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…
Another gem from the forums. I actually watched the series when it first came out on TV. Never really thought of it to be cyberpunk, but Intel not only believes it to be, but also thought it to be very good as well, and responders agree with him. I’m going to see if I can acquire the series, so let’s see what intel Intel has…
List of some cyberpunk themes:
Story: 20 years after the last batman episode, Batman now has an advanced exoskeleton-type suit, but is suffering from age. While fighting a group of kidnappers, he has a heart attack and is forced to use a gun to fend of the criminals. He then give up his batman identity and the story jumps ahead 20 more years to year 2039.
Bruce knows he can’t be the Batman forever. Sooner or later, he needs to pass the torch… and the suit.
Now we shift over to Terry McGinnis, an athletic 16-year-old high school student and ex-troublemaker with a sense of justice. In the pilot episode, Terry saves a fellow passenger on a commuter rail from a member of the Jokerz gang, and then takes on an entire gang of Jokerz to defend his girlfriend, resulting in a high-speed motorcycle chase. The chase ends on the grounds of Wayne Manor, where Terry runs into the elderly Bruce Wayne. Bruce and Terry fend off the Jokerz together, but the fight causes Wayne’s heart condition to act up. Terry helps Bruce back to the manor and, while staying there, he discovers the entrance to the Batcave. Chased out by Bruce, Terry comes home to discover that his father had been murdered by the vengeful Jokerz, and later returns to “borrow” the Batsuit to avenge the death of his father. As crime and corruption are beginning once again to rear their ugly heads in Gotham, Bruce ultimately allows Terry to assume the mantle of Batman.
Overview: We now find gotham to be a huge, sprawling metropolis of skyscrapers, metro-rails, and hover-cars. the wealthy live in the penthouses and crime a poor are left to the ancient alleyways. criminals are now high-tech assasins, genetically-engineered low lifes, CEO’s of megacorporations, and even a few rampant AI.
Click the pic to visit LegionsofGotham.org to see more Batman Beyond background images like this one.
Visuals: the show is full of grungy buildings, neon signs, and power cables. It also has an interesting mix of japanese and english written on many of the signs. The hover cars and metro rails add a nice touch to the scenes. The show usually takes place at night, adding to the mood, and shows lots of scenes of batman soaring through the skyline with his new flight capabilities.
Conclusion: It is by far one of the darkest shows to ever run on a daytime children’s cartoon channel,
“Dark” might be an understatement…
and had surprisingly complex themes for its young viewers. If you’ve never heard of it, just watch the opening video here to see what I mean:
Postscript from Mr. Roboto. A couple of things to watch for while watching this series. First off, some of the old enemies reappear in some form, either as “aged” forms or as “trophies” Bruce keeps.
Mr. Freeze shows he’s ahead of his time. [rimshot.wav]
Second, there’s a season two episode called “Project: Zeta” which lead to a spin-off series, The Zeta Project. It’s about a killer robot who chooses not to kill and runs away with a girl who teaches it how to be human. This series I have got to acquire to review… unless I see it in our reviewer forum first…
Overview: It’s a rare instance when we find a movie that has all the trappings of a “B” SciFi shlock-fest – one with an overly cheesy name, a DVD cover advertising the movie as a classic drive-in flick (as was the original marketing art), one which has the standard “B” movie high-pitched moaning female chanting alien vocal track duing the credits and a creature-feature font typeface for its title – but in fact isn’t. Creature of the Humanoids practically screams “low-budget, exploitative SciFi crapfest” but…isn’t. Instead, after digging beneath the voluminous trappings of “B” cinema, we find a very intelligent, but low-budget movie – one which in 1962 has captured a good number of the cyberpunk themes that would dominate literature and movies twenty years later. Contrary to the DVD cover, which combines Creation of the Humans with War Between the Planets (which is pretty much what you think it is), this is a slow-paced, thinking person’s movie. Said another way, I’d probably be damn bugged if I had taken a date to see this at a drive-in, but as an intelligent movie for CyberpunkReview, it works fine.
The Setting: A nuclear war has taken place, resulting in the extermination of 92% of the human race. Those that remain are riddled with radiation poisoning, leaving very few couples who can create viable offspring. To keep civilization running, the remaining humans significantly ramped up their production of robots, which now number almost a billion in total, and handle most of the mundane tasks of society. Over time, advances in AI and automation have created a “race” of robots that have become sentient, and even more capable than their human counterparts. Because humans couldn’t stand working next to machine-looking things that seemed smarter than them, robots began being constructed to emulate humans. Now, 20% of all robots look humanoid in nature. However a backlash has formed - a hate group called the “Order of Flash and Blood” is pushing for the ban on all humanoid-looking robots. Because of a backlash by many humans, these robots can only look 70% similar to humans.
The Story: Capt. Kenneth Cragis (Don Megowan) is a leader in the Order of Flesh and Blood, the robot hate group. While on monitoring the activity of “clickers,” a derogatory term for robots, he notices some suspicious activity entering the robot shrine, a building off-limits to humans, which contains the central AI program that most robots now take direction from, and practically worship. In getting Flesh and Blood members to storm the shrine, they find a robot that looks almost fully human (96%) who has just killed a rogue scientist. As robots are all programmed to follow what essentially are Asimov’s three laws of robotics, this constitutes the first instance of a robot killing a human. Cragis sees this as an opportunity for the order to finally break-through and convince the human leadership of the righteousness of their cause. But in analyzing the human-looking robot, they discover something horrifying – it turns out that this robot actually “thought” he was a person, and appeared to have been created by taking the essence of a person recently dead, and replicating them inside of a robot.
Cragis also has another dilemma, his position in the order is now threatened, as its come to light that his sister has recently entered “rapport” with a robot named Pax. When in rapport, the robot and human essentially share the same mindset – everything his sister desires is instantly understood by the Pax and her needs are met. They are essentially soul mates. Cragis and his sister are on complete opposite sides of this issue, and there is no way for him to convince her otherwise. But things go from worse to weird when Cragis, and his newly found love (Erica Elliott) discover a truth about themselves that will shake the foundations of humanity.
