Cyberpunk at its best and worst
8 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I must start with a personal statement - I'm amazed at the silliness of those who bombastically declare this to be the worst movie of all times and so on... Really? Is it really that bad, worse than "Manos - The Hands of Fate" or "Cocoon - the Return"?

I think most of the people who diss this film fall, broadly, in three large categories: 1) those who are so attached to the original short story that they can't stand the idea of an eponymous film with a different vision (although, again, its Gibson himself who penned this script!) This is not "purism", but acting like brats - just like those who criticized the film "Resident Evil" for not "sticking closer to the original games". 2) then, there are those who have a personal dislike for Keanu Reeves, and they follow him over the 'net, criticizing him for "wooden acting". It doesn't matter to them that the Johnny character is exactly what Keanu portrays - an egotistic, self-absorbed bastard, who only cares about his posh clothes, cold Mexican beer and hookers (and there are already so many out there like him, in the real world!). Then 3) there are those who are simply too stupid to actually watch what's going on on the screen, because of personal convictions, education or background (i.e. those who mention Grenpeace and anti-capitalism as if they are capital crimes, or those who think PharmaKom is a Japanese company). I was particularly amused at the user who launched a furious diatribe against the idea of the Lo-Teks being so visible in the ruined bridge, despite the fact that the only time in which they actually identify themselves as the source of anti-establishment activities is the very end, when they also announce they'll be going off the air.

The list could go on. But this is supposed to be a review, not an answer to those who dislike the movie so vehemently.

I believe this is *the* film which, despite its occasional artistic shortcomings, connects "Blade Runner" to "The Matrix". It was a courageous endeavour, portraying an all-too possible near future, and reminded me of another picture, similarly vilified by simpletons who couldn't see beyond the surface - "Starship Troopers".

The sad fact is that the movie was mistreated, and what we ended by seeing on DVD in most of the world is not what the director intended. There is an alternative version (briefly mentioned on this site) which makes some significant changes, and it's available only in Japan.

First of all, the prologue is different and more poignant. Here it is, in this exact form:

"New century. Age of terminal capitalism.

The armored towers of multinational corporations rise above the ruins of the democracies that gave them birth.

Soldiers of the Yakuza defend them.

Hackers, data-pirates, LoTek media rebels are the enemy, burrowing like rats in the walls of cyberspace.

A new plague convulses the cities: Nerve Attenuation Syndrome, incurable, fatal, epidemic, bringing fear and misery as old as the species itself.

But the most precious data is sometimes entrusted to elite private agents, wetwired to function as human data banks.

Mnemonic couriers."

In this day and age, in the post-Enron, post-9/11 world, all the above doesn't seem so far-fetched anymore.

The film is more somber in the Japanese version. We see more of Takahashi's inner desolation, and there are some added bits of gore and violence in the Beijing fight. Johnny himself is much more of a corporate puppet - we see it from a longer dialogue with the hooker in the hotel room, or in the scene in which he acquires the memory doubler. We see J-Bone sticking a syringe in the dolphin, sadistically commenting how the creature is a junkie.

There is also more realism involved (Spoiler alert!): the hero doesn't somehow miraculously recover his childhood memories after being connected to Jones. And we see how Johnny, exhausted, decides to get it over with, despite a dire warning that the "looping" procedure through the dolphin will most certainly kill him. That is a moment of pure redemption, sadly lost in the official European and North-American film versions.

Last but not least, the extended cut gives more screen time to Lundgren's "mad preacher" character. We see him sermonizing in his church, in front of a rapt audience, using words and gestures that are scarily familiar to anyone who has watched an Evangelical TV channel. He discovers along the way that Johnny's "load" is the miraculous cure for NAS, and he covets it for himself - he even shouts he wants to "become (like) God." It's easy to see why "some circles" decided to eliminate all this potentially uncomfortable content... but we ended up with a caricature, instead of a cunning and shrewd film villain.

Johnny, we barely knew you.
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