Wednesday, August 31, 2005


Standing alone, head-and-shoulders above the rest

I have just finished watching the final episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. This was a made-for-TV reimagining of the popular 1995 movie, which was itself based on a manga series by Shirow Masamune. Stand Alone Complex (SAC) is just magnificent. Over the 26 episodes of the series, it delivers time and again on many levels: hard sci-fi buzz, exciting action sequences, an intriguing plot involving government corruption and the pharmaceutical industry, and even a touch of commentary on J.D. Salinger and the nature of the self and our conflicting desires to assert individuality at the same time that we want to be part of a group.

The producers of the show seem to understand that it is the small, personal touches that really sell the fantastical sci-fi stuff. Everyone uses their wireless connections to silently communicate and share information; a wooden floor cracks under the weight of an artificial body that appears to be that of a slender woman in her thirties; a cyborg man removes his beard before going to bed.

In fact, while I am on the subject, let me say that I have never seen the concept of bionics and of artificial bodies handled better cinematically. The writers just keep finding new and clever ways to showcase the fact that our heroes, however human they may look, have no more flesh and blood than their brains and spinal cords.

Watching this series come to a close, it just makes me sad to see that American film and television doesn't seem to be able to handle near-future science fiction in a convincing way. Most cyberpunk films have been horrible. Alex Proyas' I, Robot was only tolerable, and the last really good near-future movie I saw was Gattaca. I want to mention Network, Brazil, and the 1975 film Rollerball as well.

Excellent point. No one pulls off material such as this better than the japanese, especially in anime. Ever hear of the "uncanny valley"? They pay great attention to the psychology and mechanical theory, and most of it's very believable.

oh, terry gilliam is amazing. Brazil, the adventures of baron von munchausen, and whatever the hell else he directed all rock with a vengeance.
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