The Production Values Suck: If I were grading Creation of the Humanoids based on production values alone it would be grateful to achieve even a three-star rating. From a production value standpoint, this movie is poorly made. The very few sets that exist look like warehouse sets quickly done up with extra junk from other SciFi movies and the only music accompaniment used everywhere (including love scenes) is the eerie “alien ship is coming” sound. The FX, especially of the robots are very poor, consisting primarily of bald-hair pieces and green makeup. Aside for a few of the leads (Don Megowan, the most important character is decent) is sub par at best. From a production value standpoint, Creation of the Humanoids seems far better suited to a play than a movie. If fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this was the original intention of Jay Simms’ script. The DVD treatment, which provides a far better than expected transfer, essentially tries to mimic a drive-in movie experience. This is annoying it that there is no chapter feature. You are forced to click through the upfront stuff, the first feature, and the intermission crap to even get to Creature of the Humanoids.
If a Man Loses His Leg, Is His Soul Affected? this is the question posed by Creation of the Humanoids. If one answers that the soul is not affected, the follow-on thought is what if the whole body was replaced but that the essence that is “you” survives in an android shell. Do you still have a soul? If not, when did you lose it? Creation of the Humanoids provides us a world where humans are quickly becoming extinct, and where their salvation is going to be a situation where their personalities – all that makes them unique – are transferred into robotic bodies. They even will still be able to procreate, after a fashion. So the larger question this movie finally poses is: in this completely post-human world, does humanity still exist?
Replicants in Years Past: While Blade Runner is most often credited as having the definitive replicants, clearly this idea has been around for a lot longer. In Creation of the Humanoids, robots that are 96% human capability are created by taking a recently diseased person (within six hours of death) and extracting all that is unique about them (their memories, learning, skills, philosophy, etc.) and inserting it into a special thalamus chip to be integrated into a robot’s cerebral cortex processing unit. In doing so, they wipe all memory of the human’s last moments (their deaths). The end result are robots that still think they are human. For all times other than between 4:00 – 5:00 am, the robots act completely human. But during that one hour, they remember who they really are and report back to the robot society.
Asimov’s Laws Were Already Being Followed By 1962: Creation of the Humanoids gives us a glimpse of the incredible influence that Asimov’s “I, Robot” a mere 12 years later. The Robots in this already adhere to the laws, and have already worked out methods to break them. Robots must never harm other humans, and must always work to serve their best interests. Yet, unfortunately, humans don’t always know what is in their best interests, and thus, the robots must become subversive to meet this law.
Clearly, this movie was created and marketed as a creature-feature. One can only imagine the disgust that writer Jay Simms had to this bastardization of his overly thoughtful script.
When Robots Control Humanity: One of the more interesting arguments Creation of the Humanoids engages in is the question of what life will be like if and when the robots control mankind. In this movie, the robots have already gained control of who is in gets elected, even though the regular populace has no clue this has occurred. The robots also engage in subtle methods of mind control and brainwashing, all to make the populace more accepting of robot rule. Because the robots believe humans do things not in their best interests, it becomes their duty to “manage” human life. The question is then raised whether humanity will still want to pursue knowledge and self-betterment – after all, what’s the point if everything you even think you might want is automatically provided for you? The answer is rather depressing here – it has already happened – that we’ve just now realized it is almost irrelevant.
The Bottom Line: While the production values suck, the story in Creation of Humanoids is both complex and interesting. Many ideas presented are wonderful grist for later books and movies. As long as you realize that the production values in this flick make the old Dr. Who series look high-tech, you’ll probably enjoy it. While it is very slow-paced and only has about 5 separate scenes, the ideas presented are interesting enough to keep your attention. Aside for the commentary on race relations (obviously a big issue in the early 60s) Creature of the Humanoids makes us think through some interesting notions of post-humanity. While I’d give it 3 stars for its production values, I’d give it an 8 star rating for its story. This won’t appeal to everyone, but is certainly good enough that it shouldn’t be forgotten.
Introduction: With Metal Gear Solid, Hideo Kojima made a name for himself as one of the most gifted and ambitious video game designers today, so when the sequel to the game was announced, and moreover on the(then) brand-new PlayStation 2, fans were overjoyed. However, instead of a sequel which only included more of the same, Kojima used the power of the new system and DVD medium to create a game that defies characterization. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty is one of the most ambitious, complicated, even puzzling games ever made. But even with all its differences from the original, it is still very much a Metal Gear game, so that guarantees an incredible storyline and intense, stealth-oriented action.
The story : Two years after the events of Shadow Moses, Solid Snake and Otacon are back on the field on a new mission. Snake and Otacon are now part of a UN-backed covert organization codenamed Philanthropy, whose purpose is the eradication of any and all Metal Gears around the world. Since Shadow Moses, plans for creating a Metal Gear have surfaced on the black market, leading to a multitude of clandestine organizations creating their own version of the dreaded war mech. At the start of the game, Snake and Otacon are particularly targeting a new amphibious model, Metal Gear Ray, developed by the U.S. Marines. However, things get ugly when the tanker carrying the new machine is hijacked by Russian military forces. During the course of the hijacking, Revolver Ocelot betrays his Russian comrades and, controlled by the spirit of thought-dead Liquid Snake, steals the Metal Gear prototype and sinks the tanker, causing an oil spill with Snake in it. Snake is presumed dead.
Two years later, on a routine visit to a plant created to control the oil spill, the President of the United States is kidnapped by a group calling themselves the Sons Of Liberty, led by a rogue black-ops group nicknamed Dead Cell. SEALs are sent to rescue the President, but the group is wiped out. As a last resort, the U.S. sends agent Raiden, a newly graduated member of Foxhound, to infiltrate the facility and rescue the President. However, as can be expected, this is no ordinary terrorist attack, and the facility houses secrets which point to a secret conspiracy only known as The Patriots. What do the terrorists want, and what does Raiden’s past have to do with the whole thing?
