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: Billed as a “Tribute to the cyberpunk genre,” Perspective gives us a rather unique… perspective… of a cyberpunked future, where VR is the drug of choice to escape the harsh reality of… well, reality. Mehmet Can Koçak shows us one person’s escape to a VR fantasy by not just following him with a camera, but with the person AS the camera as we look through the hobo’s eyes. It’s perfectly understandable if you suddenly feel like hunting shamblers, cyberdemons, or zombies with roast-turkey headgear…
After all, it’s called “Perspective” for a reason.
We “watch” as the hobo purchases a cartridge from a shady dealer then heads into a wreck of a building where he jacks into his Commodore 64T…
64 Terabytes of RAM… on a Commodore 64… it can happen.
… and dives into a fantasy encounter with a redhead girl. Until an apparent glitch causes more than a program crash.
There once was a girl named Alice… At a running length of only ten minutes, Perspective doesn’t have much time to present in-depth themes. The one main theme is the mirror; How we see ourselves in reality and fantasy, and how the two can suddenly become fused together to cause no end of confusion. Or as Friedrich Nietzsche put it, when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
Conclusion: Short-n-sweet. ‘Bout all I can really say. Koçak’s piece shows some potential for something more like, let’s say, a whole series of first-person movies; Short, interwoven films showing life in this future, and the viewer gets to choose what character’s eyes they would like to experience it. Might be a challenge to make, but it would a radical new way to “watch” movies.
“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.
Overview: Originally, it was a made-for-TV movie that aired on ABC (who said “It makes Fatal Attraction seem like a walk in the park.”), now it makes its rounds on cable under the name Host.
I came across this little ditty a few weeks ago at a local flea market. By the way the cover looked, and the story description on the back of the case, I had the impression that this was a cyberpunk movie. After doing some research and discovering it was made by Hallmark Entertainment, VO suddenly went from possible cyberpunk movie to “chick-flick” … not what I was looking for. Still, the plot description kept nagging me to watch it. So I did…
It’s definitely a direct-to-TV-quality melodrama, but there are some undertones of cyberpunk, especially with technology redefining humanity.
Synopsis: Dr. Joe Messenger has created the ultimate super-computer to run Salt Lake City’s power grid, but “Albert” (as in “Einstein,” who appears as a holograph at times) has a greater purpose: Cameras, microphones, and other sensory-input devices from around the city… and the world… feed Albert data constantly, helping it learn about humanity. Joe is looking to create the first post-biological consciousness.
Joe hires Juliet Spring to assist him, but her life is threatened by an inoperable aneurysm. She is desperate to use Albert for a project of her own: Juliet wants to upload a human brain (hers specifically) to achieve immortality, or at least until they discover a way to operate on it while she is in cryogenic sleep. Juliet begins an affair with Joe, putting a strain on his marriage, and slowly becomes obsessed with him. Just before she dies, she uploads herself to Albert and her body is frozen. While in deep-freeze, people start making demands for her body and eventually it is destroyed (the sad finale is when Karen discovers Juliet’s head in the basement freezer and, after confronting Joe, tosses it into the street where it shatters into chunky pieces). Juliet begins using Albert’s connections to take revenge, and demands that Joe joins her in her “Eden,” going so far as threatening his family.
Fatal Attraction, fer sure! The only thing missing is the obligatory “I’m not gonna be ignored, Dan!” line. From the first time we see her during the interview at the Artificial Intelligence Center, we can tell Juliet is targeting Dr. Messenger for something. Even after her death and destruction, she is still desperate to have Joe with her.
If it wasn’t for the Lawnmower Man-like idea of uploading a consciousness into cyberspace, this would just be another psychotart-gets-wet-panties-for-cuckold film.
Now for the good parts! Fortunately, the more memorable scenes and lines in the movie deal more with the impact of technology on the meaning of humanity than on one girl’s obsession for a married man:
“We’re trying to create a new consciousness… We’re trying to crate a mind. Something aware of itself… A being that can think and choose for itself, on its own terms.”
“We’re not living in a science fiction movie, Carl. Post-biological man is to be pure intelligence. There wouldn’t be any selfish interest….”
