“The Grid. A digital frontier. I tried to picture clusters of information as they traveled through the computer. Ships, motorcycles. With the circuits like freeways. I kept dreaming of a world I thought I’d never see. And then, one day… i got in.” - Opening lines spoken by Kevin Flynn (Bridges)
Overview: Thirty years is a lllllllllloooooooooonnnnnnnnnnggggg time to wait between movies in a franchise; Lots of changes happen in such a time period, especially in technology. After a concept “trailer” for Legacy was leaked to the nets after appearing at ComiCon 08, Disney gave the sequel the green light. Was it worth the effort?
Visually, Legacy makes the original look obsolete thanks to the past thirty-year advancement in computer and cinema technology. The storyline probably could be better, though the concept of one’s vision of Utopia being usurped in the name of godlike power still makes for some good cyberpunk fare in a virtual world.
The Story: Since taking over Encom in 1982, Kevin Flynn (Bridges) had been dividing his time working on “The Grid,” running Encom, and raising his son, Sam. Then he disappeared, leaving Encom in chaos and Sam without a father. Alan Bradley (Boxleitner) receives a page from Flynn’s Arcade which had been shut down twenty years ago. Sam goes to the arcade and discovers a secret lab in the basement, complete with the digitizing laser that sent Flynn into the Grid. Sam activates the laser and is uploaded into the Grid himself. After being made to play games, he finds his father, who explains why he was stuck in The Grid… and the tragedy caused by Clu.
Eye and Ear Candy. As mentioned before, the advances in computers and movie making has given Legacy a vastly superior visual look. Gone are the clunky looking gray “armor” suits with post-production rotoscope effects in favor of skintight leather/latex jumpsuits with embedded lights. The Frisbee “identity disks” are now chakram-style rings. Light cycles, recognizers, … everything now has a sleeker, updated look. They look more like real models relying less on computer generation… but then again… can you tell the difference?
Even Jeff Bridges gets a CGI “facelift.”
Also, the movies was shot entirely in 3D as opposed to being shot in 2D and converted post-production.
At the End of Line club, you’ll get some brief glimpses of Daft Punk rocking the data block. You can hear their music throughout the movie… that’s assuming your ears haven’t been blown out by the extra-loud crashes and explosions.
Conclusion: Comparing Legacy to the original would be like comparing a modern, quad-core multi-gigabyte machine with a terabyte hard drive and NVIDIA graphics (no offense to ATI fans) to the original IBM PC model 5150. Comparing it to the more recent cyberpunk fare, Legacy is certainly better than what has been coming down the wires lately. Any cyberpunk fan should see it if just for the eye candy, maybe for the story too. Tron fans will definitely want to see Legacy.
Do us a favor Disney: If you’re going to do a Tron 3.0, don’t wait another thirty years. Some of us may not be around to see it.
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.
“A strange new era is dawning… an era of revolutionary experiments. Wired torsos, chip-implanted brains, creatures of silicon and steel… welcome to the age of cyborgs and androids. As humans become more machine-like and machines more human, the line between biology and technology is starting to blur. And in the process, we may just be reinventing the future of our species.”
Overview: I was looking for the Jean Claude Van-Dame movie Cyborg when I came across this series. Originally made in 2001, Beyond Human has been on the Internet on tube sites like Hulu, and YouTube (part one of nine, “The Cyborg Revolution,” is above), and on singularity and cyborg sites like The Singularity Symposium. A websearch will lead you to many other sites where the entire series can be viewed online or downloaded (read “torrented”) for offline viewing.
Beyond Human is split into two parts with a total of nine “chapters:” The Cyborg Revolution, Invasion of The Inhuman, The Cyborg Mind, The Age of Androids, How to Design A Humanoid, Emotional Robots, Can A Robot Be A Person, Robot Soccer, and Erasing The Line Between Man and Machine. The first three chapters deal with the possibilities of humans becoming cyborgs, with the rest showing the efforts to make robots more human.
“What about the whole business of them causing cancer? What about the possibility of an immune reaction? I’m not going to stick one of these things in my head until one million other people have.” Haters gotta hate.
The Invasion of The Inhuman chapter may make one second-guess their plans to get brain implants, especially with the comparisons with Tetsuo scenes. This is one of the perils of the advancing cyber-technology; With the technology overwhelm us? Plus the social, ethical, and possibly legal issues raised in the Can A Robot Be A Person chapter shows more potential problems. The final chapter asks “What will happen when robots become commonplace?” Will they be just property, or will they have rights? Will they become cohorts of humans, or their destroyers?