The game: While Metal Gear Solid’s story and themes are pretty straightforward and well established, MGS2 goes on a much more abstract direction. The dialog and situations in this game are much more bizarre and even postmodern than those in the previous game, and paranoia is rampant. This is the most cyberpunk of all the chapters in the series, this time the story focusing on meme theory, artificial intelligence, information control, conspiracy theories, and political and military maneuvering. But above all, the topic of the dehumanizing effect of technology and the influence of genetics in human behavior really make this a fascinating game to analyze with others. Like with The Matrix trilogy, a straightforward first chapter leads to a much more complicated second one which may divide fans and confuse newcomers. However, it is this complexity which makes this probably the most important game in the series yet. The game has a sense of urgency and even fatalism that moves one to try to solve the problems contained therein, but it also constantly dangles a thread of hope to grab on to. This is probably Kojima’s most personal game, and it shows.
Like the previous game, the action itself is stealth-based, but this time Snake and Raiden are MUCH better prepared and capable of dealing with the game’s dangers. The jump to a new system has resulted in a much more complicated game, but also one you have more tools for taking it on with. Enemies don’t instantly sound the alarm when they see you anymore, instead they have to radio in before an alarm is called. This gives you an extra second to dispose of the enemy before they alert their comrades. However, once an enemy is incapacitated, his friends start looking for him when he doesn’t report in, so you might want to hide the body somewhere. You can also knock enemies out or put them to sleep instead of killing them, which would cause less of a fuss than a body would(enemies even humorously kick friends awake when they’re dozing). Your characters are much more athletic, too, able to flip out of gunfire’s way, and hang from ledges to hide from foes.
The cast in this game is just as great as the previous game. Snake’s a little lighter in attitude and able to crack a joke, having made some new and faithful friends in the previous game, and Otacon’s friendship with Snake has deepened his resolve and made him a little more sure of himself. The new characters are great, too, although some people might be put off by Raiden, the new protagonist of the series. And if Psycho Mantis was freaky, Vamp is off-the-hook SCARY.
The jump from 32-bit to 128 did wonders for the game’s graphics. This game came out in 2001 and it STILL looks amazing. The amount of details in this game is incredible, and character models look gorgeous. The game is also much more cinematic, with expert direction during cinemas that makes the game even more of a blockbuster than the first. The music is also on a whole different level, composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, of The Rock, Armageddon and Enemy Of The State fame.
Availability: The game is just as available as MGS1, with many different versions. The recommended version is MGS2: Substance, the special edition of the game with lots of extra goodies. However, GET THE PS2 VERSION. The XBox version is a glitchy mess of slowdown.
The verdict : MGS2 is a worthy followup to the amazing game that was MGS, and stands on its own both as an entertaining game and a fascinating document of electronic literature. I sadly have to dock it a point because it isn’t the easiest game to follow(probably the same reason that made SFAM give Matrix Reloaded 9 stars instead of 10), but that’s just being fair to the first one. And it’s still a spectacular game. 9 out of 10 stars: get it, play it, be thoroughly puzzled yet amazed.
Introduction: There are few video game creators today as revered as Hideo Kojima. A producer/director of superb storytelling talent and limitless creativity, he is respected and admired by both gamers and fellow video game developers. Even mighty Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Super Mario and the father of modern video gaming, is a declared fan of Kojima’s work. However, Kojima was a relative unknown as little back as 8 years ago, until Konami gave him the go to create this, Kojima’s first modern gaming masterpiece, Metal Gear Solid. While at first glance a military game, Metal Gear Solid is actually a deep cyberpunk analysis of warfare and morality, topics that Kojima had been exploring for years, but for which, before the creation of the Playstation, he had no hardware powerful enough to tell the story with. Thankfully, he finally did, he finally made the game, and he reinvented a lowly NES game into one of video gaming’s most respected and acclaimed franchises.
The Story : A nuclear weapon disposal facility on Shadow Moses, an island off the coast of Alaska, is invaded by an army of Genome Soldiers(genetically enhanced super-soldiers) led by Foxhound, a U.S. covert special ops team. The Genome Soldiers are dying, victims of genetic disorders caused by the gene therapy. Foxhound’s leader, Liquid Snake, makes a list of demands: one billion dollars and the body of Big Boss, Foxhound’s former CO and the one whose genes the Genome Soldiers are based on. Should the United States fail to comply, Foxhound will launch a nuclear warhead at the nation’s capital.
A direct attack on Shadow Moses may cause nuclear retaliation, and the presence of nuclear warheads in the facility is a secret from the world at large, so a media leak would be catastrophic. To make matters worse, Foxhound is the nation’s most elite special forces unit, each soldier capable of slaughtering entire platoons with ease. The Pentagon decides to “persuade”(i.e. force) retired Foxhound agent Solid Snake to infiltrate Shadow Moses and stop the terrorists through covert action. Armed with only his wits, radio communication with various mission analysts, and whatever he can find at the base, Snake must rely on stealth and cunning to complete his mission. However, there is MUCH more to Shadow Moses than meets the eye, secrets that could put the entire world in jeopardy, secrets dealing with Solid Snake’s shadowy past.
The Game: If I said in my Deus Ex review that I didn’t want to spoil the story because it’s so good, this is INFINITELY truer with Metal Gear Solid. Although Deus Ex is a more “authentic” cyberpunk game, Metal Gear Solid can only be described as a playable blockbuster film. It is truly an amazing experience in storytelling, and my personal favorite videogame franchise.
The gameplay itself relies heavily on stealth. While Solid Snake is a formidable combatant, he is hideously outnumbered by much better armed forces actually looking to shoot him down. Snake must remain hidden and either bypass his enemies or eliminate them as silently as possible. Luckily, Snake is a superb covert operative, and he can use the environment in truly ingenious ways to hide, distract and dispatch the enemy. Snake also has various tools to help him. Throughout the game, he will find weapons and gadgets of all kinds, from infrared goggles to assault rifles, and even the now famous cardboard box to hide in. He also has a radar that permits him to not only determine enemy position, but also their line of sight, enabling him to sneak where the enemy can’t see him. However, this radar gets jammed if Snake is seen, and Snake must RUN AWAY as fast as he can until things cool down!
