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?
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.
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.
Overview: Our resident Cecil B. DeMille, Lazlo Kovacs, and his pals at Key Pixel have brought us the follow-up to the short underground fave UCF: Toronto Cybercide. The second chapter, Abstract Messiah, continues the story of Toronto’s rebuilding struggles as a new enemy come to the forefront determined to stop the cyborgs.
Kovacs said that the movie was about 98% complete and wanted to send a screener to preview. From what I’ve seen, it looks fairly ready for prime-time. Like many low-budget films, there are some issues to deal with, but they’re easy to overlook as long as you’re not expecting Blade Runner-quality fare.
Duct tape is just a good as a band-aid.
The Story: Pax is called back to Toronto to retrieve the body of his former partner, and gets to meet up with his UCF mentor, a history professor. The professor is reported as kidnapped when he misses an appointment. Pax and company are called in to investigate when a member of the Luddites is considered the prime suspect. The investigation leads the UCF team to a prison for cyborgs where the Luddites plan to use the inmates in their ultimate plan; To use retrieve the nanotechnology in Pax’s deceased partner.
The game. A recurring theme is the chess game; Specifically, how the action is equivalent to moves and counter-moves on a chess board.
If that’s true then Equilibrium’s gun-fu scenes should be considered hands of Texas Hold-Em.
Seriously, every action movie would like to be compared to chess; That all the gun-play and violence has some intellectual reason and not just eye candy. For Abstract Messiah, they take the comparison to a new level starting with a real chess match between Pax and his Foundation mentor.
“While you were watching us learn, we were watching you teach.”
Such back and forth banter isn’t uncommon in action movies, as each side tries to impart their vision to the other. But when the two are bitter rivals, diametrical opposites of each other, that’s when the chess game quickly becomes an NBA-style trash talk fest, right before everyone STFU and lets their guns speak for them. Fortunately, Abstract Messiah doesn’t get to the trash-talk even though Crom does come off as the right-wingnut zealot type (nicely played). In fact, I keep getting this feeling that this movie is just one minor move in a much larger game.
Knuckle dusted. If there was a major problem with Abstract Messiah, it was the fight scenes. The fisticuffs weren’t all that convincing, but when a limited budget limits the use of professional stunt people you just have to use what you got and keep them safe for a possible part three.
“The Luddites refuse to be slaves to the cybernetic machines, and I refuse to continue being a slave to the machinations of the Foundation.”
Conclusion: Since the original UCF short was released back in ‘06 there was a call for more of the Luddites. This should satisfy them for a good 80 minutes as the Luddites are now front and center.
Everyone should consider getting Abstract Messiah even if just to support indie movie makers like Key Pixel. Even with amateurish production on a shoe-string budget they still manage to make a movie that’s more watchable than what some major distributors with trillion-dollar purses have been cranking out lately.
One has to wonder what UCF 3 would be like, especially if they get a larger budget. Dare to dream… until Kovacs sends a PM saying he has a screener ready to preview.
Official FAQ for RoboGeisha: It’s from Japan.
That is all.
Overview: Just when you thought Japanese cyberpunk couldn’t possibly get any stranger (or bloodier), evil genius Noboru Iguchi (Tokyo Gore Police) ups the ante… and bloodshed… with RoboGeisha.
Actually most of the bloodshed is in the unrated version; It was added via CGI for the DVD releases since Iguchi was asked to tone down the violence. But that still doesn’t degrade the overall weirdness, even with a sibling-rivalry storyline the would have worked better as standard-issue melodrama.
The Story: Yoshie (Aya Kiguchi) is a geisha’s attendant with dreams of becoming one herself. Her older sister, Kikue (Hitomi Hasebe), is the geisha who takes delight in keeping Yoshie’s dream unrealized. When the president of Kageno Steel Manufacturing discovers Yoshie’s hidden rage and fighting skills he wants to recruit her to join the Hidden Geishas, an army of cyberneticaly enhanced female assassins being trained to kill “corrupt” Japanese officials so the company can create its ideal world. But when Yoshie is given an assignment to kill a group of people whose family members have been kidnapped to become the Hidden Geishas, she soon discovers the company’s plans to destroy Japan.
As if trying to save Japan wasn’t hard enough, Yoshie is always trying to earn Kikue’s respect since she wasn’t getting any while trying to be a geisha. Yoshie does give Kikue a taste of her own medicine when she was chosen for the Hidden Geishas, until Kikue showed a predilection for killing. The two sisters compete as each wants to destroy the other, even though they show respect and love for each other as the company pushes its agenda forward.
1000 Ways to Die… Give or Take. When dealing with cyborgs and androids, you know someone is going to die. The main question is how? Iguchi manages to come up with some innovative ways…
USELESS FACT: About 70% of Japanese adults are lactose intolerant.
When you see it, you’ll shit… shurikens?
“The fried shrimp! They do NOTHING! I STILL CAN’T UNSEE!!!