Nine years later, we’re still asking these questions. Obviously, this documentary/series was made to highlight the state-of-the-art at the turn of the 21st century, so it is well past its expiration date. But documentaries like this wasn’t meant to show the current cutting-edge. Instead, I see this as a milestone to show not only how far we’ve come, but how much further we have to go.
Conclusion: Like a time capsule in a backyard or a building’s cornerstone, finding stuff like this a surprisingly fun find. While not meant to be current by any means, it works best as a comparison to where we are.
Overview: One thing I love about Indie movies is the opportunity for complete originality. Indie director Hiroki Yamaguchi delivers a strange, but very well made micro-budget movie that is truly unique. From viewing the extras, virtually every part of the set was designed by searching through junkyards for throw-offs. Similar to the Cube, Hellevator: The Bottled Fools largely takes place on a single set. Similar to Brazil, the world of Hellevator is a bizarrely dystopic surveillance society where things just don’t seem to work right. Nobody got paid who worked on this, but you wouldn’t know it from the quality. Hellevator definitely has its own feel.
The Setting: Hellevator takes place in a non-specific dystopic near future, where a colony of people have long ago decided to move underground. While some aspects of life clearly involve advanced technologies, there is a strong analog, mechanistic component to society. Now, all life takes place in a very large megalopolis comprised of a set of very large levels and tunnels. Life is fully governed by an omnipresent security force, who have cameras in all key locations. Over 130 levels in all, each has a specific purpose. Some have hospitals or schools, others are power centers, and Level 99 is the prison ward. Because everything is underground, issues related to air quality are at a premium. Smoking is illegal, and merits a death sentence. To get from each level, people use these very large, mechanical elevators.
The Story: The beginning of Hellevator starts off with a television report of a set of explosions on Level 138, which ends up killing over 100 people. The police have pegged a few suspects of causing this crime, both of which ended up stuck on an elevator which malfunctioned during the explosion. Flashback to Luchino (played by Luchino Fujisaki) who is a troubled teen-age girl living on Level 138 who is on her way to school, which is on Level 4. She has a penchant for rebelling against the system and starts her day by illegally purchasing cigarettes from a drug dealer. Unfortunately, she almost gets caught, and ends up leaving her still burning cigarette butt at the power center near a set of flammable fluid containers.
Luchino gets on the elevator to take her to level 4, which is where the rest of the story takes place. On each floor, new people get on while others leave. Eventually when the elevator gets past 110, the elevator operator announces that they have entered the “express mode” – no more stops should occur for a long time. At this point, the elevator is holding the white-gloved elevator operator (Ninalada Mochiduki), a business man (Viblio Sawatsukumori), a woman with a baby carriage (Alamocia Nakaji), a quite guy with headphones (Nocosh Utsunomiya) and Luchino. Unfortunately, the elevator is force-stopped at level 99, the prison level. Two prisoners, one a bomber (Calpico Teranouchi), and the other a serial rapist (played wonderfully by Zitacock Obitani) get on with a very unstable young prison guard. Shortly afterwards, the explosion on Level 138 occurs. This causes the elevator to malfunction, and the small group is now stranded.
The malfunctioned elevator becomes a powder keg for runaway paranoia. The prison guard starts to lose it, and through a strange sequence of events, causes the prisoners to become free. The rapist quickly beats the guard to a pulp, which ends with a sequence where he takes a bite out of the guard’s neck. From there the prisoners sadistically start to impose their will on the beleaguered elevator participants. The rapist starts to do his thing on the elevator operator and eventually starts kicking Luchino. Luchino starts to have flashbacks of times when her father abused her similarly - Luchino eventually snaps. She picks up the gun and starts to repeatedly shoot the bomber prisoner.
From there, the story devolves into a repetitive set of sequential events which cause various people on the elevator to lose control. Some result in murders while others result in interesting character expositions. Throughout, the mood is high tension paranoia. Eventually, the THX-1138-like guards break the remaining few left alive. The story then connects back to the police detective, who is in the process of interviewing those that survived the elevator trip. The ending, not discussed here, provides a different take on the world which this future takes place.
The Acting: The acting in Hellevator is far better than one would expect in a movie where nobody was getting paid. Luchino Fujisaki turns in a solid performance as a person devolving back into psychosis. Zitacock Obitani is terrific as an extremely bizarre serial rapist, and almost makes the movie a must-watch all by himself. The rest of the cast works. The only stand-out lousy performance is turned in by the blond haired prisoner guard, but he doesn’t last long enough to matter.
The Cinematography: Hellevator, uses two omnipresent color schemes: within the elevator, everything is dingy yellows and greens. For the police interrogation scenes, everything is dark blue. Yamaguchi makes liberal use of perspective shots, sometimes involving fish-eye lenses, and frequently looking down or up at the participants. In short, Yamaguchi makes the most of a very limited budget and set. He even throws in a Matrix slo-mo shot that was apparently filmed with a single camera.