To test Juliet’s theory, they try to upload a rat’s brain into Albert. They succeed, though the rat dies with a high-pitched shriek:
“Here’s my hypothesis. The rat brain is downloaded and at time point zero, it becomes conscious. It responds to its newborn consciousness with that sound. And somewhere between zero and 21-point-734 seconds it senses competition with the living rat, the organic rat, and kills it.”
“What if silicon consciousness is unbearable to creatures that were once alive, once organic? What if stripping the consciousness from the body is agony?”
After uploading herself to Albert and “seeing” her meat body be destroyed, Juliet undergoes some major personality changes, becoming almost god-like (or goddess-like):
“Maybe you can’t separate the body from the mind. Maybe there’s something that binds us to the flesh. Loose the body and you loose the humanity. Destroy the container and you destroy the soul.”
“Imagine what an active intelligence with spontaneous access to all of mankind’s recorded knowledge is capable of.”
What do you call a computerized brain that turns a city’s light grid into a message board? Insane in the mainframe.
Conclusion: While not the most “hard core” in terms of cyberpunk themes and visuals, there is enough cyber-transhuman philosophizing to make this made-for-TV chick-flick interesting for guys to check out… IF you have stomach for such fare.
SFAM NOTE: We welcome new reviewer hughie522, who uploaded this review into the Review Forum. If others are interested in joining the review team, please post a message in the review forum.
Overview: Few would consider Singapore to be the home of cutting-edge science fiction and even less would be swayed by the island nation’s first science fiction film, ‘Avatar’. The first forty minutes are cringe-worthy; poorly constructed characters, dodgy VFX and some of the worst dialogue outside a Ishiro Honda film are likely to put many viewers off straight away. However, ‘Avatar’ offers a little more than your cookie-cutter tale of good vs. evil wrapped in a sleek (if not cardboard-like) sci-fi setting. Transhumanism, corporate greed, social engineering, cheating death – all feature in an interesting little science fiction romp that unfortunately suffers from a very limited budget. Our story begins…
Synopsis: In the early 21st century, the entire free world is connected through the CyberLink (think ‘internet meets cyberspace’), the backbone of all communication and financial trading (ie. the stock exchange). The influence of the CyberLink is most felt in the city-state of Sintawan, a sprawling metropolis where corporate greed and personal gain rise above all else. Men (and women) such as Joseph Lau (David Warner, ladies and gentlemen!) are practically Gods over their own domain, the CyberLink ensuring their continued dominance over Sintawan through the megacorporations. Five megacorporations in particular – one of which is owned by Lau - appear locked in an epic game of wits with the people of Sintawan as the chess pieces.
Not that the people actually realize this, oh no. They are too busy with their own private agendas to even notice! Although a vast majority of CyberLink users are legitimate, illegal users do exist and often use ‘SIMPLANTS’ to hide their true identities (sort of like using a disguise and a false ID). ‘SIMPLANT’-users are often tracked down by freelance bounty hunters such as Dash MacKenzie (O’Reilly) or, more commonly, by Ident cops such as Detective Vic Huang. Dash is contacted by Joseph Lau – as are the Ident Police – to track down an illegal ‘SIMPLANT’-user, Edward Chang. It seems straightforward enough, until Dash and Detective Huang discover a massive conspiracy involving the CyberLink, Joseph Lau and the other megacorporations. This game just got deadly…
Analysis: To be frank, ‘Avatar’ is hardly ‘award-winning entertainment’ (though apparently it has already picked up two at a Spanish film festival) and will not blow anyone’s socks off. It is not destined to become a sci-fi classic or even a cult film, and is likely already forgotten by those that noticed it to begin with. Though it is not without its merits; the technology is fantastic: holograms are often used to hide the truth (such as disguising the fact that a prominent, five-star hotel is in desperate need of an exterminator and a few coats of paint), handheld communicators for video calls, micro-scale robots disguised as insects (such as beetles and dragonflies) that are used to project holograms and undertake surveillance, the concept of people that live inside the CyberLink and those that have augmented their bodies with technology (such as my friend below)…it is absolutely incredible that so much was achieved on such a limited budget.
Cyberpunk Musings: There are a number of interesting aspects of Avatar which benefit from further exploration.