Snake also has a CODEC built into his ear, which enables him to access a multitude of helpers to give him information, tips and moral support throughout the game. The CODEC conversations are truly one of the game’s greatest strengths. They showcase the characters as more than mere cardboard cutouts. During the game, the nature of conversations will range from simple mission objectives to discussions on morality, technological development, politics, human rights, and even what it means to be human. Topics such as genetic engineering, the arms race, nuclear energy, cloning, nanotechnology, biological warfare and many more are expertly discussed. This makes for quite an endearing cast, they are truly intelligent people with their own opinions and beliefs. This is where the game’s cyberpunkness shines through. The way the game explores technology, it’s impact on society and the military in particular, and the morality of technological development are ESSENTIAL elements to the game’s story that continue to resonate through all chapters of the saga. Metal Gear Solid establishes the base for future games of the series to develop these concepts even more thoroughly.
And on that note, we see the game’s greatest strength: the characters. Kojima has created a truly spectacular cast, no character is wasted or underdeveloped. From the cynical and gruff Solid Snake to the spunky and optimistic Meryl and scientist/über-nerd Otacon, the characters are diverse and uniformly interesting. The bad guys are truly an awesome force, too. From the enigmatic Liquid Snake to the sadistic gunman Revolver Ocelot and the oh-so-sexy Sniper Wolf, Foxhound’s members are quite the match for our heroes.
Visually, the game couldn’t be more cyberpunk. Greens, blues and grays dominate the color scheme, with cold metal surfaces everywhere. Cybernetic ninjas with Predator-like cloaking devices, gigantic mecha, you name it. This game wears not only its cyberpunk roots, but its anime roots as well, on its sleeve with pride. Cinemas are expertly directed, giving the game an A-list action movie fell. AND THE VOICE ACTING!!! This is the absolute GREATEST voice acting EVER. David Hayter has actually made a career out of his work as the voice of Solid Snake, and the whole cast is composed of voice acting veterans from a multitude of games and anime. Metal Gear Solid established the standard for voice acting in the video game industry.
Availability: Honestly, if you can’t find this game, something’s SERIOUSLY wrong with you. There have been myriad releases of the game, including a Playstation Greatest Hits release, a PC version, and even a remake for the Gamecube(dubbed The Twin Snakes) which updates the game with next-gen graphics and gameplay elements from its sequel, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty.
The Verdict : If you want the closest thing to a playable cyberpunk/military movie or anime, Metal Gear Solid is truly it. This is videogaming at its finest, and it has rightfully been called a masterpiece the world over. Get this game and play it, just so you know what comes before Metal Gear Solid 2. My highest recommendation, this is my all-time favorite video game series. And maybe once you play it, you’ll know why too. I(and half the press, already) give Metal Gear Solid a perfect ten stars.
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.
Major Motoko Kusanagi: Atsuko Tanaka (Japanese), Mary McGlynn (English)
Batou: Akio Otsuka (Japanese), Richard Epcar (English)
Chief Daisuke Aramaki: Osamu Saka (Japanese), William Knight (English)
Ishikawa: Yutaka Nakano (Japanese), Michael McCarty (English)
Rating:9 out of 10
Overview: Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex (GITS SAC) uses the same characters as Masume Shirow and Mamoru Oshii, but takes place prior to the first GITS movie. Like the GITS movies, GITS SAC revolves around Section 9, an elite anti-terror police force that works behind the scenes to keep the peace. The overall tenor of this series is far more action oriented than Oshii’s movies. While there are a few philosophy moments (including a terrific one with Batou and the Tachikomas), the vast majority of the season is action oriented. In short, we get high-end, slick cyberpunk butt-kicking in GITS SAC – one that’s well worth watching, even if you do miss the philosophy.
The Laughing Man Story: In a world where cyberization has become the norm for a large segment of the population, a number of negative side effects have become possible. In addition to cyberbrain hacking, a disease called Cyberbrain Sclerosis has emerged which seems to randomly affect many who’ve undergone significant cyberization. The Mega-corporation, Serano Genomics has produced a cure for Cyberbrain Sclerosis – Serano Micromachines, a nanotech implant device that, when ingested regularly supposedly halts and eventually works to cure the disease. Unfortunately, the Micromachines only seem to help a small segment of those contracting the disease. A hacker named the Laughing Man seems bent on exposing a cover-up – one which posits that the lost Murai Vaccine has an almost permanent curative for those with Cyberbrain Sclerosis. Unfortunately for Serano Genomics, a real cure for Cyberbrain Sclerosis would decimate their profitability.
The Laughing Man is a hacker extraordinaire who is able to hack into cyberbrains at will, and worse for public confidence, is able to take over TV shows at will. Section 9 has been brought in to find and stop the terrorist known as the Laughing Man. Throughout the season, while there are side plots, it’s the Laughing Man story which drives Section 9. As it continues, the intrigue builds and the plot thickens. Eventually, corporate betrayal, political scandals and personal vendettas play a role in setting the context and exposing the larger truth.
The Side Stories: While the Laughing Man is the focus of the season, there are many side quests in GITS SAC. Some of the episodes closely resemble stories from Masume Shirow’s original GITS Graphic Novel. Among these, Batou has an interesting commando encounter with his past, and Aramaki is taken prisoner by thieves in a bank, only to get involved in a more intriguing plot. For him to survive, Motoko must be able to interpret his actions from afar to correctly figure out his strategy. Generally, the stand-alone episodes are good enough to keep you entertained – some are excellent.
7Th Volume is the Best: While GITS SAC is pretty good throughout the series, the 7th volume – the last one – is by far the best. Without the 7th volume, I would probably rate GITS SAC 8 stars, but the 7th volume really deserves a 10 star rating. In the 7th volume, Section 9 is disbanded, while political intrigue hounds their very lives. The team escapes a crack commando unit and then all go their separate ways. Motoko and Batou become the focus of the volume, and in doing so, display more humanity and feeling then they do the rest of the series. On top of this, many of the best FX are found in volume 7.