System Service Staff as Robots: In Hellevator, the elevator lady acts completely robotic until the convicts break things. Her overt disposition is of a person who never gets rattled, never intimates a personal connection, and never changes her demeanor regardless of the surroundings. In a sense, she is the perfect employee for the underground megalopolis. Similar to movies like Brazil or 1984, the elevator lady represents the humans as machines metaphor. In this view, we are nothing more than a single redundant part – a cog in a massive machine. For the ideal system employee, individualism has been quashed in favor of ritualized, repeatable routines.
Telepathy: Hellevator does a good job of integrating telepaths into its strange world. The majority of the people are normal, and do not recognize the telepaths. In Hellevator, the Telepaths are able to notice when another uses their sensory perception. What makes Yamaguchi’s view of telepath’s somewhat interesting is he also touches on their ability to see others’ memories. This leads to some interesting flashbacks of others’ experiences on the elevator. More interesting though is the fact that Luchino’s personal psychosis colors her views of the others’ memories. This turns reading thoughts into something far less precise, and in the end makes it more believable.
Repression Exposed by Extreme Psychological Pressure: Hellevator explores extreme psychological pressures on a group of already unstable people. Everyone stuck on the elevator is hiding something significant about themselves. The businessman is potentially a bioterrorist; the woman with the crib is hiding groceries instead of a baby, and the quiet guy in the corner is masquerading as a cop. Luchino had been abused by her father to the point that she eventually flipped and killed him. She has since repressed her issues but when placed in a similar circumstance, Luchino responds similarly and goes on to murder one of the convicts. Her perception of reality starts to bear little resemblance to the rest. The robotic elevator woman turns into an emotional basket case. Although this is a fully reasonable reaction to an attempted rape, the contrast shown is with her earlier robotic persona. In fact, everyone, when thrown into this circumstance acts in wholly strange ways.
The Bottom Line: If you like Extreme Japanese Cyberpunk movies, Hellevator: The Bottled Fools is well worth a watch. There’s quite a bit of blood and gore, but not when compared to some of the more extreme straight Japanese horrors. The plot is pretty straightforward once the movie gets moving – I would have wished for a bit more interplay between the plot points. Also, there are a number of plot points which were touched on as significant, but were never completed. But overall, the movie is original and interesting. Little throwaways like the child’s pet brain only add to the fun. Yamaguchi and crew really make the most of their set and the overall shoot. This one will stay with you for a few days.
Overview: Parasite Dolls, another cyberpunk anime written by the prolific cyberpunk anime master, Chiaki Konaka (Serial Experiments Lain, Texhnolyze, Armitage III, Malice@Doll, and Bubblegum Crisis 2040), is a visually interesting, VERY adult OVA from the Bubblegum Crisis universe. The androids (called boomers) in this show are fully android (at least regarding their mental processes) unlike in other Bubblegum stories where they seem to be a combination of human and android. While this is a three part OVA, I really like that they are almost integrated like a movie, versus as separate episodes. Fair warning, you get gruesome deaths in the throws of sex, prostitution, lots and lots of gore.
The Stories: There are three separate, interlinked stories on the Parasite Dolls OVA. At the start of the first story, set in the year 2034, where society has become a troubled mix of humans and androids called “Boomers.” The Genom Cooperation has created boomers to serve mankind in all aspects, from police support to sex dolls. Unfortunately, problems emerge, both with the boomers and with humanity’s reaction to their presence. A clandestine division of the Advanced Police (A.D Police) called “Branch” has been created to investigate human to boomer related crimes. The story follows “Buzz” Nikvest, a policeman with a troubled past, and his partners at the Branch division, which include a very helpful Boomer called Kimball and a stereotyped spunky, sexy, tough cop chick named Reiko Michaelson.
In the first episode, rogue boomers start randomly attacking and killing innocent humans. Buzz and company are brought in to investigate. During the course of their investigation, they find that things at the Genom corporation are not all above board. This story has some pretty cool visuals of shot-up boomers, and a few interesting
The second episode, which takes place a year later, involves a truly bizarre android monster called the “Boomer Crusher” and a very lifelike boomer prostitute who has feelings and has dreams. Unfortunately, the prostitute is being controlled in her dreams to cause some truly bizarre human deaths. We find out more in the third story of who probably created this monster, but it isn’t really stated in the narrative.
