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: 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…
“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.
Looking for a good scare this Halloween? Tokyo Gore Police may have what you’re looking for. Be warned: The visuals may be more… “intense” than what most would go for. Let’s say this shit makes your “Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and “Saw” franchises look like Disney productions.
Overview: Tokyo Gore Police is a “Japanese Cyberpunk” splatter movie created by the producers of “The Machine Girl”. The movie is a remake of the independent movie “Anatomia Extinction”. Currently, a prequel short for the movie is in production.
Plot: In the future, the privatized police, under control of the “Tokyo Police Corporation” has developed an extremely brutal, merciless law and order type way of action.
The whole society developed into a sadistic, pervert society with an obsession of violence.
Ruka is the daughter of a policeman who was assassinated in a very brutal way before the police was privatized. Because Ruka saw the assassination of her father, she was traumatized and developed self harming behavior. After the death of her father, she was adopted and raised by the chief officer of the Police Corporation.
Later, an outbreak of a virus causes the infected people to mutate into bizarre monsters. The virus was created by a mad scientist to take revenge on the death of his father by the police. Later, it’s revealed that the father of the mad scientist is actually the murderer of Ruka’s father and the reason for the assassination was actually a conspiracy within the police, where the chief officer of the new Police Corporation has got a key role.
After most mutants were killed by Ruka, the police start a Purge like action where also seemingly randomly civilians get hunted. Among the murdered civilians is also a close friend of Ruka. Because of this and the involvement of her foster father in the assassination of her biological father, Ruka gets mad and starts mutating, too. She fights the policemen and then encounters her foster father. Her father, who started mutating, too and using injections of the virus to get more powerfull starts fighting against his foster daughter.
The story of the film is full of sick moments and extremely brutal scenes. For example, a mutant is a prostitute who eats her customers. There is also a huge amount of psycho-sexual horror, like in the works of H.R.Giger and most other “Japanese Cyberpunk movies”, but some scenes are more funny than scary.
“Vagina dentata” much?
The movie has got a huge amount of black humorous moments. For example, like in the Robocop movies, in the movie, there are certain fake commercial scenes advertising very sick things or speaking funny warnings. For example, knifes for self cutting are advertised in an extremely sick way and there is a television warning that committing Hara-kiri will result in your death. The chief officer of the police also has got a kind of “Cyborg Dog” who looks like a BDSM Costume.
The depiction of the police in the movie is also the clichéd “ultra violent law and order” policemen type which often appear in Cyberpunk works. The most famous ones are Robocop and Judge Dredd.
I agree with the Review on DVD Times.com , the film definitely reminds on Blade Runner, but it mostly lacks the brilliant atmosphere of Blade Runner. Only the driving scene through the streets of Tokyo and the Bar Scene catch a similar, brilliant atmosphere.
The opening scene, where at first, all is peacefull, but suddenly, Rukas father is killed in a very brutal way was one of the best depictions of the concept of “the Real” by the psychologist Jacques Lacan, a kind of traumatic, unexplainable event suddenly appearing which is threatening the function of the mind, I have ever seen.
Speaking of unexplainable events suddenly appearing which is threatening the function of the mind…
On most parts, the movie is extremely entertaining, but I don’t understand these “police purge” scenes near the end of the movie and to me, these scenes doesn’t really make sense. The story of the movie isn’t very intellectual, but it’s a good satire on the actions of these populist law and order politicians. The story is also more complex than these Japanese Cyberpunk movies starring Dr.Joseph Mengele like Mad Scientists performing cruel experiments.
Conclusion: Tokyo Gore Police is a truly sick brutal movie like most Japanese cyberpunk films. The story is also not very original and is mostly extremely thin. Nevertheless, it’s still an entertaining satire which can’t be taken seriously. Like all “Japanese Cyberpunk movies”, if you have got problems with violence, you won’t like this movie. Most of the horror scenes aren’t as scary as the horror scenes of the movies Yu On and The Ring, although these movies are less brutal.
Overview. Josh Harris, ever hear of him? Me neither… not until I heard of this movie. The “Wharhol of the Web” came up with the ideas of Internet TV (Pseudo.com), statistic gathering, and the basis for many of today’s social networking sites. So why isn’t he mentioned as often as Gates or Jobs? Timing; The Internet wasn’t able to handle the bandwidth needed for his visions. Not until broadband became commonplace for net access. But by then, it was too little, too latte for Harris who left the high-tech scene and expatriated to Africa to avoid creditors.
Indie filmmaker Ondi Timoner spent 10 years with Harris documenting his rise as an Internet entrepreneur, to the Quiet experiment, and his eventual downfall.
Rise of a dot-com kid. Harris arrives in New York City with only a few hundred dollars in his pocket, an a couple of ideas for the Internet in his head. His first venture is JupiterResearch, an Internet research company. In 1993, he envisioned television on the Internet and founded Pseudo.com. Pseudo not only had television (more like early vlogging before anyone heard of vlogging), but associated chat rooms for the shows. When he sold Pseudo, Harris’ net worth was now $80 Billion US. Luckily for him, he got out before the big bubble burst, but he decided to use that money for a “little” experiment…
The experiment: In December 1999, under some buildings in Manhattan, Harris constructed a “bunker” where he would gather 100 people. The people would be living in a commune-type setting with “pod” beds while under constant surveillance, and be subject to “interrogations,” though they would have free meals and a shooting range. The experiment’s aim was simple; To see how these people would behave living in an Orwellian setting. Things start smoothly enough, then went downhill fast. Eventually, after the new millennium, the NY Police and Fire departments shut the experiment down believing the experiment was actually a doomsday cult.
Though that experiment was over, he wanted to test his theory further by moving in with his girlfriend and installing net-cameras in their apartment. An incident that nearly leads to rape causes her to leave, and soon Harris has a mental breakdown. While Harris is considered an artist by some, there are some signs that he may have been insane in the mainframe before the breakdown.
Afraid of clowns? You will be!
The Point of the experiments? It should be obvious now that the technology has caught up to Harris’ ideas what the point is: How much of our privacy will we sacrifice for connecting to others, or for fame itself?
“Everything is free… except the video that we capture of you. THAT we own.”
If you’ve ever encountered targeted ads, you already have seen the tip of the iceberg. Worse yet, the information they gain from what you willingly surrender they can now sell to others. Harris’ “Quiet” experiment was a not-so-quiet warning about where we were headed… rather, where we are now.
Conclusion. Call Josh Harris what you want… visionary, entrepreneur, voyeur, prophet, ca-ca-cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs… the message he sent with his experiments is only now being realized by a small handful of people. For the rest, they may not realize or even care about how much “exposure” they’re really getting for their 15 minutes. Looking for a treatise on the negative effect of technology? We Live In Public answers that question in no uncertain terms.
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.