it takes to be a hit series. Unfortunately, the ratings says no and now it looks like the program’s only chance of being renewed is for a bunch of other Fox shows to crap out (Hey, it worked for Family Guy). The problem isn’t due to the show itself; It’s actually quite good… at least it’s better than CBS’s less-than-watchable Intelligence. But the show does have three major strikes against it:
First strike: Fox itself. The network’s track record with cyberpunk shows has been quite underwhelming. Remember early efforts like Harsh Realm and VR.5? VR.5 did last long enough to see a season… or series… finale; Harsh Realm wasn’t so lucky. More recent shows Dark Angel and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles saw a second season, though some say Connor lasted one season too long. It seems that sci-fi shows I like last only two seasons before they pull the plug. I’m expecting Almost Human to follow suit.
Strike two: The human-android-cop-buddy concept isn’t exactly original. It’s been tried before… several times, with none lasting beyond season one. Search IMDB for the shows Mann and Machine, Future Cop, Holmes and Yo-Yo, and Total Recall 2070. The syndicated Total Recall 2070 fared the best, lasting 22 episodes before having its plug pulled, but ultimately none lasted beyond season one. I put the blame on the screwball Holmes and Yo-Yo (#33 in TV Guide’s 50 Worst TV Shows of All Time) for poisoning the interest of the human-android-buddy-cops concept. There is humor in Almost Human, but it’s more of a dry, almost British sort laced with dark sarcasm (example: see GIF above).
Then again, the concept of robots/androids living and working among humans remains a touchy subject to most outside of Japan. Even now, that concept still generates friction amongst the meaty who still have visions of Skynet and robot takeovers burned into their BIOSs. Even with today’s advances, Almost Human may still give some cause for alarm with “robots intent on removing humanity and taking over the world, starting by taking over human jobs.”
Regardless of why the prior shows failed, Almost Human hopefully learned from their mistakes.
Strike three: Have you seen what’s on US TV schedules lately? Shoehorned between the reality (lack of) talent shows, the American airwaves are virtually choking on “procedural dramas.” Not that the format is new or unpopular, but it seems that such shows have been on the air since the original Law and Order debuted in 1990, and shows no sign of abating anytime soon. This glut is one reason why I haven’t been watching TV lately. The last thing we need… or I need… is yet another CSI-NCIS-SVU-SUV-DDT-TNT-ACDC-KMFDM-NRBQ-R2D2-C3P0-TMZ-DMZ-DVD-VCR-DVR-USB-ISA-SCSI-SATA-IDE-KKK-XXX-RSVP-LOL-ROFLMAO-ZOMG-WTF-BBQ clogging the networks. Then again, they don’t have futuristic technologies and sarcastic androids, so that may be an advantage.
Conclusion: No word yet on on the fate of Almost Human which may or may not be good news. Hopefully FOX will renew, but it looks more likely that it will be picked up on cable. Hope you have been watching, or at least recording to watch. This is one show that needs to be watched, especially by cyberpunk fans. Only once in a great while does a show come along that has such cyberpunk goodness. Do watch this show, by any means necessary. Then pester FOX until they renew it. And if FOX doesn’t renew…
You’ve been wondering what the new RoboCop is like. Brace yourselves…
Overview: The original RoboCop has become one of the “must see” cyberpunk films, one that needs to be in everyone’s cyberpunk movie collection. Now, José Padilha has made an updated version of Paul Verhoeven’s masterpiece, leaving many to ask that inevitable question:
Well, much has changed in the world since Peter Weller first donned the RoboCop suit to rid old Detroit of crime. The original was not only a classic story of a man’s death and rebirth as avenging angel, but there was a statement of American consumerism of the 80s as shown in the built-in “commericals”. The new version deals more with America’s reliance on drones to fight wars, the possibility of autonomous drones being used, and of the radical ultra-conservative elements that have cropped up since the end of the Regan presidency.
