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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 particularly 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 . . .


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ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)
 

For a "fun" film this is pretty bleak.
Leonard Maltin

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 spaghetti Westerns.
Roger Ebert

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!

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HACKERS (1995)
 

No great shakes, but fast pace and vivid direction make it fun.
Leonard Maltin

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.
Roger Ebert

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.
Leonard Maltin

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.
Roger Ebert

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 Neuromancer explained anything it would have had none of the impact it had.


NEMESIS (1993)
 

Just another amalgam of ideas borrowed from better movies.
Leonard Maltin

OUR TAKE: While this extremely derivative el cheapo cyberpunk action movie isn’t as bad as it could have been, it isn’t any good either.


SNEAKERS (1992)
 

Why does this story take so long to unravel-and why does it jettison every shred of believability toward the end?
Leonard Maltin

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).
Roger Ebert

OUR TAKE: With its flat look and sometimes slow pacing it curiously feels like a movie made in the 'Seventies.

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STRANGE DAYS (1995)
 

Though bombastic and overambitious, this is a rare film that manages to capture, in fits, the addictive thrill of virtual reality.
Leonard Maltin

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 desperation.
Roger Ebert

OUR TAKE: I have rarely seen a film so ruined by a tacked-on happy ending.

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VIDEODROME (1983)
 

Story gets slower - and sillier - as it goes along, with icky special effects by Rick Baker.
Leonard Maltin

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.
Roger Ebert

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 . . .

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VIRTUOSITY (1995)
 

Another unpleasant look at a futuristic society … Ugly, to say the least, although it's built on a foundation of some interesting ideas.
Leonard Maltin

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.

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WARGAMES (1983)
 

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.
Leonard Maltin

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 wonderful.
Roger Ebert

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.
Paul Kael

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 effects.




 

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