Timecop

January 25, 2007

Movie Review By: SFAM

Year: 1994

Directed by: Peter Hyams

Written by: Mike Richardson & Mark Verheiden

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Medium

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Medium

Rating: 5 out of 10


Time Cop screen capture

 

Overview: In the annals of cheesy time travel movies, few are known better than Timecop, which cleared over 100 million in world wide box office gross. Starring martial arts star, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Timecop has decent but low-budget FX, a fairly shallow notion of science and time quandaries, but does provide a face-paced cyberpunk action-thriller with decent amounts of butt-kicking and gun fighting. Like many of his movies, Van Damme plays more than one version of himself – in this case, he plays himself 10 years into the future.

 

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The Story: In the near future (2004), time travel has now become possible. Unfortunately, there is a very real danger that going back in time will alter the present. To protect against potential abuse, a special police outfit called the “Time Enforcement Commission” is established to monitor and enforce time travel concerns. Max Walker (Van Damme) is selected for an interview to join. Unfortunately, events in the future have already changed his current circumstances, which lead to the death of his wife, Melissa (Mia Sara).

 

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Ten years into the future, Max, still working at the Time Enforcement Commission, goes back in time to stop his former partner from attempting to splurge on low-price stocks in 1929 that will be worth a fortune in the future. In stopping his partner, Max uncovers a larger plot of time travel tampering that implicates a sitting Senator of the United States (Ron Silver). As Max starts to investigate, the bad guys begin significant tampering with the timeline. Upon return from one of Max’s fact finding trips, he sees that the future has been significantly altered, and the police force is being decommissioned.

 

Time Cop screen capture

 

Max convinces his former friend (the time altering apparently has affected their friendship) and police Commander, Eugene (Bruce McGill), to send him back in time to fix the damage done to the timeline. In doing so, Max has an opportunity to go back and save his wife. Things come to a head when Max and the Senator meet face to face (both current and future versions of each).

 

Time Cop screen capture

 

The Action: The reason you want to watch Timecop is primarily for the fast-paced action sequences. We get lots of Van Damme kicking, along with a nice smattering of gunfights, all in interesting locations. As a downside, only one or two of the bad guys put up a decent fight. So many of the action scenes involve Van Damme just wailing on “red shirt” henchmen.

 

Time Cop screen capture

 

The FX: The FX for Time Cop worked at the time, but now look somewhat dated. There are quite a number of time portal effects, along with a few burning and “people plasma” shots sprinkled throughout. The set designs are pretty decent, most notably the time portal device, which has a nice dirty, low-tech feel to it. Still, I wish they had done more with the time travel machine, which looks and works like a rocket version of Back to the Future’s flux capacitor.

 

Time Cop screen capture

 

The Acting: Considering this is a Van Damme movie, the acting is somewhat better than expected. Van Damme is his same self, which is to say “rather wooden.” But Mia Sara, Ron Silver and Bruce McGill turn in decent performances – certainly decent enough to work with the fast pacing.

 

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Problems with Time: Timecop really can’t be used to spark interesting discussions on time travel. The questions with how and why things work are too numerous and problematic to engage in interesting discussions. Somehow, they are able to determine if someone has violated time, and can go and stop them, but they don’t seem to be able to go to the same place more than once – why? The same two people cannot occupy the same space – why? What happens if a guy is 80 years older and goes back an visits himself as a small child? Virtually none of the same cells will remain from the child – certainly no skin cells (nor would they for 10 years out, as was the case for the poor Senator) – so how does this constitute occupying the same space? When Max Walker spends the day jumping through time, the future is modified – and he seems to have lost 10 years worth of memories. What happened to the version of Max that lived those 10 years? Did he disappear, or has he simply not gotten home from work yet? One gets the sense that Max is just jumping alternate versions of the present – each one that he created – but the ideas are too shallow to make any real sense of this.