Ravers: Ravers are part of Sintawan’s subculture. Augmented human beings with a gang mentality, they are fiercely anti-corporate and anti-government. Ravers are all connected through a telepathic link-up that is separate from the CyberLink and frequently use ‘crash-bangs’ (handheld electromagnetic pulse devices) to damage the city-state’s infrastructure (ie. at one point in the film an organised group of ravers attempt to take down Sintawan’s mass transit system and partly succeed). All appear to have the same ‘left-brain implants’ that have an almost ‘retro’ feel to them. Possibly the coolest part of the film.
City-states: There already exists cities with populations and gross domestic products (GDPs) greater than that of most third- and second-world countries. Sintawan appears to be governed by an organisation similar to the United Nations, though the corporations have been challenging this seat of power for some time. It is not too far fetched to stipulate that a large enough city (such as New York) could break off from the mainland and declare itself an independent state in the near future.
Avatars/Holograms: Though never referred to as ‘holograms’ as such, these feature predominantly in the film. For example, one of the corporate heads is suffering from terminal cancer and has had his body put in a state of hibernation. His mind, however, remains fully function and an ‘avatar’ (a holographic representation of him) continues to act as the functioning head of the corporation, albeit only within the confines of his office. As mentioned before, holograms are also used to ‘cloak’ certain objects and sometimes create very believable deceptions (such as the six-star hotel).
Surveillance and ‘Bugging’: Mini-robots disguised as very believable imitations of dragonflies (and to a lesser extent, beetles) are used throughout the film for audio and visual surveillance and the projecting of holograms. If you think that you have been ‘bugged’, then you are probably right!
The Spirit and the Flesh: Several characters (and one in particular) practically live inside the CyberLink. One such character’s body is a complete mess (he is severely overweight and is always ‘jacked in’) while his ‘spirit’ seems almost free within the virtual confines of the CyberLink. The CyberLink also offers a sort of perpetual ‘afterlife’ for those who have died in the real world (much like Armin Mueller-Stahl’s character in ‘The Thirteenth Floor’).
Social Engineering: Suppose that chaos theory is true; that every action and every decision radiates outwards and has an effect on other things and other actions and other decisions, exponentially increasing as it pushes out. Now suppose that chaos theory is somehow controlled. That someone higher up is pushing all the buttons, willing us into certain actions and certain decisions that is slowly shaping our culture. Now imagine that person ‘higher up’ is one of five corporate heads, who are all out to win a game of wits with human beings as the game pieces. Scary, no? This is the BIG issue in ‘Avatar’, and the one that ninety percent of the film is structured around. So what if the game has brought great prosperity to the people of Sintawan; it’s still motivated by greed, is it not? Is destroying the game worth the cost destroying modern society? You decide.
The Bottom Line: If you watch this film as I did – whereby I was expecting your typical, low-budget sci-fi action romp – then you might be pleasantly surprised. Though not that greatly. ‘Avatar’ is a film possibly best suited to die-hard sci-fi fans with no sense of taste (like moi) and who are easily impressed by a few interesting ideas and flashy set pieces (also like moi). Otherwise, steer clear and stick to the bane of ‘thinking-man’s science fiction’ (yes, I am referring to ‘The Matrix’ sequels). ‘Avatar’ has plenty of ideas, though permitting it any more than six stars would be a crime and an insult. The bottom line: CONSUME AT YOUR OWN RISK.
Overview: Every so often, I get around to reviewing something more to point out that it is NOT cyberpunk. I intended this category for movies like New Rose Hotel - while Gibson’s short story is top-notch, awesome cyberpunk, the movie of the same name is an unmitigated non-cyberpunk mess. The other reason I review a non-cyberpunk movie is because even though the movie packaging or description may indicate some cyber elements, movies in this category are going for deceptive advertising to sell their flick. Some erotic spoofs of popular movies are downright awesome. My favorite cyberpunk spoof is probably the Terminatrix (I still need to do some screencaps for that movie). However, in many other cases, soft core porn productions will try to leverage off a big title, but in fact really doesn’t have much of anything to do with it. Sexual Matrix fits this pattern, having nothing whatsoever to do with the Matrix movies, or much of anything else cyberpunk other than VR love scenes.