The Story: The movie opens with a right-wing TV program called “The Novak Element”, starring Pat Novak (Jackson)
Does he look like a bitch?
He has corespondents in Tehran, now under US robot control, who report on a “random” (read: FORCED) scan of the people for threats. A couple of insurgents with vest-bombs kill themselves and destroy some of the bots. One of the insurgent’s son appears with a knife in his hand and is blown away by a mech-like ED-209. The feed is cut and Novak espouses how the robots can be used to make America “safer”, but the Dreyfus Act makes such robots illegal. OmniCorp, a division of Omni Consumer Products, made the robots.
OmniCorp wants the Dreyfus Act terminated so they can sell the robots for American law enforcement use, increasing their profits and achieve world dominance, even though public opinion is against the idea of autonomous drones. Their solution: Create a law enforcement cyborg, a man inside the machine, to sway public opinion, beginning by using a permanently disabled cop.
Detective Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) and partner Sgt. Lewis (Williams) have been tracking crime lord Antoine Vallon, but Vallon is tipped off and Lewis is seriously injured requiring hospitalization. While visiting his partner, Murphy’s car has a bomb planted on it by one of Vallon’s men. It explodes at his home, nearly killing him. He awakens three months later, in his new cyborg body and software thanks to consent of his wife, Clara (Cornish). Murphy doesn’t want to be RoboCop, but is convinced by Dr. Norton (Oldman) to “be strong for his wife and son” and begins training with Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley) who seriously doubts Murphy will stand up to highly stressful and/or emotional situations where drones would not be so hindered.
Notable differences. As you can tell, there are some major differences between the two RoboCops. First off, Lewis undergoes the Rule 63 (aka “gender swap”) treatment, and is now a Sargent… and black. OCP, the megacorp that privatized the Detroit police, is now a parent company with OmniCorp as the robotics subsidiary. The “news” is now a right-wing propaganda machine run by the brilliant performance of Samuel L. Jackson (again, does he look like a bitch?). The violence has been toned down considerably… well less bloody anyway. The ED-209s are now mecha-sized, there are more of them, and they are often accompanied by human-sized ED-208s (I think that was the model number used).
Of course, much has changed in the twenty-seven since since the franchise first booted up, so the differences will come as a shock to those who have been watching since those heady early days of cyberpunk. But the biggest shock(s) vets may encounter will definitely be from Robo himself.
“What the hell did you do to me? “
Paint it black. Perhaps the most jarring changes were made to Murphy/Robo himself, primarily in his armor. Oh, it starts as the classic silver-and-black scheme, but CEO Sellars (Keaton) wanted him to look more “tactical,” so black is the new… armor. It’s been said to make him look more insect like,
but it’s actually more of a streamlined borg appearance.
But the biggest change to Murphy is also where the film tends to fall apart most: The original Murphy died and came back as a robo-revenant to avenge himself. This time around, Murphy doesn’t die. That alone kind of puts a damper on the philosophical discussions of whether a human mind can be put into a robot body and still be like before. Here, his mind (well, his whole head… and lungs… and heart… and windpipe) lives on in the new shell.
That doesn’t mean he can’t still be treated like a machine; When he fails a simulation, Dr. Norton tries to “reprogram” Murphy to make him think that all his actions are under his conscious control, even though he’s still running a program. Later, when the upload of the police database causes Murphy to overload emotionally, Dr. Norton reduces his dopamine levels to where he becomes an emotionless robot, even ignoring his own wife and son.
It’s not just OmniCorp that mistreats the new Murphy; It seems everyone involved with getting the Dreyfus act revoked is now using him as their poster boy, their messiah… their “tool” to mechanize America. Even as Murphy “comes to his senses” and goes rogue to solve his own attempted murder the ultra-conservatives and OmniCorp try to spin the events as showing how corruptible humans are and how machines would not be. They even plan to “martyr” Murphy out of fear because his wife went to the press because OmniCorp would not let her see him and might reveal what they did to him. Poor Murph can’t get a break.
