TEN LESSER-KNOWN CYBERPUNK MOVIES
With the release of the new Keanu Reeves cyberpunk thriller The
Matrix and the upcoming The 13th Floor virtual reality thriller (produced by
Devlin/Emmerich, et al) it would seem that Hollywood is rethinking the cyberpunk genre - a
genre that seems spent on the literary front and didn't exactly result in
huge successes at the box office in the past.
In this article we take a look at what critics thought of some
lesser-known and oft-forgotten cyberpunk movies upon their release . . .
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)
For a "fun" film this is pretty bleak.
The movie's New York of 1997 would have been more interesting if it were
seen as a genuinely different prison society, rather than as a recycled version of THE
WARRIORS. And the antihero needs more human qualities and quirks; he seems lifted from old
OUR TAKE: Director Carpenter keeps the whole stew boiling to make a
rather enjoyable dinner. Bit like curry - its charms are hard to explain but still
enjoyable. If you haven't seen this one yet, rent it now!
No great shakes, but fast pace and vivid direction make it fun.
HACKERS is, I have no doubt, deeply dubious in the computer science
department. It shares the common hacksploitation conceit that a kid with a computer and a
modem can alter the course of human events with a few taps on his keyboard.
OUR TAKE: Just don't expect any real insight into the Hacker
subculture and don't take it seriously and you're on your way to an passable evening at
the cinema. Take along lots of popcorn . . .
JOHNNY MNEMONIC (1995)
Intriguing premise, written by William Gibson and directed by artist
Longo, goes absolutely nowhere, as uninteresting characters mouth laughable dialogue
against a landscape of urban hell. Despite the computer graphics, this is cyberclaptrap.
The fiction of Gibson is much prized on the campus, where, I am tempted
to say, its fans know more about cyberspace than about fiction. That's why it's puzzling
that this movie is so dumb about computers. Where did it get the notion that the best way
to get information from Beijing to Newark would be to hand it to a courier and have him
travel the distance? Hey, a lot of people went to a lot of trouble to invent computers and
modems and satellites just to make trips like that unnecessary.
OUR TAKE: The situation is made worse by the presence of a wooden
Keanu Reaves, first time director's Robert Loggia's flat look to the movie and Gibson's
screenplay that tends to over explain events and terms. Had
anything it would have had none of the impact it had.
Just another amalgam of ideas borrowed from better movies.
OUR TAKE: While this extremely derivative el cheapo cyberpunk action
movie isnt as bad as it could have been, it isnt any good either.
Why does this story take so long to unravel-and why does it jettison
every shred of believability toward the end?
The computer stuff in SNEAKERS has been widely touted (the studio even
released a press kit on discs), but it's underwhelming in the movie. The big display of
the secret program consists of a screen full of alphabet soup, which then unscrambles
itself into a decoded message. The software to achieve this would, of course, be awesome,
but the screen display is no big deal, and indeed one of the weaknesses of the movie is
the way it pretends to be a techno-thriller when in fact it recycles much older
traditions. Take Redford's team, which is yet another version of the World War II platoon
that always had one of everything. This time there is the black guy (Sidney Poitier), the
fat guy (Dan Aykroyd), the blind guy (David Strathairn), the woman (Mary McDonnell) and
the kid (River Phoenix).
OUR TAKE: With its flat look and sometimes slow pacing it curiously
feels like a movie made in the 'Seventies.
STRANGE DAYS (1995)
Though bombastic and overambitious, this is a rare film that manages
to capture, in fits, the addictive thrill of virtual reality.
The movie is a technical tour de force. Director Kathryn Bigelow (BLUE
STEEL) and her designers and special effects artists create the vision of a city spinning
out of control. Cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti's point-of-view shots are virtuoso
(especially one where a character falls from a roof in an apparently uninterrupted take).
The pacing is relentless, and the editing, by Howard Smith, creates an urgency and
OUR TAKE: I have rarely seen a film so ruined by a tacked-on happy
Story gets slower - and sillier - as it goes along, with icky special
effects by Rick Baker.
The colors in VIDEODROME are mostly shades of dried blood. The
characters are bitter and hateful, the images are nauseating, and the ending is bleak
enough that when the screen fades to black it's a relief. This is the kind of movie that
makes you want to see a different movie.
OUR TAKE: Not for the squeamish and if you want to see Debbie Harry
(ex-lead singer of Blondie) extinguish a cigarette on her thigh then you'll no doubt won't
be disappointed . . .
Another unpleasant look at a futuristic society
Ugly, to say
the least, although it's built on a foundation of some interesting ideas.
OUR TAKE: Lots of techno buzzwords aside, there is not much new to
this affair and one rather hopes that director Leonard could have done something more
original with the material at hand.
Entertaining to a point, but gets more contrived as it goes along,
leading to finale straight out of an old B movie. Incidentally, it's easy to see why this
was so popular with kids: most of the adults in the film are boobs.
The movie absorbs us on emotional and intellectual levels at the same
time. And the ending, a moment of blinding and yet utterly elementary insight, is
The people who made it had half an idea. The film begins as a comedy
about a teenage boy in Seattle who is caught up in the fascination of computers and video
games; he has all this miracle-working technology and not a thought in the world about
what to do with it. There's also the noise of speechmakers--the director, John Badham,
loses his easy touch, and the picture goes flooey.
OUR TAKE: Exciting and well-paced, the film also had a lot to say
about leaving too much in the, um, hands of those IBM-compatible home computers. Today,
with Windows 95, it is a lesson that we have already learnt . . .
WILD PALMS (1993)
OUR TAKE: Oliver Stone's cyberpunk Wild Palms TV miniseries owes
perhaps more to David Lynch's Twin Peaks than it does to the writings of William Gibson
(who actually makes a small cameo appearance in the film). Although the plot is confusing
at times, Wild Palms is suitably bizarre watching featuring state-of-the-art special