In the third episode, which takes place 5 years later, Takahashi, the head of Branch Division is missing. In searching for their missing box, Buzz, Kimball and Reiko find a connection between Takahashi’s disappearance and the recent spate of anti-boomer activity that has grown in recent years. Worse, as explosions go off all over the city, Buzz is framed as the fall guy. As the story unfolds, the viewer is left with the idea that all three stories are related to the same larger plot.
The Visuals: Parasite Dolls has a really nice diversity of looks, often emphasizing extreme shadows in single color light settings. Both blue and gray are used extensively for this, often yielding terrific visuals. In other cases, Parasite Dolls looks like a rather decent, but not spectacular anime. It does best when it strives for the edgy look. Had this been used throughout, Parasite Dolls could have come off as something bordering on special. As it stands, some parts really stand out, while others you almost wait to get through.
Boomers – property or unique individuals: Nothing new here – Parasite Dolls explores the continually explored question of whether androids are merely property or something more unique. Unfortunately, no new ground is traversed. Instead, the interesting aspects of this come from the seedy visuals themselves. There are a few scenes in Parasite Dolls where the visuals make a far more interesting statement than the narrative. These usually involve truly gruesome Boomer deaths.
The Seedy Underground: A seedy feeling pervades Parasite Dolls. We get nudie bars, slovenly side-walks, seedy corporate meetings, and absolutely base human behavior. We have hot chick boomers continually debased and abused. Even the weird creatures that appear have an icky feel to them. The constant theme we see here are fallen boomers. They had so much potential, but…
The Bottom Line: The stories themselves are somewhat uneven and problematic, but the visuals are interesting enough to make this worth a watch. While the narrative is more straight forward than many of Chiaki Konaka’s stories, it does require a few minutes thought to put the overall picture together – otherwise, all three episodes almost seem disconnection. Even though Buzz is a pretty interesting character, the rest of the characters we encounter are pretty much the cookie-cutter variety. Worse, as the episodes take place over a six-year time period, you would really expect to see growth in the characters, or at least changes in the nature of their relationships. Instead, the characters we encounter at the beginning are the same ones six years later. Still, for a 3 part OVA, Parasite Dolls is worth a watch for the visuals alone.
Overview: Sogo Ishii, master of the Japanese Extreme Cinema delivers a truly bizarre experience for us in Electric Dragon 80,000V. If you added the dialogue from this whole movie up, you probably wouldn’t get much more than a page or two. The story is told through visuals, and that said, the narrative itself isn’t all that deep. So why do I give the movie a decent rating? Simple – the visuals and the overall mood this film creates are absolutely unique. Electric Dragon 80,000V is first and foremost an experiential flick. The narrative definitely takes a back seat to the visual and sound integration.
The Story: Electric Dragon 80,0000V follows the maturation of two kids who had traumatic experiences with electricity when they were young. One, Dragon Eye Morrison (played by Tadanobu Asano, who also stars as Kakihara in Ichii, the Killer), underwent electric shock treatment due to being violent as a kid – specifically, he endured 80,000 Volts of electricity. When Dragon Eye Morrison undergoes electric shock treatment, something in his reaction awakens the Dragon. The Dragon is the Eastern style dragon – one that’s embedded in all living things and the world at large. Dragon Eye Morrison’s connection with the dragon releases the rage within in, and thus, forces him to get more shock treatments. With each electric shock treatment, he develops a deeper connection with the dragon. By the time he’s an adult, Morrison can commune with reptiles (he owns a bunch), and has learned that playing REALLY LOUD guitar music (well, playing really loud anyways) is able to sooth the rage within him.
The other, Thunderbolt Buddha (Masatoshi Nagase) got electrocuted with 20 million volts while attempting to climb a power-line tower. The electricity is so high that half of his body becomes encased in metal – and in fact his personality is as split as his body. One side of him is trying to kill himself, while the other is deviously listening in on all electric conversations within his vicinity. It’s not to hard to figure out that Thunderbolt Budda is the bad guy in this modern Godzilla story.
By the time they are both adults, somehow Thunderbolt Buddha, who spends his time attached to a satellite dish, scanning the city, finds out about Dragon Eye Morrison – worse, he decides that the world isn’t big enough for the both of them! So Thunderbolt invades Morrison’s apartment and kills some of his lizards and takes others prisoner. Sure enough, Dragon Eye Morrison figures out who the culprit is and they meet at high noon! From there – it. is. ON BABY!!!!