Differences with Oshii and Similarities with Shirow: Whereas Mamoru Oshii’s movies centered on the impacts of a cyberpunked society to the individual (Motoko in GITS, and Batou in GITS: Innocence), GITS SAC tends to broaden the filter to look at overall patterns in society. This leads to wonderful throw-away gems like the virtual meeting room (basically a holodeck) where everyone jacks into the meeting and then disappears when complete. We also get plots centering on problems with children in this changed new society, alienation of the masses, and loss of identity and humanity as technology takes center stage in human interaction. GITS SAC is also far more like Masume Shirow’s original graphic novel. While it doesn’t have the overt sexuality of Shirow’s work, Motoko is drawn as Shirow would; Shirow’s humor is evident in a number of the episodes; and the action takes center stage for the most part.
The Tachikomas: Early on, Major Motoko Kusanagi determined that the Tachikomas weren’t destined to be front-line fighting droids. For this reason, in order to become useful, the Tachikomas sped up their learning AI processing. As the season progresses, the Tachikomas begin to exhibit full signs of sentience, including Freewill and more devious functioning – so much so that Motoko becomes worried about their potential. Many interesting discussions take place over the development of the Tachikomas. One of the more intriguing ones that wasn’t really answered was whether being a digital life form instead of an analog one, would the Tachikomas ever develop a Ghost?
External Memory Devices and Cyberbrains – Augmented Thinking: One of the really interesting things about the GITS world is the integration of augmented brains. Conversations and complex thinking become dramatically enhanced. While the philosophical conversations are significantly reduced in GITS SAC when compared to the GITS movies, we still get a myriad of instances where cyberbrains allow people to call up a set of details about any subject that no other human could ever do. Cyberbrains in GITS SAC show a society where humanity truly has become post-human in a very real way, even though the actual look of most humans hasn’t changed much.
The Dubbing: GITS SAC is one of the few animes where the English cast is just about as good as the Japanese cast. Both William Knight (Aramaki) and Richard Epcar have been in their roles from the initial Ghost in the Shell movie in 1995, and all of the cast members have stayed consisted for both GITS Innocence and GITS SAC. Atsuko Tanaka (Motoko), Akio Ôtsuka (Batou), and Kôichi Yamadera (Togusa) have also been in their roles since 1995. It’s hard to pass up on Atsuko Tanaka though – I love her as Motoko. In any event, while the moods between the English and Japanese cast are different, they are both excellent.
The Sound: GITS SAC consistently has decent quality sound supporting the visuals. The use of the side speakers for voices is especially emphasized. The sound FX (explosions, gun shots, car chases) are always top notch. But truly, the most impressive thing in terms of sound is the sound track. The opening and closing songs (Inner Universe and Lithium Flower) by Yoko Kanno are flat out terrific. Throughout, we are treated to a variety of songs and background music, which almost always add to the action and visuals on screen.
The Visuals: GITS SAC has a variety of aids that add to the overall quality of the look. While some shots look pretty basic, others involve a variety of cool FX, including digital color grading, a myriad of environmental effects, and cell-shaded computer models. GITS SAC gives us a variety of color palettes including dominant greens, reds and blacks, and occasional blues and yellows. Overall, GITS SAC is a very professional, high quality production.
The Bottom Line: GITS SAC is a high quality cyberpunk production. While I personally like the tone and tenor of Oshii’s movies far more than I do GITS SAC, this is a personal preference. GITS SAC provides continued quality action wrapped up in impressive visuals and sound. While the first 6 volumes might only merit an 8 star rating, the conclusion is just terrific. This, along with the overall high level crafting GITS SAC provides throughout (visuals, sound, dubbing, songs) certainly raises the bar. And do yourself a favor – watch GITS SAC on a system with high quality surround sound – you’ll notice the difference.
Fragile Machine - a Cyberpunk Operetta: If there was ever such a thing as a cyberpunk operetta, Fragile Machine is it. Fragile Machine is an indie anime film short created by a very small organization of talented artists called Aoineko. Fragile Machine’s narrative is largely told through haunting Chinese and English vocals set to a rhythmic, keyboard-laden techno beat (you can hear the main track by clicking on the aoineko link above). The combination of mind-expanding surreal android images with Aoineko’s music provides an intensely immersive experience – one which slowly envelopes your senses until you are a participant on Leda Nea’s journey. Fragile Machine is divided into six distinct chapters, and is narrated by a small android girl named Goho.
The Story: Leda Nea, a lead scientist heading up android firm, Göln Remedios’ Project Zero, is distraught over the death of her daughter, Mary. She no longer is interested in living, and decides to sign away her rights to be become a test subject for Project Zero. Leda Nea agrees to have her consciousness inserted into an android body, but the experiment goes horribly wrong, and Nea’s consciousness is permanently trapped in the android. A year goes by and Leda Nea becomes Göln Remedios’ primary work. Leda Nea has lost all sense of her former life, but still realizes she is trapped in a antiseptic prison – one which she desperately wants to escape.
Eventually Leda Nea finds a way to trick her captors by using some of the android shells as decoys. Allthough still pursued by Göln Remedios’ droids, she escapes to the woods, and, surrounded by nature, begins to remember her humanity. In doing so, Leda Nea remembers that she hates herself and her very existence, and finally begins to remember the daughter she has lost. She continues to be pursued by Göln Remedios’ drones, but instead of getting captured she throws herself into a lake, and thus destroys her android body. At this point, her soul frees itself from its android host and embarks on an entirely new journey – one which could potentially provide Leda Nea salvation by connecting her back with that which she lost. While the ending chapter is visually astounding, I can’t go further without giving away the rest of the story.
A Post-modern Narrative: One one level, Fragile Machine appears to be a straightforward narrative in that it is explicitly divided into six chapters. Yet in watching this film, it becomes clear that the narrative is anything but straightforward. To understand the story, the viewer must pay close attention to the symbols, lyrics Goho’s commentaries, and the various visual indicators sprinkled throughout the film. While lasting just over 30 minutes, those interested in understanding the message will definitely benefit from giving Fragile Machine multiple viewings. The third time through, I found myself freezing the screen on a number of images in order to understand their significance. The story summary above is the result of watching Fragile Machine a number of times prior to piecing this all together. For instance, only very late in the film do you find out that Leda Nea is project manager of Project Zero, and is thus, responsible for her own destruction.