But like I said before, much has changed since the 80s. “Hair metal, glam metal,” or whatever-they-want-to-call-it-these-days metal has long had its party ruined by some coffee-gulping Seattle punks which lead to… whatever they call that shit on the radio now (can’t be music). Conspicuous consumerism has been eroded to conspicuous consumer pessimism while megacorps suck up the wealth like some hybrid octopus/shop-vac. And obviously, that one day… which lead to the NSA’s global panopticon and current planet-sized prison. Naturally, if a reboot needed to be made it would have to show the world in current terms as opposed to past expectations, but you’d think they would keep some of the philosophical aspect of Murphy’s transformation. Well, they do, but not in terms of death and rebirth. Rather, Murphy’s transformation and subsequent treatment is more about the dehumanization of a man, and possibly the whole of humanity, in the name of “security”, “peace”, and PROFITS.
Conclusion: Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop was certainly the jewel of 80s cyberpunk, and its theme of death and resurection will make this an all-time classic. But you can’t blame José Padilha for wanting to update it to reflect current world events; The times they are a-changin’ (Bob Dylan) and even RoboCop can use an upgrade every so often. The movie works on its own with its theme of corporate dehumanization, so newbies have something to look forward to. As for us veterans… you have been warned.
ONE MORE THING: Samuel L. Jackson… DOES HE LOOK LIKE A BITCH?
“Gentlemen, we can build him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic man.”
Overview: Ever wondered how close we are to making a real artificial, cybernetic life form? A robotic android (”Roboid” as I would prefer to call them) like Lt. Cmdr. Data?
Well, a couple of guys thought it would make for an incredible thought experiment… and, they went through with it earlier this year. Richard Walker (the bearded dude) and Professor Alexander Seifalian got together, along with Bertolt Meyer (psychology professor with an artificial arm and hand) as the model, and the most advanced bionic/cybernetic prosthetics and implants available and built TIBM (my name for him). The result… not bad for a first attempt, but it does have a long way to go to be Data. It does show, however, that we’ve come a long way from peg-legs and hook-hands (deal with it, pirates!). You can watch the video online at the Smithsonian Channel’s site or on YouTube.
Some assembly required.
Batteries not included.
So what is needed to build your own TIBM? Well, you need a body-frame to install everything on, otherwise things fall apart very rapidly. Next, some limbs would help. Prosthetic arms and legs have been around for some time, but today’s computer technology practically makes them indistinguishable from the real thing, provided you wear long-sleeve shirts and full-length pants. Next, a skull made from a synthetic, bone-like material to house your cyberbrain… once that’s been made. A microphone for ears, special glasses for eyes, a latex “skin” face… so far TIBM is shaping up real good.
What about inside, where it counts? Another synthetic material has been developed that can be made into any shape, but for now it serves as artificial blood vessels. That should work with the artificial heart and nano-particle “blood” being used. They have an artificial kidney that uses real kidney cells, and a prototype pancreas. The Internet-based chatbot serves as the brain, albeit a primitive and imperfect brain.
So TIBM is looking more human, but what about moving like a human? Piece of cake for the hands and arms, but as for walking, the legs themselves don’t do it alone. That’s where a motorized, exoskeleton comes in for walking. Baby steps at this point.
Better, Stronger, Faster… Cheaper. TIBM represents the advance of technology, inspired by The Six Million Dollar Man. If you want to compare price tags, TIBM costs only ONE million, so for one Steve Austin you can have a half-dozen TIBMs. One problem is that TIBM won’t have nuclear power sources of Austin.
The lack of nuclear power is but a minor nuisance, compared to other problems of TIBM. For one thing, some of the implants use Bluetooth, an unsecure wireless protocol leaving them open to hacking. Its walking ability needs much work still. TIBM is also incomplete, missing vital organs like the brain, liver, and digestive tract.