The Story: Sexual Matrix is pretty straightforward – a professor looks to get funding to build a prototype for helping people act out their fantasies in VR. To get started, he cons a local university into thinking he has funding lined up from a major corporation. The university, in their infinite wisdom doesn’t check his lie, and instead sends an ultra-hawt grad student to “oversee” his research. For some reason, the prototype appears already built, so no real work is necessary, other than a few twists of knobs on the Star Trek looking light panel. From this point, most of the movie involves students and test subjects coming in for fifty bucks to try out the VR system. There’s a brief human interest story dealing with the professor and his hawt assistant, but this isn’t worth going into.
The Bottom Line: Again, nothing special here from a cyberpunk perspective. The movie itself is decent quality production. Their “fantasies” are done up in decent quality production soft-core porn, but there’s no cyberpunk aspects and only one that shows cyber-type scenery. Most are regular soft-core porn scenes. If you’re interested in a decent quality soft core porn showing lots of breasts in a façade VR setting, Sexual Matrix may be of interest. I do however deduct a quality point for the misleading cover and description.
Overview: Yes, the majority of the population was disappointed with Matrix Revolutions. Many voiced issues with various movie aspects such as dialogue and acting. More still complained that the overall story was non-sensical, with many points seemly completely incoherent. Some even commented that even though it was incoherent, they absolutely loved the action sequences. Personally, I found an altogether different movie. At times I almost felt Matrix Revolutions was purposely written for someone exactly like me. My background in cybernetics seemed wonderfully tailored to understanding the trilogy from a science fiction perspective (versus the philosophical perspective that is most often explored) – as rarely do I find a symbolic struggle of positive and negative feedback systems so overtly played out in film. Strangely enough, many others tend to have this same sentiment (that the movie was MADE for them), although their backgrounds are very different from mine. In this sense, for those that LOVED Matrix Revolutions, something about the movie just “clicked” for them – in most cases, that special something was different for each person. While yes, the action is astounding, as are the visuals, its this aspect of Matrix Revolutions which is most intriguing to me. It may not be for everyone, but for those that like it, its almost tailor made.
The Story: Matrix Revolutions is the third installment of the Matrix Trilogy, where Neo’s decision at the end of Reloaded causes a final confrontation between Zion and the Machines. In rejecting the Architect’s control system, Neo has thrown the relationship between humanity and the machines in a completely unpredictable direction. The machines are quickly digging to reach the last human city of Zion, while Neo, Morpheus, Trinity and a host of others look to recover from their last ditch attempt meeting with the Architect at the end of Reloaded.
Nothing was at it seemed. The history of the one was a lie, all part of an elaborate control system. Now, in less than twenty hours, the machines will penetrate Zion’s defenses, and potentially destroy humanity forever. Worse, Neo’s mind has somehow separated from his body and now lies comatose next to Bane on-board the Ship called the Hammer. Morpheus is still despondent about the false prophecy, and the Zion’s defenses have been all but wiped out by a premature EMP pulse.
It turns out that Neo’s mind has been trapped in a place in-between the Matrix and the Machine City, inside something called the Mobile Avenue Train Station (better known as limbo, which is an anagram for “Mobile” Avenue). Unfortunately, this is controlled by the Merovingian. Trinity and Morpheus, along with Seraph must now convince the Merovingian to let Neo Free. Meanwhile, Mr. Smith has virtually taken over the Matrix with duplicates of himself while Zion prepares for the attack of the Machines, and decide to place virtually all their resources into holding the dock. As things become clear, Neo decides the only way he can save Zion is to personally go to the virtually impenetrable Machine City. Meanwhile, as the Dock Fight goes from bad to worse, Niaobi (Jada Pinkett Smith), Morpheus and company race back in the Hammer to help save Zion with the humanity’s last remaining EMP.
Revolutions is a War Movie: Whereas the first movie, the Matrix involved a personal awakening, and Matrix Reloaded was almost more of a chase movie, Matrix Revolutions is more a war movie than anything else. In this sense, each of the three movies are very different from one another. Many new characters are introduced in Revolutions, while some of the staples of the first two movies take more of a back seat. We see less of Morpheus here, for instance, but are almost bombarded with a myriad of secondary characters, each intended to bring us a sense of drama associated with the enormity of their undertaking. While one can discuss how well each of the minor characters worked, the need for their inclusion is rather clear – without them, the scale of the conflict doesn’t really work.
