Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve sci-fi recommendation: Strange Days

If you're looking for a New Year's Eve themed movie to watch tonight I suggest you check out Strange Days.

It's a sleek, edgy and fascinating sci-fi film from 1995. Not a classic science fiction movie by any means, it is most definitely worth watching as it has some interesting and provocative transhumanist themes in it.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and produced and written by James Cameron, it stars Ralph Fiennes, Angela Basset, Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore, Michael Wincott, and Vincent D'Onofrio. The film takes place on the eve of the millennium (December 31, 1999) in LA, and centers on the story of Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes), an ex-cop who peddles a kind of conscious-experience recorder and playback system. Called a "squid," it's a headpiece that allows one to transmit digital recordings of other people's thoughts, feelings, and memories into their brain. As Lenny describes it, "this is real life, pure and uncut, straight from the cerebral cortex."

Lenny deals "clips" (the recordings) as well as "squids" for this new and illegal entertainment system. Of course, sex and violence are the most popular themes, but Lenny refuses to deal in "blackjack" -- a slang term for snuff clips.

Reminiscent of 1983's Brainstorm, Strange Days is a film that deals with not just the potential addictive and drug-like quality of such technologies, but with the ethical aspects as well.

Lenny, for example, can't quite get over his break-up with his former girlfriend. He happens to have clips of his experiences with her when they were together, so to help ease the pain, he escapes into the past by putting on a squid.

While the creation of snuff clips certainly attracts unwanted elements, the film also explores the potential benefits of this technology, namely the advantage of having completely realistic and shared out-of-body experiences. In one scene, for example, a character without legs is able to experience what it's like to run on a beach.

The film is also notable for its extended first person POV shots which required Bigelow's team to create entirely new, light-weight 35mm cameras. The opening scene, for example, is a dramatic no-cut sequence that is quite breathtaking, leaving you wondering how they hell they pulled some of the effects and stunts off.

Just one word of warning to the faint-of-heart, as there's some pretty graphic violence and sexuality in this movie.

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