Friday, January 24, 2003

The Movie I Watched Last Night LV
Johnny Mnemonic
I so wanted this movie to be good. Based on a short story by William Gibson, this is one of the most important cyberpunk pieces to date. Robert Longo's screen adaptation, despite a screenplay by Gibson himself, falls far short of what the movie could have been. Keanu Reeves performs at his wooden, mangling most of the dramatically necessary dialogue with a ham-handed delivery. Henry Rollins is similarly doltish, failing entirely as the heroic, principled medico. Udo Kier's Ralfi is satisfyingly creepy, although I could easily see Dean Stockwell or Dennis Hopper in that role. Of the cast, Ice-T stands out far above the others regardless of an underused presence until the end of the movie. His Low-tech parallel society with a media network in an elevated city state constructed out of garbage emerges as the most successful meme in the film. Stronger than the uber-dolphin, and stronger than Dolph Lundgren's street preacher. Lastly, compared to the graphic representations of the net in The Net and Hackers, the animations developed by Braid Media Arts shine quite brightly. Read the story. The movie is merely a curiosity.

The Lawnmower Man
Not that there have been many successful TV or movie adaptations of Stephen King's writing, but you know a movie is bad if the original author takes legal action to stop the filmmakers from associating his name with the movie and its promotion. "The Lawnmower Man" is one of King's most delightfully dark short stories, and the movie, while drawing lightly on some scenes and images from the story, adds and reworks so much, that the lineage is hardly direct. The King connection aside, this is a forward-thinking look at how virtual reality could be used to improve and augment human cognition. Pierce Brosnan's researcher improves the intelligence of an abused, developmentally disabled man, who rises up as a superhuman in the end, able to tap into the VR space while still in the real world. Jeff Fahey's Jobe Smith develops well -- intellectually and physically -- throughout the film, and the representations of VR aren't that bad. But in the end, the ethical quandary of messing with the human psyche gets short shrift, the director resorts to special effects, and the plot is left hanging, ripe for a sequel. The film doesn't capture King's original vision, and the resulting vision is so far removed -- and so unsatisyfing -- that The Lawnmower Man ends up as so much mulch.

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