The Lawnmower Man -1992-

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Directed by Brett Leonard. 107 mins.

Worth my time? Eh, yeah. (Watched on Blu-ray)

Seeing Transcendence reminded me that I had never watched this sorta Singularity-themed CGI extravaganza from the early 90s. I remember seeing ads for a SNES game based on the movie, and all I could think was, “That weird golden cyber-dude hardly resembles a lawnmower.”

As most CGI-laden films of its time (except maybe The Abyss), Lawnmower looks its age, but the virtual reality sequences are aesthetically engaging in spite of their technical shortcomings. The storyline never makes clear how VR could improve the biochemistry of the human brain, but I’ll give it a pass. After all, no one complains when the sensory-deprivation chamber in Altered States morphs William Hurt into an ape-guy.

Like most high-concept sci-fi, the film doesn’t live up to the fascinating premise. There’s the idealistic, workaholic scientist (Pierce Brosnan) and the obligatory shadow organization (led, surprisingly, by Dean Norris) that wants to militarize his findings. Your eyes will roll when the climactic explosion occurs, and you’ll be able to guess the final scene from a mile away.

Still, I’d see this over Transcendence unconditionally. If you haven’t seen it, and you want a reminder that Jeff Fahey was once relevant in film.

(Seen and written on 2014-04-19)

Dark City -1998-

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Directed by Alex Proyas. 112 mins (Director’s Cut).

Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on Blu-ray)

Who would have thought that before directing turns such as I, Robot and Knowing, Alex Proyas made arguably the best sci-fi film of the 90s? I mean, I would have thought as much since I’ve seen Dark City before. You, on the other hand, may have been none the wiser.

The film was a flop in 1998 because Titanic was still dominating the world box office at the time. The Matrix, having lifted much of the Dark City premise without any of the style of context, was the toast of the town the following year. Luckily, the director’s cut – and be certain that it’s the director’s cut – is on home video for everyone to enjoy.

The film is a visual marvel, taking cues from German expressionism and the American noirs that followed the movement. Many films demonstrate these aesthetic influences, but Dark City is unique in that it takes the hallmarks of the subgenre and incorporates them directly into the narrative. The amnesiac protagonist, the twisting streets and alleys that lead nowhere, the clashing architectural styles, and the night that never ends all have deeply unnerving explanations.

What I personally find most disturbing about Dark City is the way in which it reminds me of Bertrand Russell’s Five Minute Hypothesis. Russell contended that for all we know, the Universe sprang into existence five minutes ago along with the Earth and everyone on it. All of our memories prior to the five minutes are false, but so long as they are generally consistent with how the Earth appears to be, we would never be able to know. Russell didn’t actually believe in the hypothesis – rather, he used it as a thought experiment to highlight the limits of epistemology. And in Russell’s mind, it wouldn’t much matter even if the hypothesis were true since the Earth would be identical to how it would be if it had been billions of years old as is today’s scientific consensus.

Dark City shows, in horrifying fashion, that Russell was wrong; a young world with a population saturated with false memories could hide sinister secrets.

Aside (SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT): One of my favorite  mysteries of Dark City is the fate of Earth. Did the Strangers simply harvest a select few humans from our planet and then leave it alone? Does humankind even exist beyond the City anymore? *shudders*

(Seen and written on 2014-03-08)