 

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Bad Guys Have Limited Imagination: Like many bad guys, the imagination of the evil doers in Timecop is severely limited. Time travel is used to go back and engage in bank heists, make stock purchases that pay out 70 years in the future, and so forth. If one really had this technology cornered, it seems that there would be far better ways to generate income. With just an ounce of imagination, one could come up with a myriad of more interesting ways of generating power and influence than petty crime. What about a recorded interview with Jesus Christ? One would think this might generate lots more power and income than knocking off a confederate wagon train shipping small quantities of gold. Instead, the extent of Senator McComb’s ambition is to get rich, kill off potential enemies and then steal the presidential election.

 

Time Cop screen capture

 

The Bottom Line: Timecop is an enjoyable movie assuming you turn your brain off prior to watching. This approach generally works as the fast-paced nature of the movie serves to stop you from noticing too many issues. The action is good and the FX are passable, so if you want to kick back and enjoy some Hollywood martial arts wrapped up in a cyberpunk time travel flick, give it a go. I will say though that the quality of the DVD is horrid – so much so that I’m docking a star from my review. It’s got a lousy transfer, no extras, and is in full screen only. Common Universal – fix this!

 

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This post has been filed under Time Travel, 5 Star Rated Movies, Cyberpunk movies from 1990 – 1999 by SFAM.

Lathe of Heaven

July 1, 2006

Movie Review By: SFAM

Year: 1980

Directed by: Fred Barzyk & David R. Loxton

Written by: Diane English & Roger Swaybill (script), Ursula K. Le Guin (novel)

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Low

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Medium

Key Cast Members:

  • George Orr: Bruce Davison
  • Dr. William Haber: Kevin Conway
  • Heather LeLache: Margaret Avery
  • Rating: 8 out of 10


    Lathe of Heaven screen capture

     

    Overview: Lathe of Heaven is one of the classic SciFi books by Ursula K. Leguin. The 1980 adaptation (unlike the 2002 version) stays pretty faithful to the book, and is a very well done low-budget made-for-TV movie. Unfortunately, the original master was lost, so the DVD transfer was taken from a VCR recording of the 1980 TV broadcast. The quality isn’t great, but the story more than makes up for it. Lathe of Heaven is as symbolic as much as it is a narrative. Overall, the film provides an immersive experience with a truly interesting ending.

     

    Lathe of Heaven screen capture

     

    The Story: Thirty years into the future, the world has been decimated by a nuclear holocaust. George Orr (Bruce Davidson), having just been exposed to massive radiation lays dying. Somehow his body is changed, and he has the power to “dream” the world back into existence, just as it was, but without the nuclear holocaust. He forgets that this has occurred and tries to live his life normally, but is continually plagued by dreams that can effect changes in reality. In this dystopic, controlling future, he is forced to undergo psychiatric therapy, and is assigned to Dr. Haber, an expert in dream problems. George is looking for Dr. Haber to “cure” him, but Haber has other ideas.

     

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    Dr. Haber quickly realizes that George is not crazy, but in fact possesses the most powerful gift ever given to man. Haber sees this as an opportunity to reshape the humanity and the world itself to become the ideal place that Man has always intended. Haber, using his dream-enhancement technology, asks George to have an effective dream about removing pollution. George does, but ends up removing all clouds, leaving the earth ever increasingly hot and dry. Haber forces George to dream of a way to cure overpopulation – this results in a plague that kills of 75% of the world’s population. Haber forces George to dream of peace on earth which results in an alien invasion that unites humanity but which can lead to the destruction of the earth itself.

     

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    Even though Haber feigns ignorance of what’s really occurring, George quickly figures out that Haber is using him. Unfortunately, George doesn’t have the force of will to truly confront Haber. Instead, he enlists the services of a lawyer named Heather (Margaret Avery) to help get his psychiatrist changed to someone other than Haber. Unfortunately, when Heather goes to visit a session, it is already too late, as George’s effective dream has just killed off 75% of the world’s population.

     

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    This pattern of George leaving, and returning continues, finally resulting in Haber forcing George to dream of removing racism (which results in everyone becoming gray) – Haber’s real purpose is to capture and duplicate George’s powers through his dream machines. Haber decides that the maladies are caused by inadequacies in George, and that he, an enlightened scientist will be able to have pure dreams that will result in the betterment of mankind. Unfortunately, when Haber dreams an effective dream, his results in a dream that will “unmake” reality. Only George can come and try to challenge Haber to a test of wills to bring a semblance of reality back.