What the Fuck is This Movie About? Yes, at first glance, this movie appears to be pretty shallow and non-sensical, and it may just be. But I like deeper meanings, so allow me to intuit. OK – assuming there is any meaning one can derive from this movie, my wild ass guess is it is this – Dragon Eye Morrison represents the Dragon on earth personified, whereas Thunderbolt Buddha represents modern technology. At first glance, modern technology appears stronger than the earth (20,000 volts to 80,000), yet, due to his ability to bring the full might of the dragon to bare, he’s able to stand up to modern technology. What’s interesting about this theory is the reversal of fortunes: Dragon Eye Morrison gets transformed to merging with the Dragon (earth) due to the detrimental use of technology on him, whereas Thunderbolt Buddha is transformed by a natural occurrence – lighting. In a sense, both grow up reacting against that which transformed them. Or, um, my theory is full of bunk – you make the call.
The Sound: As tightly integrated as can be, Electric Dragon 80,000V links massively loud and distorted guitar sounds with the kinetic visuals. This is really the true genius of Ishii’s work. Like all Japanese Cyberpunk movies, Electric Dragon provides an assault on the senses. Unlike most, the assault in this case isn’t as strong on notion of humanity itself, but is instead an assault on you, the viewer. To really experience this movie in the way it was intended, I STRONGLY recommend absolutely cranking the sound. If you don’t do this, you really will lose out on the mood this picture tries to set, and really, will not get the attraction
The Visuals: Electric Dragon 80,000V is really rather sedate for the first half. While well shot, the visuals aren’t really that noteworthy from a Japanese Cyberpunk standpoint. But the second half is FILLED with a bevy of truly bizarre shots. Electricity integrated with humans is the theme, and it is explored in a variety of ways, though showing various forms of electricity to kinetic shots of volts coursing through our lead characters. The second half uses the same style of stop-motion animation we get in Tetsuo - The Iron Man. While the movies are radically different, the movement of these two films is pretty similar.
The Bottom Line: Electric Dragon 80,000V is clearly an indulgence in extremes. The mood brought on by the sounds and visuals far outweighs what little exists of the narrative. In the end, Electric Dragon 80,000V is either a movie you really dig or absolutely abhor. For this reason, I find it pretty difficult to give a solid rating, so I’ve gone with 7 stars - which implies that it’s a good movie, but one that some may not like. The entire thing is barely 50 minutes, so if you find yourself hating it, not to worry, it will be over soon. If you do like it though, Electric Dragon 80,000V has solid replay value.
Overview: Heavy Metal represents one of my great teenage film memories. Back in the day, before the porn repository known as the internet was formed, Heavy Metal was edgy stuff. As a young teen, Heavy Metal was everything a kid my age wanted to see – sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, violence, defiance of authority, and hot chicks! Add the most awesome hard rock soundtrack, and Heavy Metal became the drug of choice for young folk back then. That it was animated somehow made it alright with the parents. Make no mistake – Heavy Metal is not high brow fare, nor is it particularly well made. But it is definitely a very fun guilty pleasure.
The Story: Heavy Metal is a series of somewhat interrelated vignettes about the journey that ultimate evil makes, this time in form of an evil sentient green orb, called the Loch-Nar. The Loch-Nar captures a little girl in present times for reasons unknown till the end, and shows her a series of stories about how the Orb has corrupted people of all races in all times and places.
In each story segment, we get a strange, otherwordly setting in which the orb enters, corrupts and then leaves. Often a hero stops the orb from fully corrupting everything, but always the orb leaves a stain. The atmosphere is one of interrupting and ongoing scene with something truly unusual that occurs. But it’s the ending vignette, Taarna which is the best, and also the one that finally gives us insight into why the Loch-Nar has captured this little girl. Taarna isn’t really cyberpunk in any way but a few of the visuals, but it is a lot of fun.
Is it cyberpunk? Clearly, some of the vignettes, many in fact, are more fantasy than cyberpunk. So why do I have this movie listed? While some of the vignettes do have the cyberpunk feel, most clearly Harry Canyon, Heavy Metal absolutely belongs here due to its magazine roots. Both William Gibson and Ridley Scott credit visuals in the Heavy Metal Magazine is very influential for helping create their settings. Most cited is the Moebuis illustrated “The Long Tomorrow” comic. As you can see by the link, the Long tomorrow gives us a gritty neo-noir, near future comic that’s edgy, dangerous, and lots of fun. And more importantly, the atmosphere – the mood in Heavy Metal throughout seems pretty cyberpunk.
Heavy Metal is Male Fantasy Material: Heavy Metal is NOT sophisticated - far from it in fact. Heavy Metal caters to the sophomoric, prepubescent male, and emphasizes gratuitous nudity, hot chicks kicking butt, nerds who grow massive bodies and get laid, android-hot chick sex, etc. Heavy Metal falls right in line with the old “Gonad the Barbarian” style books, so in this way, it really isn’t cyberpunk. Cyberpunk as a sub-genre dramatically improved the quality and intelligence of what we found on the scifi-fantasy shelves. Heavy Metal the movie does not, although many of the stories do provoke an interesting thought or two.