The Visuals: Even if you don’t care to spend time understanding the rich story and symbolism, Fragile Machine’s android visuals alone are well worth the cost of the DVD. Fragile Machine comes at man-machine integration and android creation and destruction from such a myriad of directions that it leaves the viewer in a state of wonderment. Through the film, color palettes are linked with the various symbols portrayed in Fragile Machine. Visual Homages are paid to a myriad of sources including Blade Runner, Metropolis, Ghost in the Shell and Planet of the Apes.
Animation Issues: While the artwork in Fragile Machine is intensely creative, the CG movement is definitely subpar when compared to some of the larger budget works. When Leda Nea is running, or the puppet narrator, Goho, is talking, the quality of the animation negatively affects the immersion. Depending on how you come to see Fragile Machine, this might be enough to turn you away from this incredible picture (perhaps this accounts for the insanely low score on IMDB). However, I would argue that the animation is only a minor knock in an otherwise perfect film short. In looking at the immensely small crew involved in making Fragile Machine, they pretty much nailed all aspects of this film that didn’t require massive CG animation engines. The post-modern story, the artwork and the music are all par excellence.
Interpreting Fragile Machine: Fragile Machine is visually and symbolically rich enough that the viewer can extract a number of fascinating thoughts. However, the larger point that Fragile Machine traces is a common cyberpunk theme - the idea that humans, in its pursuit of technology believes they will become omnipotent, with power over life and death itself. Yet in pursuing this course, we end up losing that which defines us – our humanity. Eventually, this pursuit of the taboo ends up destroying our very society. In a wonderful review of Fragile Machine, Jens points out that the corporation developing the androids, Göln Remedios, is visually similar to the Tower of Babel – both are stretching to the heavens in order to become God’s equal.
When we find out that Leda Nea is in fact the Lead for Project Zero, the emphathy shifts from a rather simplistic view Göln Remedios’ evil CEO figure being responsible to a far richer view. Leda Nea, in losing her daughter has lost her humanity, and thus no longer feels compelled to remain “human.” Her decent into subverting humanity starts well before she is captured in an android body. It begins with her work to build project zero – a project which at it core attempts to extract humanity and incarcerate it within a machine host. One almost wonders if Leda Nea initiated Project Zero in response to her daughter’s death. While the evil CEO is clearly interested in using Leda Nea as a tool in attaining virtual Godhood, it is Leda Nea who chooses to become the virtual fallen angel (as depicted by her red hue much of the time during her android descent). But ultimately, Fragile Machine becomes a story of redemption, as Leda Nea’s lost daughter, as represented by the elephant doll, becomes her guide towards finding ultimate salvation.
If an Android had a soul, what would happen to it when it dies? One of the more interesting questions Fragile Machine raises is the idea that if an android had a soul, what would happen when it dies? In pursuing this thought, Fragile Machine operates in the same territory as Ghost in the Shell, in which a human soul is essentially trapped within an android body. But the thought it raises can easily be taken farther than this: as we move ever closer towards sentient machines, what exactly becomes the difference between machines and humans? If machines become sentient, could they not also develop a soul? And if so, can this soul exist in some fashion even after its host has died?
What Does a Human Mask Represent? Similar to f8, Fragile Machine uses a mask of a human-looking face to represent the attainment of humanity. Only in this case, the mask represents humanity’s technology enabled drive to create post-humanity – androids in our own image. Interestingly, this interpretation masks when viewing the last chapter of Fragile Machine leads to an interesting conclusion about the pursuit of post-humans. One wonders whether it is possible to pursue sentient androids in a way that does not explicitly challenge God’s (or nature’s) sacred role over life and death. Fragile Machine almost seems to be advocating an evolutionary, emergent approach over an overt, dominating, dehumanizing approach.
The Bottom Line: Rarely do we encounter a film so creative in its development, where the sounds and visuals are inexorably linked in expressing such an interesting story. While the animation isn’t on par with larger scale productions, the songs and visuals more than make up for it. In totality, Fragile Machine conveys a complex, multi-layered story that is rich in symbols and ideas. This is truly a piece of cyberpunk art not to be missed. The DVD was out of print but is available again (see in the comments section for details). Give it a try if you’re looking for something different.
Overview: Terry Gilliam describes Brazil as “Franz Kafka meets Walter Middy” - this sort of fits. Using the name of Arry Barroso’s 1930s escapist song, Brazil is set in a nightmarish, fantasized dystopic future, Gilliam gives us a story about humanity attempting to escape reality by retreating into one’s own dreams. This is all the more interesting given the enormous fights Terry Gilliam had to engage in with Universal to even get the picture (in a non-bastardized form) released. Brazil is a visual and thematic tour-de-force which deserves a watch by all who are interested in having movies provoke deep thoughts, long after the film has concluded.
The Setting: Brazil takes place in a fantasized dystopic future where runaway, controlling, technocratic bureaucracy that has invaded all aspects of daily life. Arcane forms with incoherent instructions are required to do anything, but the goal is always completeness and finality over actual results. Appearances are everything in Brazil – actual human relationships are a luxury most do without. Humans survive in this world by keeping their “real” selves bottled up inside as a cocoon, while overtly they serve their role as a specific cog in the system. Keep the desk clean, the expensive suit pressed and your family looking perfect and you’ll be alright. Continually we see non-human responses to horrific disasters. In one restaurant scene, half the patrons have been blown up by a bomb, but the maître d’ is far more concerned with hiding the destruction from his elite patrons by erecting a pleasant backdrop than he is in helping those horribly injured.
The Story: Sam Lowry (played wonderfully by Jonathan Pryce), our hero, from the beginning adapts to the system, but separates his “true” self in his dreams. Sam works as a minor cog in a the massively large bureaucracy called the Ministry of Information. The Ministry of Information eats up 7% of the total GDP in its pursuit of society’s subversive elements, including the terrorists, who randomly bomb the rich and wealthy throughout the movie. Even though Sam comes from a prominent family with connections, he wants nothing to do with career advancement. Sam long ago gave up aspirations, and only wants to get through life unnoticed - until the love of his dream life appears in the real world. Sam throws everything else aside in order to meet up with this chick, but unfortunately, the “system” and even his own preconceptions continually get in the way. As the story unfolds, we see the bureaucracy in action in what becomes a struggle of freedom and individuality against the technological domination of humanity.