Ethical considerations were also brought up briefly; While the devices were made for people (like soldiers) who lost limbs or organs in accidents, some may try to “upgrade” themselves without a real medical need. Then there’s concern that TIBM may be the prototype of a new race that may supplant or destroy humanity.
Bertolt Meyer takes a trip to the Uncanny Valley as he meets the completed TIBM, complete with his face, for the first time.
Conclusion. We’ve certainly come a long way from peg-legs and Jarvick artificial hearts, but there is still some development to go yet before we can make fully functional androids. Even now, or as shown near the end of the show as Dr. Meyer tries a new prosthetic, developments and breakthroughs keep us moving closer to that day. And when that day does arrive… will humanity be ready? If TIBM’s fumble with a pint at the end is any indication, humans still have plenty of time to be prepared.
More preview than preview. I only planed a two-week vacation, but an infected (and eventually amputated) toe extended that to two unplanned months, expected to last to the end of the year. Now would be a good time to catch up on some stuff I’ve been planning on reviewing.
Starting off would be a movie so far into early development that it only exists as a script. User feat747 (aka Hashim Bannaga) written it for the Pulsar Sci-Fi Screenplay Contest and made it to the semi-finals. He’s looking for producers to bring the script to the screens. From I’ve read of the script, any willing producer will have something pretty good to work with.
The Story: In 2022, a highly-advanced A.I. named Avalon was created and begins learning at an incredible rate. Eventually, all companies and governments would relinquish control to Avalon. In 2053, Avalon creates a hacker program that launches a nuclear apocalypse that destroys ninety percent of humanity, and allows Avalon to take control of all electronics to become CyberNet.
It is now 2099, and Avalon has gathered survivors into the walled city of The Metropis Sector while building Elsia City and The Citadel for itself. The humans are given some of the basics (shelter, stipends, and a COM unit) and are allowed to regulate themselves. But some humans exist in the wastelands outside the city, raiding convoys for supplies.
Other cyberpunk stuff to look forward to: While the main story may sound like a Terminator rehash, there is a background story involving people being transferred into android bodies that makes for a major twist on human’s being. There’s also a bit of hacking, adventures in cyberspace, and other cyberpunk themes involved.
While it’s too early to rate (no visuals to check), it looks like The Citadel is off to a good start with its script. At last communication, feat747 was looking to bring it to life with the right producer(s). Let’s hope this comes out good, at least better than Snakes On A Plane.
Overview: Ever see a short movie and wished it could be made feature-length? OK, 9 made that jump in 09. Now, a new short has similar designs. Thieves made its debut in film-festivals in July, claiming audience choice at the Mitten Movie Project with a nomination for short of the year, and is now available for online viewing (like above).
The Story: America has created a new prototype energy cell that is now powering New Detroit. To protect both the cell and the city, an agency known only as “Butterfly” is formed to foster patriotism and stability, and to “recruit uniquely skilled people” to make it all possible. However, a terrorist organization has taken the prototype cell and plan to dismantle it. While the world waits for Armageddon, Butterfly has captured a high-value terrorist and plan to “recruit” him.
Sheldon Simmons: Remember his name. I got a feeling his name will be called at some future Oscar ceremony.
A Piece of a Larger Puzzle. Fourteen minutes hardly makes for a feature, so this short may make you feel like you’re missing a lot. THAT was intended:
From the beginning, Thieves was conceived as an excerpt from a much larger saga of feature films. As such, Thieves is not a self-contained piece. It’s made quite clear from its opening moments to its closing frame that there is most certainly a hell of a lot more going on before and after the events showcased in the short film.
Of course, there is the danger that if Thieves does become feature length it may become another Snakes on A Plane. But as long as the Zenisphere crew keeps true to their vision (and creative control of the project), that danger should be minimal.
Conclusion: If you haven’t heard of Thieves before, be ready to hear more of it in the future. Zenisphere has made a slam-dunk short that’s going to leave you wanting more. Already gathering high praise from indie film bloggers, Thieves is set to garner even bigger accolades (like ours), and possibly become the next Blade Runner, or at least The Matrix.