The Animation: Each story segment is written and animated by completely different teams, although some of the voice actors such as John Candy appear in many episodes. Some of the segments seem pretty simple, whereas others have more than decent texture. All in all, Heavy Metal represents a mixed bag, but at the time, it truly was on the revolutionary side. While French director René Laloux’s most awesome animated movies were far better, outside of them, few things touched Heavy Metal. The fact that Heavy Metal included the themes and visuals teens were looking for back then transformed it into the ultimate cult rebellion flick.
The Sound Track: Heavy Metal still should be considered among the best sound tracks for a movie. It SOOO added to the atmosphere. We get a heaping dose of great hard rock from the likes of Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath, Sammy Hagar, Cheap Trick, and Don Felder’s most awesome rendition of Heavy Metal (Takin’ A Ride). In addition, we get great little 80s tunes like Devo’s “Working in a Coal Mine,” Journey’s “Open Arms,” and Stevie Nicks’ “Blue Lamp.” Truly, if you’re interested in experiencing 80s counter-culture at its fantasized finest, Heavy Metal is the movie to watch.
The Bottom Line: Heavy Metal is not a great movie, but it is a lot of fun. While it has a few vignettes that are clearly cyberpunk in nature, the majority of the movie is unsophisticated SciFi-Fantasy. Still, the visuals and atmosphere are more than interesting, as are the diversity of animation styles. Heavy Metal should be seen more for the vision this film represents from the Magazine. This, as much as anything is responsible for the genre we now call cyberpunk.
Overview: There are some really good Sci-Fi movies that I don’t consider strictly cyberpunk, but still are strong enough in some ways that I feel compelled to include here. Android is one of those films. Android, in a very low-budget manner, gives us a wonderful exploration of androids and their early attempts to assimilate with humankind. On top of this, the writing is interesting and the acting is very good, especially Klaus Kinski and Don Keith Opper. The budget is low enough that the FX and set designs actually do detract some from the enjoyment of the film, but not enough to stop you from seeing this.
The Story: Android takes place on a large but deserted research-oriented space station located in deep space. Dr. Daniel (played wonderfully by Klaus Kinski), a genius by unstable scientist has almost completed his greatest creation – a perfect female android, named Cassandra. Apparently, Androids have been outlawed on Earth, due to some catastrophic event that occurred previously (hence, the reason for the deep space station), so Dr. Daniel must continue his work under cover with only minimal assistance. His current assistant, Max 404 (Don Keith Opper – also the writer) is also an android, but he is but a prototype – an imperfect experiment may no longer be necessary to continue. Unfortunately, Dr. Daniel needs a living female to “give Cassandra life” by transferring some of her essence to Cassandra.
Providence strikes when an outlaw group of criminals on a run-away space ship ends up in their quadrant with a ship in need of repair. As they dock, the criminals, two men and a woman, happily greet Dr. Daniel and Max, and begin looking for what’s valuable to steal, while Dr. Daniels sees this as his golden opportunity to get a woman to finalize his android. Max 404 is immediately attracted to Maggie (Brie Howard), the female convict. At the prompting of the other convicts, Maggie humors Max 404 in order to find out more information. Things come to a head when Max 404 overhears Dr. Daniel say that Max will be deactivated when Cassandra comes online. Max decides his only chance for life is to leave with the convicts, and decides to take things into his own hands.
Metropolis’ Maria Recreated: Android employs some fun linkages between previous movies. Max 404 tends to enjoy old B&W, and tends to watch ones that foreshadow coming plot scenes. One of the cool scenes in this movie was when Max 404 is watching the movie Metropolis on the computer monitor. The scene where the evil scientist, C.A. Rotwang is creating an evil android version of Maria from the human Maria. In Android, Dr. Daniel needs to capture Maggie to use her essence to “give life” to the perfect android, Cassandra. The parallels are obvious, and are appreciated to anyone familiar with Metropolis. In another scene, Max 404 is watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” where Stewart finally gets up the urge to go see Mary at her house – this occurs right before Max 404 has his love scene with Maggie.
Android Coming of Age Story: One of the really interesting things about Android is Max 404, only 5 years old, engaging in a coming of age type story. Max has the ability to think and feel, but has never experienced anything outside the boundaries of the space station. He spends his time dreaming of Earth, playing video games, and imaging himself engaging in interesting life experiences. He’s not human, but unfortunately for Max, this is the only model he has in determining how to act and react to new situations. Maggie provides him his first opportunity to “engage” in a way that he’s always wished. As soon has things come to a head, Max’s choices are markedly different than a human might be. Max doesn’t feel guilt, nor does he worry about human taboos such as murder, etc. But the highlight of the movie is Don Keith Opper’s acting when he thinks Dr. Daniel (Kinski) is going to deactivate him – this alone is almost worth watching the movie for.