The Visuals: Brazil is a visually powerful movie. In its more sedate moments, Brazil starts off as a noir-ish style setting with 40s style suits and hats, tall squared buildings, computers driven by typewriters and dark lighting from above. But very quickly, Brazil changes to a surreal experience, which shoes converted to hats, ventilation pipes dominating every roomscape, and massive expansive buildings without ground floors. Ventilation pipes are Gilliam’s symbol for technology run rampant. Massively tall buildings are symbols for bureaucratic power. Throughout, dark gray is the dominating color. Visually, the world of Brazil is decidedly bleak – more bleak in fact than humanity can overcome.
The Sound: Brazil’s score fully encapsulates the ambiance that Gilliam is expressing. We have high flowing orchestral pieces, cheesy, squeaky monophone songs, marches that integrate type-writers as the rhythm section, and all sorts of diversity that captures the quirky, bittersweet feel that Brazil often conveys. The continually harsh, metallic sound FX also highten the ambiance. What we are left with is a wonderful meshing of visuals and sound as a backdrop for the wonderful performances throughout.
The Cast: One of Gilliam’s real skills in Brazil is taking an extremely large cast, filled with potentially interesting roles, and making them all meaningful. Continually, Brazil provides us a stream of totally interesting role players that add to the quirky universe that is this fantasized future. Robert De Niro is terrific as Harry Tuttle, a heat engineer-turned anarchist revolutionary. Michael Palin plays a terrific best friend and torturer, and Katherin Helmond plays a totally wierd, excentric but powerful mother. There are a number of other unique roles, including Ian Holm who plays a terrific cowardly, conniving boss, and Bob Hoskins as a slighted and crazed heat engineer. Jonathan Pryce is absolutely superb as the lead, and Kim Greist plays an interesting counter-point love interest. All in all, the roles come across as entirely memorable.
Dream Trapped Inside of a Nightmare: On the “Making of” segment of the Criterion Edition, Brazil is described as a dream trapped inside of a nightmare by star Jonathan Pryce. Pryce’s character, Sam Lowry, dreams the ultimate dream of happiness. In his dream, he is a fantasy warrior with angel wings who fights the denizens of the deep to rescue his idealized damsel in distress. In reality though, every aspect of his life is a nightmare. The “system” that is the bureaucracy, in an attempt to root out the terrorists, has extended its omnipresent tentacles into every aspect of life. At best, Lowry’s idealized reality involves being un-noticed by anyone. Unfortunately, once he discovers his idealized mate in real life, he can no longer remain obscure. He risks everything in a failed attempt to transform his dream into reality. In the end, Brazil shows how the depths of humanity can be crushed in a dystopic future where individuality and human rights become completely subservient to societal “welfare.”
Use of Information: In Brazil, the collection and storage of information is paramount. While Brazil takes place in a dystopic future, computers have never advanced past arcane mainframes. The notion of usability, or people-centric computing is an anathema to the world of Brazil. The horror of horrors for the bureaucracy is finding a piece of paper without a home, or even worse, acknowledging that the “mistake” that caused this out of place paper belongs in your department! In Brazil, the fact that a person dies and a family is destroyed by this paperwork glitch is completely beside the point. In fact, the Samurai warrior character (see below) that Lowry fights in his dreams is fully comprised of computer parts – information and computers are indeed the ultimate evil for humanity.
Terror As a Means of Extracting Information: One of the really interesting notions in Brazil that resonates today is the idea that the government engages in torture as a means of extracting information about potential terrorists. The throwaway comments from Sam, who has bought into this world, indicates that the choice HAS to be between this invasive government and sheer anarchy. When brought to the level of the individual, one has the sense that little by little, the government in Brazil slowly invaded individual freedoms as a way of combating the terrorists. The clear impression though is one of ever escalating acts – as the government becomes more invasive, the anarchic responses become more extravagant. De Niro’s character, the heroic anarchist heating engineer, represents this history of society, and humanity’s ultimate response.
Is Brazil Cyberpunk? Due to the fantasy elements we see in Brazil, it’s hard to refer to it as a straight cyberpunk movie. While the dream sequences aren’t an issue, the dystopic future clearly isn’t supposed to represent an actual near-term future – it’s a fantasized version of issues currently playing out in society today. Still, the message of invasive technology and dominating totalitarian control destroying humanity is rarely done better than we see in Brazil. And while Brazil is wonderfully quirky, it’s the ending that truly feels like a cyberpunk film. Here we get both common cyberpunk visuals and philosophy in every sense of the word. The ending especially mimics many other cyberpunk films, where…
[SPOILERS – HIGHLIGHT THE TEXT TO SEE]
Throughout the last half of the film, Sam’s perception of reality becomes more and more governed by perceptions from his dream world. His actions leading to his final arrest are based on a perceptual mix of fantasy with reality. At the end, Sam is seems to make the conscious choice to disavow the real world in favor of his internally constructed fantasy. In this sense, Sam has finally attained the freedom he long sought after. Interestingly, a very similar approach is also used at the end of Save the Green Planet.
The Bottom Line: The world of Brazil is steeped in a runaway, controlling, technocratic bureaucracy that has its tentacles in every part of humanity. The ducts dominate every room, including the family household living room at the beginning. To humanity, the message is clear – “Your actual lives must be adapted to suit OUR needs, not yours; freedom now only exists in your own dreams.” In the end we are shown the myth of a free man in a tightly controlled society – the only freedom we ultimately possess is within our own perceptions – that is the only source where salvation can be found. Visually, Brazil is simply stunning. The story is incredibly creative, the acting is great (especially De Niro and Pryce) and the dialogue is terrific. Furthermore, your Gilliam’s wonderful sense of humor seeps out of every pore in this movie - such as the notion that the information retrieval department never retrieves any information. In short, Brazil is movie worthy of high praise.