Author Paolo Bacigalupi (The Windup Girl) gives a short essay on why he feels cyberpunk was sci-fi’s saviour in the 80’s.
One man’s opinion. Last week Wired posted an essay in its Underwire section by a writer who felt that cyberpunk saved the science fiction genre in the 80s. Paolo Bacigalupi, a science fiction author himself, explains that sci-fi at the time was spinning its wheels in a deep ditch, how it lost touch with humanity and technology, and how it needed a solid bitch-slap. Cyberpunk was that bitch-slap… followed with a nasty pimp-slap:
Cyberpunk felt urgent. It wasn’t the future 15 minutes out—it was the future sideswiping you and leaving you in a full-body cast as it passed by.
It was a desperately needed course correction. Science fiction had lost the thread of reality. Human beings weren’t going to the moon; we were going digital. Someone needed to grab the genre by the lapels and yank it around—force writers to look at the present moment and decipher its implications.
Considering events of the time would help understand why the Rocket-and-Moon-Colony set was a failure when the 80s came around.
May the Force be Irrelevant. As 1979 gave way to 1980, the original Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) was three years old and wouldn’t be available for home viewing for another two years, while Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back would be released mid-year, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture was only one month in theaters. Battlestar Galactica would get new life as Galactica 1980 and would trade laser fire with Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. It seemed like the 80s would be a golden age of starfighter-space operas.
But the technology wasn’t keeping pace, going in its own direction and taking humanity with it.
Even though the space shuttle was taking flight, humanity wasn’t going to outer space. Only in video games were we able to blast off this planet and live out those Luke Skywalker-wannabe fantasies. Instead of Martians and robots invading our homes, computers were, by invitation, while robots were a couple of decades away. And we forgot about outer space for cyberspace.
The Future calls collect. Who accepted the charges? The space opera fare was starting to become lame. Computers were becoming commonplace while space travel was becoming stale. 80s sci-fi was exactly like grandpa’s sci-fi, and Gen-X was hating it. They wanted it to mirror what technology was like.
Enter: William Gibson. In 1981, he wrote a short story called “The Gernsback Continuum” about a photographer who finds himself in a 1930’s idea of the future… and hating it. The story showed how that idea of the future was obsolete and incompatible with the early 80s reality. Others heard the call and answered.
Blade Runner would be the bitch slap. Ridley Scott’s view of a gritty future of corporate gods lording over imperfect humans would be an inspiration for cyberpunks to come, including Gibson himself. Although when Gibson was writing Neuromancer he saw Blade Runner and almost abandoned it fearing that he would be accused of copying the movie. Instead, the book became the pimp-slap that would chance sci-fi for some time to come.
While the book and movie were considered ground-breaking, they were far from “immaculate conception.” Check out our Proto-Cyberpunk Media category for some examples of pre-1980s inspirations.
A new call for the next “Gernsback Continuum.” Cyberpunk has come a long way since those heady underground days of the 80s, but now the world has changed considerably since and a new call for the next generation sci-fi writer:
Just as when we were on the cusp of cyberpunk and didn’t know it, I’m hoping now for another new breed of writers, people who can craft drive-by speculations that leave us gasping with surprise. Those kinds of writers don’t just see the future; they see the present.
For a sub-genre that gave us such “punk” subsets like steam-, bio-, and dieselpunk, cyberpunk may again rise to the occasion.
Imagine if “Star Wars” was reimagined as cyberpunk instead of space opera. Sillof did it for his custom action figures (click the pic to see more).
In Welt am Draht (World on a Wire), going into a simulation is referred to as “going downstairs” while coming out is “going upstairs.”
Overview: You think you might have seen every VR-based movie, or know what to expect after watching The Matrix or Lawnmower Man for the thousandth time. Then someone points you to some rare foreign TV miniseries, and suddenly… WHOA! The Matrix doesn’t seem so original anymore, at least in terms of concept.