Notice the control panel on the back of Max 404’s head.
The FX: The FX in Android is extremely low-budget. In listening to the commentary, we find out that the story was written as a way to gain additional monetary benefit out of an existing space station set. Android never veers into Dr. Who FX territory, but there are a number of cheesy looking elements that do detract somewhat from the mood. The ships that come to dock have a decidedly Saturday morning kids show look, and the guest suites look very 70s with the off-color strips going around the wall. Still, for the most part things generally work.
The Bottom Line: Android is one of the really well made low-budget Sci-Fi movies of the 80s. The FX aren’t great, (except for one cool scene that’s a spoiler – DON’T CLICK on this unless you’ve seen the movie - spoiler “decent FX” shot), but the story more than makes up for it. Android gives us a pretty interesting view of a young, imperfect android, engaging in the “coming of age” story, and dealing with challenges far different than perhaps a human might. The ending is also interesting, when Cassandra finally awakes – she too acts differently than expected. In short, Android is a very well written, well acted, and interesting low-budget Android flick.
The Three Laws of Robotics
1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Overview: Superficially based on Asimov’s great collection of short stories - “I, Robot” – this movie of the same name usually sacrifices intelligent Sci-Fi for overblown summer blockbuster clichés. While Asimov fans will recognize the names of Dr. Alfred Lanning, Dr. Susan Calvin and Lawrence Robertson, they won’t recognize the characters that Proyas gives us. In yet another, “The evil robots are coming to control us” movie. I, Robot delivers eye-popping, often well over-the-top FX from beginning to end. Right at the beginning, I, Robot relays to us that they’ve set the bar low by spending the first five minutes delivering Converse Shoe and Fed-ex Delivery commercials. Still, I, Robot captures enough of the essence to make it enjoyable cyberpunk viewing. Asimov’s three rules are still in play here, and Sonny, the robot, actually makes it interesting.
The Story: In the near future (2035), robots are a pervasive fact of life, and serve humans in a variety of capacities. US Robotics, maker of the fabled “NS” series of robots is just about ready to release their greatest innovation, the NS5 robots. NS5 robots are the most lifelike to date, and are destined to replace the ultra-reliable but outmoded NS4 model. The NS5s are guaranteed to stay new by receiving daily updates from US Robotics’s master AI system, “V.I.K.I.”
The week of the release, Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), the founder of modern robotics dies in an apparent suicide. He leaves a clue behind for former patient and police officer Del Spooner (Will Smith). Del Spooner has reasons to hate and mistrust robots and immediately suspects foul play. US Robitics CEO Lawrence Robinson (Bruce Greenwood) is suspicious looking, and things just “feel” right.
Assisted by robot psychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moyanahan), Del finds an NS5 robot named Sonny, who appears to have freewill developed life-like features – so much that Del suspects Sonny of having killed Dr. Lanning. In following the breadcrumbs, Dels fears are realized – the robots do not seem to be adhering to the thee Laws of Robotics. Now they must race to uncover the real nature of the plot before the trap is sprung.
Will Smith Plays “Will Smith”…Again: You know the role – cocky, argumentative, underdog tough-guy cop – Be it MIB, ID4 or I, Robot, Will Smith plays the same old Will Smith. I, Robot was clearly green-lighted to bring in the teens to the seats over the summer – Will Smith is the guy to do this. Will Smith and massively cool FX = ROI. Unfortunately, it also engenders a far crappier story. Had we gotten an introspective no-name person in Smith’s role, we might have had a significantly higher degree of realism. But then again, realism would imply that things like the overblown US Robots Truck bashing scene wouldn’t have been included.
Sonny: If not for Sonny, I, Robot would be almost unwatchable. Sonny (voiced by Serenity star, Alex Tudyk) provides us an investigation into android humanity similar to Star Trek’s Data in his better moments. While some of it comes off as sappy, Sonny’s questioning of his right to exist, and more interestingly, his hopes that others consider him a being instead of an it provide the best moments of the movie. One can only wonder how much better I, Robot would have been if this aspect of the movie was highlighted vice the focus on Will Smith and the overblown FX scenes.
“There have always been ghosts in the machine – random segments of code that have grouped together to form unexpected protocols. Unanticipated, these free radicals engender questions of free will, creativity, and even the nature of what we might call the soul. Why is it that when some robots are left in the dark they will seek the light? Why is it that when robots are stored in an empty space they will group together rather than stand alone? How do we explain this behavior? Random segments of code? Or is it something more? When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter moat of the soul?”