Overview: One of the truly unique movies in the cyberpunk genre, Robocop seems to be slowly receding from our conscious. No longer (in the US) is it carried at places like Best Buy. This is truly a shame because Robocop offers us one of the best instances of near-future cyborgs on film, and in the process, raises some pretty interesting questions. One top of this, Robocop offers some really fun satire along with an in-your-face realistic violence tone throughout that only adds to its mood.
The Story: In a very near-future setting, general law and order has broken down. In the crime-ridden city of Detroit, Omni Consumer Products (OCP) has taken over the public safety duties. To cut costs, they have decided to explore options for automating the police force. One option supported by Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) the number 2 guy at OCP, involves the development of a fully automated mobile weapon system called “ED 209.” While ED 209 is an absolute badass, it screws up in the final demo and ends up peppering one of OCP’s employees in the process.
Enter up and coming executive, Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer). Bob takes ED 209’s demise as an opportunity to convince the CEO to give the Robocop project a try. This involves taking a “just-dead” cop, and embedding the key parts of his body (brain, lungs, heart, etc.) into a robotic body that interfaces and “controls” the mental processes through controlling prime directives. Detective Murphy (played wonderfully by Peter Weller), who has just died in a gruesome death at the hands of Detroit’s crime lord (Kurtwood Smith) becomes the new “volunteer.” His memory is erased, his limbs are removed, and then becomes OCP’s corporate property as their latest innovation.
Murphy is transformed into a fully encased crime fighting machine. Robocop is released on the streets to start kicking ass. Unfortunately, Dick Jones doesn’t take his defeat gracefully, and begins to cause trouble both for Robocop’s creator, Bob Morton, and finally for Robocop. It turns out that OCP’s plan for managing detroit’s crime situation isn’t all above board, as there appears to be some linkage between OCP and Detroit’s crime lord. Robocop’s troubles get even worse as he begins to remember who he was in a past life.
The Satire: Verhoeven is known for having an off-beat sense of satire. In a technique later used for Total Recall and Starship Troopers, Robocop does this primarily through its news reports and commercials. These, along with the corporate greed thematics transforms Robocop into a social commentary on the 80s excesses. The Commoditization of society permeates every aspect of human life in Robocop. Corporations are inherently evil and humanity is a cheap sales pitch. Like Starship Troopers, you’ll continually catch yourself smiling at the commercials and news reports, as Verhoeven really has a talent for this type of satire.
The Violence: Fair warning – Robocop is an extremely violent movie – so much so that upon its initial release, they had to cut two seconds of violence to prevent from receiving an “X” rating. Nothing is held back here, as Verhoeven continually strives for hyper-realism. We see limbs getting blown off, blood spattered faces and walls, and in-your-face gore of all varieties from beginning to end. However, the violence doesn’t stick out as a sore thumb – instead it serves to give the near-future city a nourish realism feel. In short, it works within the context of the narrative and surrounding visuals.
The FX and Set Designs: While Verhoeven gives us a somewhat futuristic city, he seems to err on the side of looking “normal.” We see this most clearly in the Ford Taurus police cars (which were brought in after everyone agreed the futuristic police car designs looked too tacky to be considered). However, the set designs are all wonderfully constructed, and all seem work well with one-another. The ED 209 looks terrific, and the stop-motion animation for it generally works. Robocop’s exterior design does look hoaky at first, but you eventually get used to it. On the other hand, Robocop without his helmet looks flat-out awesome.
The Cyborg Questions: Robocop/Murphy give us a rich set of questions to ponder relating to cyborgs, the integration of programming with human minds, and in determining ownership after death.
Cyborg and Humanity: As Murphy begins to realize who he was, and worse, what he’s become, the question asked is what degree of Murphy’s humanity remains? Murphy’s partner, Anne Lewis (played by Nancy Allen) serves to surface these concerns, as she still thinks that Murphy is inside somewhere. Yet, every aspect of humanity has been taken away from Robocop – he doesn’t have a home, but instead returns to a borg-like podchair at night to regenerate. Even if Robocop eventually considers himself human in some sense, it’s no longer clear what that even means. At best, Robocop is part of that strange category we call “post-human.”
Man-machine interface – Robocop Style: Robocop gives us an interesting look at human brain-matter that has been fully integrated into a cybernetic body. Even more interesting though is the notion that external programming could limit the functioning of the human brain from controlling its new cyborg casing. If we think about it, this isn’t as far fetched as it may initially look: similar to how firewalls block “targeted” information from either entering or exiting a network, Robocop’s programming ensures the human mind adheres to the prime directives. But while the prevention part seems possible, the “directive” nature of the rules seems dubious, as does the erasing of his memory. These perhaps, are far harder to do without destroying the “cop experience” they so desired by picking Murphy in the first place.
Dixie Flatline Construct Concerns: Similar to the Dixie Flatline Construct in Neuromancer, for all intents and purposes, Murphy is dead prior to being transformed into Robocop. At best we can consider him a zombie as his brain matter was re-animated after death. But like Dixie Flatline, he can think and perform sensemaking. Also like Dixie Flatline, he is limited by programming constraints. However, unlike Dixie Flatline, Robocop can still “feel.” So the question is this – if we develop the capability to re-animate someone’s consciousness after death, do they have the same basic human rights as they did when they were alive? Or are they the property of the corporation who revived them? Even weirder, could corpse’s estate executor (or spouse, for that matter) “sell” the corpse’s consciousness to a third party? If this is so, could your conscious be sold after the fact to pay off unpaid debts? Truly, the questions are mind-boggling!
The Bottom Line: Robocop has to be considered one of the essential films of the cyberpunk genre. Some of the action scenes could have been better choreographed (a lot of the bad-guy deaths had the worthless storm trooper feel to them), but truly, the quibbles with this film are minor. Unlike the sequels, which largely come across as pathetic attempts to cash in on the original’s success, Robocop takes itself seriously from beginning to end. Because of this, it really does rise to something special. Even though Best Buy no longer considers Robocop worthy of carrying, don’t let this fool you – assuming you can stand the violence, Robocop deserves to be watched.