The Matrix Trilogy as a Participative Movie Watching Experience: Most movies are meant to be conveyed in a rather passive manner – one which may require the view to actively pay attention to what transpires but doesn’t require them to actively think about what they have seen. Conversely, quite a few cyberpunk flicks are just the opposite – animes like Serial Experiments Lain or Fragile Machine, extreme Japanse Cyberpunk flicks like Tetsuo, indie flicks like Puzzlehead, or even action flicks like Casshern all require the viewer to spend significant time actively thinking through the implications of what they just saw. The Matrix Trilogy, and especially Matrix Revolutions flat out requires active participation to make sense of it. Arguments abound on this point as many critics consider this a sign of bad movie making, while many Matrix fans respond with the inevitable, “You just don’t get it” comment, as if those who hate Revolutions are somehow intellectually inferior. My take on this is that this is more a sign of preference in movie tastes. Some people (like me) LOVE to encounter movies that take more than one viewing to really understand, whereas others absolutely hate watching films like this. Regardless where you come down on this, your perception of whether you like Revolutions or not will in large part be answered by your preferences on this scale.
The Power of The One: The Oracle makes clear in her meeting with Neo that the “power of the one” comes from the Source, and that this power is necessary to communicate with the source. From a SciFi standpoint, the explanation for this is clear – the power of the one is based on the sentient learning program embedded in Neo from birth (the Architect tells Neo this at the end of Reloaded). As is documented in my Man-Machine-Interface essay, this is what gives Neo the power to attack the machines in the real world. Neo has Sysadmin-like powers so that he (the sentient program portion of Neo) is able to reboot the Matrix.
Getting Back to a Steady State: In Reloaded, Neo, with significant prompting from the Oracle has effectively wiped out the Architect’s negative feedback control system (meaning a cybernetic control system that “negates change from an initial goal state). The thresholds were exceeded, and the entire control system spun out of control. This, after all was the Oracle’s purpose. From a cybernetic perspective, the Oracle’s goal was to create a positive feedback loop (increasing change from an initial goal state). In doing so, she effected the complete destruction of the negative feedback system that had managed human-machine relations for the better part of 600-800 years. When a cybernetic control system exceeds its thresholds, it is possible for the system to again regain a steady-state, but almost never is it possible to return to the previous steady state. This truly is the Oracle’s purpose. By effecting out-of-control change (by creating the anomaly that is Mr. Smith), the Oracle created a situation where both the humans and machines would need to work together to stave off elimination of their species. The proposed steady state (peace) would have to be founded on a completely different set of assumptions. This would necessitate changes in the operation of the Matrix, and a far more integral relationship between the humans and machines.
The Philosophical Aspects: Matrix Revolutions, even moreso than the previous films, is replete with interesting philosophical references from Hinduism, Christianity and various writers that ideas such as freewill and determinism, the nature of reality, the notion of purpose, and so on. In totality, the Matrix is a virtual cornucopia of ideas which ends up leading towards a larger integration of purpose, one which serves to unite the needs of man and machine in their struggle to survive. That these ideas are melded into a very compelling story – one which can almost completely divorce itself from the SciFi aspects and still work is pretty amazing. One can easily view the trilogy from the perspective of Neo as a messianic figure who’s story arc involves the coming of age, the sheding the bonds of slavery, and eventually the recapturing of humanity’s (and the machine’s) salvation. The Matrix Trilogy is one of the very few movies which have spurned an ever increasing number of philosophical analysis books – truly this is rather unique, and itself something to be celebrated.
The Acting: While much has been said about some uneven performances, by and large, the leads in Matrix Revolutions turn in very solid performances. Keanu Reeves deserves additional credit for the incredible work he in preparation for the part – his martial arts and wire work in Revolutions are just terrific. Hugo Weaving turned in a supporting performance worthy of what I would consider an Oscar nomination. His monologue (“Why Neo, why?) near the end is absolutely riveting. However some of the secondary actors, most notably the “kid” (Clayton Watson) were pretty bad. Also, there were some dialogue issues in Revolutions which could have been worked a bit more (shortening the Trinity “you gave me one more chance” scene, for instance). In light of the incredibly ambitious goals for Matrix Revolutions, its not too surprising that some of the details could have been worked more.