     

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    Taosim versus Positivism: Lathe of Heaven sets up a dual between a Taoist philosophy of participation versus a positivistic one. George Orr, representing the Taoist philosophy, is perfectly willing to let the world take its own course. Even though he has the power to change the course of humanity, he prefers to go with the flow, and understands that overt and specific changes to a very complex and interdependent world will result in disaster. Dr. Haber represents the positivist view, and sees technological advancement as the primary means of improving the human condition – moreso, he believes his duty as a scientist is to utilize George’s gift to transform the world for the better. After experiencing a series of continually worse impacts to the world when forcing George to use his power, Haber finally decides the problem is with George’s unconsciousness. It never occurs to him that the real danger is in converting George’s power to a technology that can transform reality.

     

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    Le Guin’s message is clear: incredible power, especially augmented by technology, cannot be used in a simplistic way to transform a reality which is complex and intertwined. Instead, those interested in change must “go with the flow” of reality and change the human condition within the context of there normal interaction. The use of dominating power over nature will result and a dystopic future. This is in fact what Lathe of Heaven portrays.

     

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    Is Lathe of Heaven Cyberpunk? I do agree that Lathe of Heaven at best is a cyberpunk fantasy. I include it here primarily due to the use of technology, invented for the purpose of human betterment, that ends up instead almost destroying humanity. Haber’s dream enhancement technology results in increasing George’s capabilities, and ultimately leads a true cyberpunked future. Human diversity is quashed when everyone left alive (after the plague kills over 75% of the population) turns gray. Individuality is suppressed in an attempt to eliminate conflict. In the end, the message is a similar cyberpunk theme – the use of technology to remake the perfect society results in a dehumanized, sanitized dystopia.

     

    Lathe of Heaven screen capture

     

    The Bottom Line: Although low budget, the Lathe of Heaven is effective in transforming a very philosophical book to a motivating film. The dual of Taoism versus positivism is mirrored in the colors, where the Taoist earth tones dual the technological grays and whites. The three leads deliver quality performances, and the story itself is captivating. While some of the FX are suspect, and the quality of the DVD is poor (the original master was lost), Lathe of Heaven is well worth a watch.

     

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    This post has been filed under Time Travel, Made for TV, Memory Modification, Dystopic Future Movies, 8 Star Movies, Cyberpunk movies from 1980-1989 by SFAM.

    Minority Report

    June 12, 2006

    Movie Review By: SFAM

    Year: 2002

    Directed by: Steven Spielberg

    Written by: Philip K. Dick (short story), Scott Frank & Jon Cohen (screenplay)

    IMDB Reference

    Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High

    Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Medium

    Key Cast Members:

  • Chief John Anderton: Tom Cruise
  • Pre-Crime Director Lamar Burgess: Max von Sydow
  • Agatha: Samantha Morton
  • Danny Witwer: Collin Ferrel
  • Evanna (John’s Wife): Jessica Capshaw
  • Rating: 8 out of 10


    Minority Report screen capture

     

    Overview: Minority Report, directed by Steven Spielberg, is another one of the large scale production cyberpunk movies that cleared a hefty gross (358 million worldwide, not counting DVD sales). Minority Report works both as a summer blockbuster (it was released in June), but also as a fairly intelligent cyberpunk flick. Based on another terrific story from Phillip K. Dick, Minority Report has a terrific cast headed up by Tom Cruise and Max Von Sydow, awesome special effects, and terrific music and sound FX throughout.

     

    Minority Report screen capture

     

    The Story: In Minority Report, Tom Cruise stars as John Anderton, a police chief at the head of an elite pilot police program, now in its sixth year, that prevents crimes BEFORE they are committed. The year is 2054, and the ability now exists within gifted, but altered people called “precogs” to tell when someone is about to commit a crime. The Precogs, comprised of two twins and one woman, Agatha (played wonderfully by Samantha Morton), are kept at all times in a dreamlike state in strange pool of water. The Precogs receive visions of murders that will be taking place. Based on an elaborate system that works off the Precogs, the police are able to extract the visions and are given the names of the murder victim and the murderer on color coded balls. Based on this, all premeditated murders have become a thing of the past – now the only murders that “might” take place are the crimes of passion, or “red balls” in Minority Report terms. When a red ball comes, the John Anderton must quickly work with the dreams to find the location of the murder (which often is only a few minutes or hours into the future) so that his team can rush to prevent it.