Transmit ACK signal to “virtual reality 91″ for mentioning this one (just needed some time to research and download). World on a Wire is a two-part TV movie originally called Welt am Draht when it first premiered in West Germany. Since then, other VR movies short and long have come and gone. While still available via file-sharing and torrent, a recently restored version has been appearing at film festivals world wide and a Blu-Ray version is set to drop this month.
The Story: At The Institute for Kybernetik und Zukunftsforschung (Institute for Cybernetics and Future Sciences), or IKZ, Professor Henry Vollmer has created a simulated world containing some 8,000 “identity units”; Virtual humans not knowing that they are living in a simulation, except for the “contact unit” named Einstein who is needed to keep the simulation running. Vollmer tries to tell security chief Lause about a discovery regarding the simulation that he wants to keep secret “Because it would mean the end of this world.” Vollmer dies shortly after and Stiller takes over as the project’s technical director. At a party, Lause wants to tell Stiller what Vollmer had told him, but while Stiller is momentarily distracted Lause vanishes, and every one else suddenly has no memory of him, including Lause’s niece, Eva Vollmer. When one of the identity units tries to commit suicide it is deleted, prompting Stiller to “enter” the simulation to contact Einstein to find out why the unit tried to kill itself. When they meet again, Einstein is in Walfang’s body where he explains how he wants to be human… and how “reality” as Stiller knows it isn’t.
German Engineering. So the Simulacron computer system isn’t exactly 21st centruy, bleeding edge technology. This is a 1970’s era movie after all. So there’s no fancy gun-fu shootouts with CGI enhanced slow-motion effects, rotoscoped armor to guard against laser-edged Frisbees, or pixelated sex between Unix GUI daemons.
But Welt am Draht isn’t about fancy high tech special effects. It’s about one man’s reaction when he discovers the truth about reality… his reality, as he perceives it. We watch Stiller’s struggle to keep his sanity in a world that seems to be designed for the purpose of destroying him. A Kafkaesque nightmare encoded in silicon, and his attempt to escape it. And if he does escape, has he really escaped… or just entered a new level of the nightmare?
What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror. Then we shall see face to face.
Mirror’s edge. The main effect of the movie, especially in part one, is a shot of an image in a mirror or similar reflective surface. This gives an extra disorienting feeling as we ponder if reality really is reality, and how do they manage to get all those mirror-shots without the film crew appearing in the reflections. Low tech, highly effective.
But unless you can speak German well enough, you might miss some of the mirror-shots while trying to read the subtitles. That’s the only thing keeping this from being a perfect 10. Then again, subtitles probably would be better than dubbing that comes out as “all your wiener schnitzel are belong to us.”
Is it live? Or is it simulated?
Conclusion: From the country that gave the world cruise and ballistic missiles, Fahrvergnügen, and Kraftwerk, Germany shows that they can come up with some inventive… and scary… technology. Welt am Draht is one of those rare pre-cyberpunk cyberpunk movies that needs to be seen to be believed. Especially when more recent films have aped the idea of VR with high-end graphic trickery, this one is enough proof that high-end does not mean high-quality.
Overview: In the first of many cyberpunk (hopefully) movies to come out in the next year or two, we see Wolverine (aka Hugh Jackman) trying his hand at some futuristic Robot Wars/BattleBots action. Make that Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, as these machines are boxers as opposed to the spinners, flippers, etc. of the former TV programs.
The movie is based on Richard Matheson’s short story, but you will find it more closely mirrors another famous boxing movie.