The FX: Matrix Revolutions has some of the most impressive FX on film. Regardless whether or not you hate the film, the quality and enormity of the FX we see in Revolutions is a wonderful cap to the series. From an FX standpoint, the Dock Fight was an absolutely monumental undertaking. This combination of CG, miniatures, full-sized models with human actors, and motion-capture provided one of the great battles ever seen on film. Because of the speed and chaos, like many elements in Revolutions, it really does take an extra watching or two to really get the sense of what’s happening. But once you aren’t overwhelmed by the enormity of it, the pace of the battle and the actions of the machines make sense. In fact, it becomes clear that the dock fight is one of the most significantly choreographed combat scenes ever put on film.
The Visuals: Visually, Matrix Revolutions is a stunning movie. While the bulk of the visuals use a blue-red color sceme, the familiar green matrix colors are also prominently displayed. Similarly, we get bursts of yellow-orange colors denoting machines disconnected from the Matrix. Shadows are liberally used in the larger panoramic scenes, while many of the close-ups are more starkly lit. Overall, the mood of the blue-red color scheme is reminiscent of Star Wars’ Empire Strikes Back, in that we get the same darkened atmosphere.
The Score: Don Davis’ music for Matrix Revolutions provided a terrific accompaniment. The diversity, from industrial sounds to haunting choral arrangements served to heighten the tension and energy at pivotal scenes. Probably the highlight of this was at the beginning of the Super Burly Brawl between Neo and Mr. Smith where the piece, “Neodammerung” signals the final confrontation.
The Bottom Line: The Matrix Trilogy is one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken in movies. It combines almost two distinct storylines – one based on philosophy and religion and the other based on science fiction – with revolutionary effects, great action and truly interesting ideas throughout. As a cyberpunk dystopia, it’s hard to find a situation worse than the one posed in the world of the Matrix. While the majority of its viewers found fault with Revolutions, especially the ending, I personally found enormous satisfaction out of both the ending and the movie as a whole. While I certainly agree that there are some acting and dialogue issues, as a whole, Revolutions was a terrific ending an absolutely terrific trilogy.
Overview: Matrix Reloaded, one of the most anticipated movies of 2003 provides a very interesting follow-up to one of the best, most influential movies in cyberpunk and all of Sci-Fi. Many have knocked this (and Revolutions more) for being a significant step down from the original movie, and to an extent they are in that the “newness” of the idea has worn off. But truly, it would be absurd to expect the Wachowskis to not use the universe they have already painstakingly created. In this sense, the sequels HAVE to provide a different sensation. In this sense, Reloaded does not disappoint. We get great performances by the Matrix leads, along with a number of truly terrific supporting roles. For this review, I’ll try to concentrate my comments more on the Sci-Fi aspects of the movies versus the religious narrative, as this also covered wonderfully elsewhere. I’ve also tried to use less well known screencaps on the first page of this review. To see some of the more popular Reloaded screencaps, go to page 2 of this review. Also, this review goes in line with my more in-depth assessment of the trilogy from a SciFi perspective:
No “The Matrix Sucks/No It’s Great - You Just Don’t Understand!” Debates: Just a fair warning – if youre expecting Matrix sequel bashing, I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong site. There are numerous places to read such banter if you’re interested. I absolutely love the sequels for a variety of reasons (some of which I explain below), but I really don’t mind in the least if you hate the sequels. Yet, for this movie, I’d really like the comments on this entry to be more related to the movie itself versus whether or not you hate the sequels. Believe me when I tell you I’ve participated in many more hours of discussion on this topic than I ever care to, and absolutely will not get into this in the comments section of this review. If you MUST engage in the “Matrix Sequels Suck/No - They’re Great, You Just Don’t Understand!” debate, please use this thread in the Meatspace.
The Story: I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that about 99.9% of you reading this review have already seen Reloaded, so I won’t spend much time on an overview of the story unless its specifically requested. In brief, Matrix Reloaded is the sequel to the Matrix, and is the second of three movies in the trilogy. In Reloaded, six months have past since the end of the Matrix, during which time, Morpheus, Neo and Trinity have been busting hump freeing massive numbers of battery people. In Reloaded, we get to see Zion, a return of Mr. Smith, and eventually, a fuller understanding of the nature of the Matrix and the Prophecy of the One.