     

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    The end result of this technology is that people are being imprisoned for the crime PRIOR to committing it. Those who are identified by the Precogs are immediately sentenced to a strange virtual prison, where they are stuck in perpetual dreamstate (no word is given why they aren’t relegated to a normal prison). Through a quirky situation, John Anderton is brought in close proximity to the Precog, Agatha – she grabs him and fervently relays a vision that has occurred in the past. In tracking this down, John Anderton learns that sometimes one of the three Precogs actually deliver a vision that differs from the other two. This vision, termed a “Minority Report” is quickly discarded so as not to be seen as threatening the integrity of the process.

     

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    Anderton, plagued by the death of his son by an unknown assailant prior to the Precogs, has traditionally been the program’s biggest proponent. However, after learning of the Minority Report, he becomes concerned with the possibility that he has in fact been putting innocent people away. But unfortunately, his investigation into this matter has created powerful enemies. A new red ball vision is created, only this time Anderton finds out that HE is supposed to commit a murder in 36 hours. Convinced that he has been unfairly targeted, Anderton escapes from his former team and goes on a crusade to clear his name. His plight forces him to replace his eyes (used for retina scans at all security posts), and eventually takes him to the bottom of the Pilot Program’s seedy beginning.

     

    Minority Report screen capture

     

    Story Issues : Nevermind the issue that the creepy hacker dude is able to jury-rig a vision scanning and extraction device faster than Scotty can fix a warp drive, Minority Report has a major issue with the technology that’s really never taken seriously – the issue of freewill. If precogs really can see into the future and determine that someone “will” murder their intended victim, this negates the ability of choice at that last instant of the murder. While this is eventually addressed (no spoilers), there is no rationale provided for why freewill was ignored. In the end we are left with believing that over-zealous law enforcement personnel were able to convince the entire country to take this approach. While this is a fine plot point, it would have been far more believable had their been some indication that they actually had to do a massive conving job.

     

    Minority Report screen capture

     

    The Eyeball – the Ultimate Security Breach: The other issue with the story that really defies believability is that when John Anderton is caught, he is CONTINUALLY able to get back into the most secret areas of Police HQ by using his former eyeballs, which he keeps with him in a plastic baggie. Even though the police know he’s on the lamb, the apparently don’t feel the need to revoke Mr. Anderton’s security access privileges. This is all the more disbelievable considering EVERYTHING in society is apparently keyed off a retina scan. Sure, OK, perhaps one time they lapse on this, but three times??? Common Steven – you’re too good a story teller to let that one slide.

     

    Minority Report screen capture

     

    The Visuals: The visuals are sleek and well integrated, with some nice aqua and blue tones throughout. Interestingly, Spielberg usually goes with an overexposed type of shot to make it look almost as if one is looking at a dream sequence. Continually, we get white saturation dominating the shots. While this approach sounds weird, it ends up working wonderfully in adding to the mood of a cyberpunk film that has a massive focus on visions and dreams. As always, Spielberg gives us a plethora of truly unique visuals and mood shots. The best of the movie comes when Agatha

     

    Minority Report screen capture

     

    The FX: Minority Report consistently has absolute top-notch FX that adds interesting elements to the story. From the strange spider surveillance things, to the Boba Fett Police Podships, to the mixed modern cityscapes, the world of Minority Report comes off as a truly odd cyberpunked future. At some level, everyone seems to be living normal lives. Yet every now and then, we get a sense that the surveillance society has taken hold to the point that people have all just accepted it.

     

    Minority Report screen capture

     

    The Bottom Line: The overall mood and FX in Minority Report are terrific. The acting is great – Cruise has rarely been better, but also Von Sydow as the Police Director, Collin Ferrel as the scheming FBI agent, and Samantha Morton as the Precog are all terrific. The FX and sound If you buy the technology, chances are you give Minority Report at least a 9 or 10 star rating. Unfortunately, I did have problems buying some of this. Regardless, the story issues don’t take too much away from a very worthy cyberpunk film.