The Story: Charlie Kenton used to be a prize fighter, but that was before fight fans wanted more violence and bloodshed leading to more extreme fighting like MMA and WWE wresting done for real. Before long, robots entered the arenas and forced humans out to the sidelines. It is now 2020 and Charlie is roaming the countryside with a beat-up rust-bucket robot called Ambush that gets destroyed by a bull in a county fair. He finds out his son’s mother died and he is to get custody, but wants the boy’s aunt to take him instead. He blackmails the woman’s rich husband to take Max when the couple return from Europe at the end of summer, and uses the money to buy a former world-champion robot. Charlie’s ego and inexperience with the robot’s voice-command system causes his new robot to be destroyed as well. While raiding an industrial junk yard for parts, Max finds a second generation sparring robot named Atom and believes he can be a champion fighter. Charlie is reluctant at first, but when Atom wins his first underground fight, he begins training it for bigger matches, including a World Robot Boxing title match with the champion, Zeus. All the while, he learns how to be a better father for Max.
“You’ll be able to spit nails, kid. Like the guy says, you’re gonna eat lightning and you’re gonna crap thunder. You’re gonna become a very dangerous… um, robot.”
Yo, Adrian! If you feel like you’ve seen this movie before, you must have have watched Sylvester Stallone in the original Rocky series. From IMDB’s Real Steel trivia section: You might recognize the moves in the championship fight coming from Rocky IV. The basic plot of Rocky is also present here. Even the champion robot’s name is an indirect reference.
All this similarity to Rocky has to make you wonder if Hollywood has run out of original ideas. Then again, Matheson’s short story has been turned into a Twilight Zone episode which in turn was parodied by The Simpsons.
On the ropes. Calling this movie cyberpunk wasn’t an easy decision. Themes like technology’s negative effect (the robots taking over a career path), man-machine fusion (the various robot controls, the autonomous Zeus), underground focus (the underground fight clubs), and the visuals are present. Themes of control over society and ubiquitous data access are not there, though a couple of times I felt like the all-mighty dollar was all that mattered to anyone. This might be the result of Levy’s decision to set the story in 2020 as opposed to further into the future:
“The whole reason it’s 2020 and not further in the future is because I knew this movie was going to be an underdog story and I didn’t want the distant futurism of extreme sci-fi. I wanted the world to feel really familiar, so that the characters would feel really relatable.”
USELESS FACT: The Crash Palace is actually an old Ford Model T assembly plant in Highland Park, Michigan. Sean Levy thought it was perfect for the movie.
Speaking of the characters, they do work for this movie. Of course, it’s the robots who steel… steal the show, but the estranged-father-son-trying-to-reconnect story should give the non-robotic a few laughs and tears.
Conclusion: If you’ve watched Sly’s work, you’ve already seen this. Boxing-movie fans might find this worth adding to their video collection. For cyberpunk fans, it’s not a complete knockout, but those unfamiliar with Rocky might give this underdog their decision.
io9’s Charlie Jane Anders is looking for the most cyberpunk places in the USA. Think you know of a place that qualifies?
Cyberpunk is no longer the future. We’re living in an age in which many of the visions of creators like Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, Pat Cadigan and Ridley Scott are invading our world today. (Opening paragraph from io9 article)
But you already knew that. Right?
We’ve been following the technologies and events that show how we are rapidly advancing to a cyberpunk world, even if some of it is by accident. Hacker wars, cybernetics, the Internet, megacorps, … these are now part of everyday life. And io9 is looking for places in America that show the country hasn’t devolved into an ultra-conservative tea-fag-party run by brainless rape magnets. There are people who do read Gibson and Sterling, opting to use Ayn Rand for kindling for their oil-barrel fires. While other cities of the world have already made such the conversion, and inspired the cyberpunk vision, io9 wants America to join the party, whether it’s a private hackspace or a major metropolitan sprawl fulfilling the cyberpunk prophecy.