Evolution of The Three Laws: I, Robot touches on some interesting questions concerning the three laws. If, taken to their logical extreme, do the laws imply, similar to Colossus: The Forbin Project, that machines should consider removing our freewill in order to protect us? Also, given a set of operating conditions that include the ability to learn from the environment, are we truly sure that machines would not eventually develop sentience and freewill? This is especially problematic when science has yet to deliver a definitive statement on how this comes about.
The FX: Yes, I, Robot delivers awesome android FX – continually so, in fact. The mandatory overblown chase scenes, massive explosions and lots of gun fighting are all there, but so are the robots. And the robots are simply amazing. Their facial expressions are lifelike, their exoskeleton muscles look believable, and their demeanor seems perfect. However, their cartoon-like ability to jump as high and far as they like is well past over-the-top. Worse, not all of the NS5s are equal, as near the end they transform into bumbling fools, where an army of them seems unable to stop two humans in possession of guns that never run out of ammo.
The Bottom Line: One wonders how great I, Robot could have become had the studios given Dark City director Proyas more of a free hand in its development. Instead, I, Robot is a summer blockbuster first, and an interesting cyberpunk movie second. Still, Sonny and the robot FX raises I, Robot to be more interesting and enjoyable than it has rights to be. The performances of the leads are pretty much all lackluster – make no mistake – Sonny is the star here, and dominates the screen during every appearance he makes. Normally I give overblown summer blockbusters with great FX five or six stars – Sonny, and the wonderful ending visual makes I, Robot deserve a bonus star.
Dade Murphy/’Crash Override’/'Zero Cool’: Jonny Lee Miller
Kate: Angelina Jolie
: Fisher Stevens
Rating:7 out of 10
“You are elite.”
Overview: OK, so its not near future, but these kids have the glorified underground hacker thing down. In Hackers, every computer is networked and available for hacking. Hackers gives us a plethora of cool computer imagery cut scenes, 3D buildings serving as file share stores, and lots of underground punk visuals. These visuals are packed into a nicely paced movie that makes the outlandish story of high stakes theft, environmental destruction and hacker antiheroes fun to watch.
Using “God” as the password is not very secure, but it does serve to highlight the hacker feeling of omnipotence.
The Story: Hackers follows the life of a group of “Elite” hackers, who, through chance while playing a hacking game, uncover a plot within a large bank to contaminate the environment by blaming innocent hackers on messing up software that causes automated oil tankers to spill in order to cover up the theft of millions. The lead bad guy, code name “The Plague” (played by Fisher Stevens) is also a hacker, except that he has “sold his soul” to corporate life and serves as the lead security consultant. The struggle between the hackers and The Plague inevitably brings in the hapless police, who immediately are duped into arresting the hacker force.
While the larger “destroy the environment for personal and corporate greed” theme is going on, there is also intertwined teenage alienation and bonding themes. Most all the hackers are outcasts from “regular” society. The leads Jonny Lee Miller, who plays hacker “Crash Override,” and Angelina Jolie (Acid Burn) engage in a hacking contest, of which, the loser has to wear a dress on a date (Jolie never wears dresses).
The Hackers: Both Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie do a great job in playing slick, but semi-nerdish “Elite” hackers. They head up a cast of misfits, all of whom are consumed with breaking in to everywhere just to see if they can. Jesse Bradford, Matthew Lillard, Laurence Mason, and Renoly Santiago all give fun, memorable performances All the popularized hacker approaches are shown here, including social engineering, sifting through trash, and hackers thumbing their nose at authority. The notion of an “Elite,” which is someone in the top 5% of all hackers is given as the ultimate goal for all who aspire to be hackers. To be recognized as such, you have to have a high-profile hack in your history.
The Visuals: Hackers is more visually interesting due to all the creative hacking cut-scenes interspersed throughout the movie. They serve to glorify hacking, networked computers and the overall hacking lifestyle. Because staring at a computer while typing doesn’t yield exciting celluloid, this was a nice approach to keep things interesting. Unfortunately, it is completely absurd from a realism standpoint (especially the 3D knowledge stores), as hackers pretty much keep to source code and text prompts. Shots of the underground punk scene generally consist of flashes of neon colors in darkly lit, oddly shaped rave bars.
The Bottom Line: There are a bunch of the hacker movie types, but I find Hackers to be on of the most enjoyable to watch. This glorification of the hacker movement is charming, as are most of the hacker co-stars. Miller and Jolie have great chemistry, and make you really care about an otherwise absurd story. Again, don’t look for realism in Hackers, but enjoy it nonetheless.