     

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    This post has been filed under Time Travel, Security-Surveillance State, Memory Modification, 8 Star Movies, Cyberpunk movies from 2000 – current by SFAM.

    Freejack

    January 31, 2006

    Year: 1992

    Directed by: Geoff Murphy

    Written by: Robert Sheckley (Novel), Steven Pressfield et al. (Screenplay)

    IMDB Reference

    Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Medium

    Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Medium

    Key Cast Members:

  • Alex Furlong: Emilio Estevez
  • Victor Vacendak: Mick Jagger
  • Julie Redlund: Rene Russo
  • Ian McCandless: Anthony Hopkins
  • Rating: 5 out of 10


    DVD Cover

     

    Overview: No, this is NOT a great movie, but I love the Rolling Stones, so sue me!

    In Freejack, the earth’s environment has become severely damaged, to the point that most people suffer some form of illness. But technology has advanced to the point that someone’s consciousness can be transferred from one person to another. Also, a version of time travel, where a body can be taken forward to the “present” (2009), while risky, has become possible. Now, bounty hunters from the near future raid the past for perfect bodies with flatlined brains to bring forward in time to sell to the highest bidder. Emilio Estevez plays a race car driver who crashes and dies in a spectacular way on live TV back in 1992, but just before he dies, is taken to the future by a shady character played by Mick Jagger.

    The Bottom Line: Freejack loses out incredibly on believability, as does it for its insanely fast prediction for both the destruction of the earth and the relatively rapid speed of technology progression. In retrospect, maybe this movie should have taken place in 2049 instead. One wonders Murphy took a cast with Emilio Estivez, Rene Russo and Anthony Hopkins and then churned out something so cheesy. It’s movies such as Freejack that gave cyberpunk films a poor quality image by the early 90s. Still, Jagger is pretty fun in this, as is the rest of the cast. As long as you turn off your brain, you should enjoy some decent cyberpunk visuals here.

    EDIT: ETM reminds me in the comments below that Freejack also does bring up an interesting question that needs consideration: if technology gives life to a person, does the one who owns the technology own that life? This alone bumps it up to the “medium” catagory in the cyberpunk themes.

     

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    Tags: cyberpunk movie review Freejack

    <span class=”iTitle”>Overview: </span> No, this is NOT a great movie, but I love the Rolling Stones, so sue me!

    In Freejack, the earth’s environment has become severely damaged, to the point that most people suffer some form of illness. But technology has advanced to the point that someone’s consciousness can be transferred from one person to another. Also, a version of time travel, where a body can be taken forward to the “present” (2009), while risky, has become possible. Now, bounty hunters from the near future raid the past for perfect bodies with flatlined brains to bring forward in time to sell to the highest bidder. Emilio Estevez plays a race car driver who crashes and dies in a spectacular way on live TV back in 1992, but just before he dies, is taken to the future by a shady character played by Mick Jagger.

    <span class=”iTitle”>The Bottom Line: </span>Freejack loses out incredibly on believability, as does it for its insanely fast prediction for both the destruction of the earth and the relatively rapid speed of technology progression. In retrospect, maybe this movie should have taken place in 2049 instead. One wonders Murphy took a cast with Emilio Estivez, Rene Russo and Anthony Hopkins and then churned out something so cheesy. It’s movies such as Freejack that gave cyberpunk films a poor quality image by the early 90s. Still, Jagger is pretty fun in this, as is the rest of the cast. As long as you turn off your brain, you should enjoy some decent cyberpunk visuals here.

    EDIT: ETM reminds me in the comments below that Freejack also does bring up an interesting question that needs consideration: <em>if technology gives life to a person, does the one who owns the technology own that life?</em> This alone bumps it up to the “medium” catagory in the cyberpunk themes.
    <p>&nbsp;</p>cyberpunk movie review Freejack

    This post has been filed under Time Travel, Dystopic Future Movies, 5 Star Rated Movies, Cyberpunk movies from 1990 – 1999 by SFAM.