Too much blood? Iguchi was asked to tone down the violence for RoboGeisha. He did for the theatrical release, but added it back for the DVDs. An interesting strategy, saving time on re-shoots and money on cleanups, but end result doesn’t really add much… other than blood (check this page that shows the comparison between theatrical and home releases). Even so, what was left in still looks cheesy, and even inappropriate at times, like when the giant shiro robot was stomping through town and stops to smash a couple of buildings that bleed.
Can someone get this poor girl a fresh tampon?
To compare to some other Japanese cyberpunk films, the violence in Tetsuo was more social commentary, while Tokyo Gore Police went for shock value. RoboGeisha’s violence tends to be more cartoonish, like Tom and Jerry with more splatter. Combine that with ass-katanas, lactating demon-cyborgs, and enough blood-cheese to rival Wisconsin and you’ll be ROFLMAO Zedong going ZOMGWTFKMFDMBBQ. That or you’ll just ask yourself…
Conclusion: So far, Japan’s track record for TFWO cyberpunk fare remains intact. RoboGeisha may be the best place to start for those who can’t stomach the more brutal stuff. Definitely shows that cyberpunk can have a sense of humor… a dark, disturbing, sick, twisted sense of humor…
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Japan in the wake of the Sendai earthquake and tsunami and the Fukushima I nuclear plant accidents.
Overview: Not often that a good cyberpunk movie comes down the wires. Lately, the better ones have been coming out of Japan’s anime studios. Technotise could be the latest-and-greatest to come from the land of the rising sun… only it came from Serbia, not Japan, although the anime influence can be seen. While not enough to make those famed anime studios nervous… yet… it already has a live-action remake under development.
A sequel based on the comic (readable here, if you understand Serbian), Technotise looks into a bit of the the life of a college girl as she faces a struggle in Belgrade 2074 that could kill her.
The Story: Edit Stefanović is a psychology major in a Belgrade college. Like most students, Edit has had her successes and failures but mostly failures. Now her professor has given her an ultimatum:
“Pass or GTFO.”
After burying her robotic pet, and a fight with her mother, Edit decides to get a memory chip implant to help her pass the exam. She is also an intern at TDR, a research company that’s been working on a formula that connects all the energies in the world, aka “A direct line to God.” This “formula” can be used to predict the future, but any computer that calculates it becomes sentient before it shuts down. Abel Mustafov discovered the formula before becoming autistic, and when Edit sees a “graph” of the formula, her chip becomes alive and starts wiring itself into her body, making her act weird (like eating large amounts of iron). Now TDR wants Edit and the chip for their future-telling computers, while Edit wants what the chip did to her undone.
Algorithm Absurd. This phrase is used a couple of times to describe what happens to the computers that calculates the formula. Algorithm - like a computer program; A series of finite steps to generate an output from input. Absurd, the ludicrous, insane, irrational. The phrase is simply another way of saying: “That does not compute.” Apparently the computers see the formula like a digital existential crisis, one that says machines are not alive. But Edit’s chip doesn’t suffer the same fate, probably because of their connection to each other, or maybe because of Edit’s study of psychology she was able to “understand” the graph in a way that computers couldn’t so she acted as a “buffer” and the chip was able to process her output.
The next GITS? Like GITS, Technotise uses a variety of animation styles to produce some high quality movie fare. 2D, 3D, vector, and realistic static drawings come together for some of the best eye-candy. But without a good storyline, all you can get from eye-candy is diabetes. Fortunately, Technotise has the storyline to back up the visuals. About the only problem is the language is entirely Serbian with English subtitles so you might miss out on some of the vids.
“I have nothing against plastic but sometimes you have to make out with some real meat.”
Conclusion: With the themes of the search for “God” via science and our continued interconnection of human and machine, we have some excellent cyberpunk fare to even anime fans happy for the next decade or so. This is one animated movie that can go byte-by-byte with GITS. Just get the DVD and see what I mean…
Suppose it were possible to transfer, from one mind to another, the experience of another person; Any person, any experience. (From the trailer.)
Overview. Released fourteen months after Tron, Brainstorm continues the theme of virtual reality’s effect on humanity. Ever since Tron there have been movies about virtual reality, even though it never really panned out the way many envisioned… with the head-mounted displays being the primary reason why. But that didn’t stop Hollywood from envisioning VR. Brainstorm does it a bit better than more recent efforts, even though Natalie Wood died while filming was on Thanksgiving break in 1981. Trumbull was able to complete the movie for 1983 by using body doubles and stand-ins, and offers a dedication “To Natalie” in the credits.
The Story. Doctors Lillian Reynolds (Fletcher) and estranged couple Michael and Karen (Walken and Woods) have created a helmet-like device called “the hat,” which can record the experiences… not just sight and sound, but smells, tastes, etc… of a person wearing it. The recording can then be played back on the hat by anyone else who gets to experience the same sensations the recorder experienced. Word of the hat’s breakthrough allows the group to have a larger budget and access to advanced technologies to make the hat more compact and easier to wear. It soon becomes something like a headband or Walkman-style headphones without the earpieces.
That looks like fun to wear… for a couple of hours.