The Supporting Characters: One of the real strong points of Reloaded is the cool character additions. The best ones are of course the Merovingian (played magnificently by Lambert Wilson) and Persephone, played by the ultra-sexy Monica Bellucci in a totally hot see-through dress. When they are onscreen, both absolutely steal the scenes. Almost as terrific is the Architect (Helmut Bakaitis) and the blasé evil ghost twins (Adrian and Neil Rayment – who actually are twins) – they have to be up there as some of the best henchmen ever to grace the screen. Seraph (Collin Chou), Councilor Hamann (Anthony Zerbe), Link (Harold Perrineau), the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim), and Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) all really add to the movie as well.
The Action: Reloaded is filled to the brim with awesome action scenes. In addition to some wonderful Woo-ping Yuen choreographed fights, we get one of the best highway chase scenes ever put on film. The Trinity motorcycle part in particular is just awesome. Truly though, serious credit has to go here to Keanu Reeves’ preparation and training for this film. By all accounts he was an absolute machine in terms of preparation. It really shows on screen. His wire work and martial arts scenes are just terrific (And no, I’m not comparing him to those in Hong Kong who’ve spent an entire career doing this stuff). The CG for the most part is absolutely top notch.
The Visuals: Matrix Reloaded has a lot more diversity in its visuals than the Matrix provided us. We have a few experimental shots like the graphic novel scene of Neo flying with the Moon behind him – and lots of yellows and greens. For yellows, we get rave scenes, explosions, and fights in a yellow weapons room. Greens, of course, still dominate the majority of the scenes – like the first movie, they are omnipresent in most low-light scenes. All in all, the visuals are incredibly diverse and interesting.
The Pacing: Matrix Reloaded starts off with a bang (literally) before getting into the story. We get a mixture of plot discussions, action sequences and philosophical breaks. But Reloaded is as a whole is definitely of a different style pacing than most movies. It and its sequel more closely resemble the approach taken in Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell, where there are philosophical and thematic discussions that are then played out in the action sequences. The ending clearly comes off as a cliff-hanger, which is to be expected considering this is the middle of a trilogy.
The Architect Conversation: The Architect conversation provides some of the best dialogue of the entire trilogy. This is a philosophical break, a plot buster, and more importantly, the major turning point in the trilogy. The Architect and his minions serve as the ultimate representation of a negative feedback (negating change from an initial goal state) control system. His whole purpose in life is to ensure a steady supply of power (electricity) to the Machine City. As the power is created off the electricity in humans, the Architect must develop a plato cave-like virtual reality simulation that provides humans with a believable reality. The Architect reveals the details of the control system that has kept the machines satiated with electricity for the past 600+ years. In this we find that the prophecy of the One is merely one more layer of control to maintain the status quo to handle the problems arising from freewill (more on this below). Unfortunately, something (or someone) has thrown a monkey wrench into his carefully laid plans. Neo has fallen in love, and in so doing, creates a personal connection with a human that is potentially larger than his overall connection with humanity.
Freewill: Matrix Reloaded spends a good bit of the philosophical breaks discussing the impact of freewill on actions, decision making and on control systems. The Merovingian assets that without the “why,” freewill is merely a facade by those in power that is placed on the powerless. The architect who created the Matrix based on mathematical equations. While he has accounted for almost all anomalies, he had to develop a special periodic subroutine to address the issue of freewill. Because a very small subset of the population would reject the Matrix programming, there needed to be a way of handling this. His approach involves the creation of an external holding bin called “Zion,” which which he would let fill up with the problem battery people, and then every hundred years or so would clean out the holding bin and start again. Simultaneasly, Morpheus, who is unaware of this freewill control subroutine, sees the prophecy of the One as a deterministic journey - one which both reduces the power of freewill while supposedly saving Zion.
Positive Feedback Out of Control: From a cybernetic standpoint, Positive feedback, or the deviation from an initial goal state, plays a huge role in both reloaded and revolutions. In fact, both movies constitute an emergence and interplay among dueling feedback systems. The architect has created a negative feedback system that has been in force for at least 600 years. Yet now, the perturbations to the negative feedback control system are systemic – in fact, they constitute an initial kick in an entirely new direction. The study of cybernetics tells us that negative feedback systems are destroyed – often never to be repaired to their original state – if the upper or lower threshold values in the are exceeded. For instance, if the body temperature in a human exceeds 106 degrees Fahrenheit, the human will die. In the futuristic dystopia of the Matrix, this is the strategy the Oracle takes. The rationale is that unless the architect’s control system is rendered moot, the “ebony and ivory, living in perfect harmony” future (with machines and humans) the Oracle desires cannot occur.