From theory to practice. The sudden interest in finding cyberpunk places can be traced to an essay, Cyberpunk Cities: Science Fiction Meets Urban Theory by Carl Abott that was published in 2007. You can download the essay from here via the Pasta & Vinegar blog. P&V found the essay interesting, but this particular paragraph caught his attention:
Because the cyberpunk subgenre draws on ideas that ascribe power to technological change and global capitalism as all-encompassing forces, it offers relatively little direct guidance for planners. However, it does suggest the need for flexibility, for seeing plans as reflexive processes intended as frameworks for responding to inherent instability. It also suggests the value of creating opportunities for spontaneous and informal social institutions by loosening building codes, preserving low-rent commercial spaces, and making information infrastructures as ubiquitous and cheap as possible.
In other words, planning should be less like “planning” and more like “adapting”. Are there any places that are like that in America?
Vegas, baby! You want to focus on the underground? Las Vegas would be the place to start. Beneath the glitz and glamor of the strip…
… lies a very different reality of Vegas.
More pics like these can be found on the Place Hacking urban exploration blog, where they find not only a moment of clarity regarding their activities, but an underground economy that could very well be the definition of cyberpunkness:
Given that our crew has now started squatting space in London, are we really all that different? And if we are bridging the gap between urban explorers and hobos, tramps and bums, following Anderson, what are we? Does that dreaded monstrosity the prohobo – the hobo that chooses to be homeless yet retains the ability to photograph, blog and scam the internet for money as well as picking pockets and robbing Liddle for fixtures to BBQ vegetables looted from the skip actually exist? Is this Donna Haraway’s cyborg, neither nature nor culture, human nor computer, neither employed nor homeless? Are we becoming as liminal as the spaces we increasingly reside in? Are we finally getting close to the meld? I hope so, cause I can’t wait to pop.
OmniCorp Detroit. (Official OCD website/blog) The former Motor City has been one of the U.S.A.’s most cyberpunk cities for some time now.
Just a couple of minor details to make it complete.
OCD is best described as a group of artisans and tinkerers who are into, as they put it, making, breaking, reshaping and hacking all sorts of things! They hold events like Maker Faires and Open Hack Nights. Sound like the kind of group that could be helpful in an urban wasteland.
Microsoft’s House of the Future. Touch-top tables? Refrigerators that can order food when you run low? A hot tub with an underwater music system?
A full-size model already exists, complete with digital devices for walls and tabletops in the kitchen and living room. It’s the kind of pad that only corporate-type cyberpunks - like Bill Gates - can afford. Dare to dream.
Other points of interest. Some other spots include a hackerspace in New York City, a latino art gallery in San Francisco, and a converted Los Angeles warehouse.
Think you know of a place that qualifies? Shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and if it does, it just might appear in io9’s next issue of The Most Cyberpunk Places in the U.S.A.
Overview: Billed as a “Tribute to the cyberpunk genre,” Perspective gives us a rather unique… perspective… of a cyberpunked future, where VR is the drug of choice to escape the harsh reality of… well, reality. Mehmet Can Koçak shows us one person’s escape to a VR fantasy by not just following him with a camera, but with the person AS the camera as we look through the hobo’s eyes. It’s perfectly understandable if you suddenly feel like hunting shamblers, cyberdemons, or zombies with roast-turkey headgear…
After all, it’s called “Perspective” for a reason.
We “watch” as the hobo purchases a cartridge from a shady dealer then heads into a wreck of a building where he jacks into his Commodore 64T…
64 Terabytes of RAM… on a Commodore 64… it can happen.
… and dives into a fantasy encounter with a redhead girl. Until an apparent glitch causes more than a program crash.
There once was a girl named Alice… At a running length of only ten minutes, Perspective doesn’t have much time to present in-depth themes. The one main theme is the mirror; How we see ourselves in reality and fantasy, and how the two can suddenly become fused together to cause no end of confusion. Or as Friedrich Nietzsche put it, when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
Conclusion: Short-n-sweet. ‘Bout all I can really say. Koçak’s piece shows some potential for something more like, let’s say, a whole series of first-person movies; Short, interwoven films showing life in this future, and the viewer gets to choose what character’s eyes they would like to experience it. Might be a challenge to make, but it would a radical new way to “watch” movies.