Soon, the US Military wants access to the technology for yet-to-be-specified reasons (Missile guidance? Remote drone piloting?), but Reynolds refuses. She soon suffers a heart-attack while working alone and make a recording. Michael discovers the tape and replays the experience… and nearly dies from it. Despite that, he wants to see what the rest of the tape is about, but he is denied access to the tape and the labs.
Military using VR. What could possibly go wrong? Apart from the possible military applications of the hat, the obvious problem of addiction arises as a colleague has to retire when he experiences sensory overload on a “sex tape” another made and shared. Later on, Michael experiences a past argument with his estranged wife from her point of view. This shows that not only physical sensations can be recorded and transferred, but feelings as well.
This aspect seems to be what the military is most interested in, as Michael discovers the system has been hijacked for “Project Brainstorm” as a torture and brainwashing system. Unfortunately, his son tries the interface while the torture program is running and suffers a psychotic episode.
In theory, a person’s entire personality and psyche could be permanently altered by using the hat to expose them to another person’s past traumas and subconscious nightmares.
But Michael is more interested in finishing Lillian’s final tape to “have a scientific look at the scariest thing a person ever has to face.” This is where Brainstorm departs from sci-fi to metaphysics; Whether there is an afterlife, Heaven and Hell, and all that. That may not be the most cyberpunk thing to deal with, but then dealing with our mortality is part of our humanity whether it’s our own or someone we know.
Conclusion. Somehow, Brainstorm got lost in the shuffle of 80s cyberpunk movies, even though it could have stood up to much of today’s “cyberpunk” fare. The theme of life-after-death captured by technology is eerily in sync with Natalie Wood’s death during a break in shooting. While the visuals do seem dated, they are effective enough to carry us through Lillian Reynold’s final moments.
If you haven’t seen Brainstorm before, or haven’t seen it since it was first released, you should give it a(nother) view. You might be surprised by this little known classic.
Overview: I heard about this movie from the Columbia House DVD club, then bought it after reading the description. After doing some research about it and learning about it being released direct to home video, I got to watch it… and found out why it went direct to video. To take some of the best cyberpunk themes, add some major star-power, then squander it on what would have worked better as a television pilot episode only shows that cyberpunk still has Hollywood seeing $$$ despite recent failures like Repo Men.
Just a few years from now, corporations control and observe everything.
Luke Gibson (Gooding) and his pregnant wife get involved in a car accident. She dies on the scene, and he is hospitalized with brain damage (amnesia) and no insurance. The Hope Corporation finances his brain operation, which involves a Psi-Comp implant on his visual lobe. He soon starts having hallucinations, which are commercials that only he can see and hear. But hackers manage to tap into the implant and give him messages which lead him to Keyboard, a former Hope employee turned hacker, who has information that can stop The Hope Corporation’s plans for the implants.
Cyberpunk themes… they got ‘em. There’s little question about this being cyberpunk; It’s practically dripping with cy-punk themes throughout. The Psi-Comp implants can be used to control people, either with persistent commercials or a painful “fail-safe” that can blow your head off, depending on how Hope Co. feels about your finding out about the truth about them. The hackers try to free Luke from Hope’s control over him by using the implant themselves. Hope Co’s. cameras everywhere watching most everything that goes on. There’s even holographic projections of corporate brands above and on cityscapes and landmarks, owing to how corporations had bail out governments due to their failed bailouts. About the only thing missing would be the dystopic atmosphere, though through sound bytes from televisions indicate that the dystopia is financial.
So what could (or did) possibly go wrong? With Hardwired’s abundance of cy-punk themes, it might be hard to imagine that this could not be the next Blade Runner. That might be the big problem: It’s trying to be the next Blade Runner. Not that aspiring to be such a classic is a bad thing, it’s just most cyberpunk movies lately are trying to be Blade Runner, and they try so hard that they ultimately fail to be even a good movie. Let’s try to make a good movie first, then you can try being Blade Runner. Best way to start is to actually do something with those themes. It’s obvious the makers seem to know about what cyberpunk is, but it’s also obvious they don’t know what to do with it all. Maybe they should hang out here for a while…
Are you certain that the one on the left is Punk Blue and not Punk Green?
Another problem is more “technical,” the operation scene when Luke gets the implant. Inside the operating room, Luke is sitting upright, but a scene through a security cam (assumed to be in the same O.R.) shows him lying down, face up, even though the doctor just finished drilling into the back of Luke’s neck. It’s not like every movie is one-hundred percent accurate, but such noticeable goofs early on can make the rest of the film less believable. Also, the hackers use the chip to send Luke information a la “augmented reality.” His eyes were not replaced with holographic projectors, so we should not be able to see the transmitted data in front of his face. Seeing that stuff as Luke sees it, first-person like, would have worked better.
Conclusion: It’s hard to put Hardwired down because it has a great idea, but some bad implementations may have doomed it to direct-to-video hell and lack of reviews. The only other review called it “cheesy, seriously cheesy.” Plus, the ending practically begs “please let us become a franchise,” though it might serve better as a pilot for some futuristic TV series. Maybe.
So much potential…
It looks like Bruce Willis now has some competition for the most WTF hairpiece.
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.”