Elements of the positive feedback system, represented in totally by the Oracle and the causality she creates, include both a modification of Neo’s operant conditions and an intrusion into Mr. Smith’s deletion. Neo’s love for Trinity changes the outcome of the Architect’s freewill subroutine – instead of having only one real choice (saving humanity), Neo has a new choice – save trinity now and spend 24 hours trying to rescue Zion and humanity or continue with the control system which will wipe out Zion. Additionally, Mr. Smith has been transformed into a virus. When Neo destroys him in the first movie, Mr. Smith did not disappear – instead (as we find out in Revolutions), the Oracle intervenes and creates the new, viral Smith. While there is no resolution to this in reloaded, the context is set for the resolution in Revolutions.
I Believe…: I believe this phrase (“I believe”) is used twenty times or more in Reloaded. There are times it fits perfectly, whereas others it seems to interfere with the dialogue. The scene where Commander Lock is discussing strategy with the Council is the most egregious example of this. Versus “I believe we need every ship…” it would have been far more realistic had he used a simple “We need every ship if we are even to have a chance…” The problem of course is the whole issue of whether or not the Commander and Council believe in the Prophecy of the One. As impending doom draws nearer, the tendency to place faith in supernatural explanations for salvation becomes too great to resist.
The Bottom Line: The Matrix Reloaded is a terrific follow-up to one of the most influential movies ever. The Wachowski brothers have provided a movie where the action is terrific, the characters are memorable, and the narrative is complex and interesting. Lawrence Fishbourne as Morpheus in particular shines here, which is great, in that is role is significantly diminished in Revolutions. While Reloaded suffers somewhat from being the middle movie in a trilogy, I think it handles this well. The ending provides us with a cliffhanger, which, at the time of release, sparked IMENSE numbers of interesting theories and ideas. I’m guessing most of you have watched Reloaded, so I feel strange giving a plug to watch it. All I can say is I love it.
Overview: Here we have a movie with Bruce Campbell, Michael Dorn, and the very hawt Stephanie Romonov – this movie’s got to have something appealing, right? Um, not really. Menno’s Mind, a Showtime production is nowhere close to ready for prime time. The only thing worse than the acting and effects is the completely incoherent story. The FX are crappy low budget ones, but truly, nothing else in the movie even comes close to equaling them.
The Story: Menno’s mind takes place in a bizarre, cheesy future where everyone dresses in tacky bright clothes, except for the tough chicks, who wear black leather. Menno (The Rocketeer’s Bill Campbell) is a sappy computer programmer at a very popular virtual reality resort that provides people a choice of interesting vacations (most choose the virtual sex chick on the beach). The “System” that runs the VR vacations is very powerful, and has the capability to implant thoughts and suggestions into the vacationers. The resort’s head of security, Felix Medina (Corbin Bernsen), also happens to be running for President of the US (I shit you not…how far that office must have fallen for a head of security of a resort to be in the running!), and has decided to game the election by getting everyone who takes a vacation to be implanted with thoughts to vote for him in the election.
Luckily, disgruntled employee and rebel leader, Mick Dourif (Bruce Campbell), figures out the dastardly ploy and tries to stop it. Unfortunately, the bad guys have found him, and ambush his hideout. He barely escapes, goes to the VR resort, and forces Menno to upload his mind into the VR system before he dies! Yep, you heard it right, ladies and gents – although it wasn’t in the specs, apparently the VR system has the ability upload a human mind. Then things get interesting when Mick’s girlfriend, Loria, finds Menno and forces him to download Mick’s mind into himself in order to find out what Mick knew about the dastardly plot! From there, the race is on.
The Bottom Line: Truly, the number of problems and plot holes in this are almost uncountable. I’ll give it three stars because the production values are at least decent, but the story sucks more than words can describe. OK, so a security manager is running for President of the US – perhaps he should consider campaigning instead of trying to game a few hundred votes by convincing those who show up in the morning to vote for him – just a thought! I could go on, but the fairy science shown in this doesn’t even try to hold itself together. Worse, Bruce Campbell – really, the only reason I wanted to see this (I LOVE Army of Darkness!!!), dies early enough on that you barely get a chance to enjoy him.