Monday, 15 August 2011

The Gibson Continuum

It has long been a source of bafflement to me that William Gibson's 1984 cyberpunk trailblazer Neuromancer has not yet made it to celluloid (although word is that a version is FINALLY due to start filming next year). It means that we devotees of his work have to make do with the slim pickings that have managed to escape from Development Hell. The best known of these so far has been Johnny Mnemonic, the less said about which the better. Last night I finally got around to watching another; New Rose Hotel. Like Johnny Mnemonic, it is based on one of Gibson's early short stories for Omni magazine, subsequently repackaged in the fantastic Burning Chrome story collection. Given that the film is now 13 years old, and given my love of all things Gibson, it is a mystery to me how I have managed to avoid it until now. Still, at least I've finally got the chance to correct that oversight. Spoilers follow, if you care about such things.

Let's start with the positives: it has Christopher Walken and Willem Defoe as leads, rather than Keanu Reeves and Dolph Lundgren; so that already puts it streets ahead of Johnny Mnemonic. It's directed by Abel 'Bad Lieutenant' Ferrara, rather than someone you've never heard of (Robert Longo???). It sticks scrupulously to the short story plot rather than junking damn near everything and turning one of my favourite characters (Molly Millions) into a sad wannabe, like the writer of Johnny Mnemonic did - this was supposedly for legal reasons, but was another major reason why Mnemonic sucked so badly.

But. And I suppose there had to be a but, otherwise it would't have taken me 13 years to discover that this film even exists. It drags. It drags very badly. Fundamentally, the original short story is too slender a foundation to rest a 93-minute film on. The lack of plotting is made up for with lots of moody and mostly dialogue-free scenes in bars, clubs and hotels that fall somewhere between late 80s music video and early 90s softcore Adult Channel intros. And there's a gaping hole at the centre of the film in the form of Asia Argento as Sandii. Much respect to her father and all that, and she's very decorative, and while this was apparently her first movie in English that needn't matter as Sandii herself is supposed to be a rootless, stateless Eurasian of indeterminate origins, but unfortunately her acting isn't up to it. That's a pity, as one of the few concessions the movie makes towards trying to pad out the slim plot is to give Sandii a bit more back story, and makes creditable work of it. But at the end of the day, she can't convince me that she could manipulate a world-renowned scientist into throwing over his wife and career for her. And since that (and the fact that she does the same thing to Defoe's character - who as in the story isn't named) is the key plot point of the film, it makes it founder.

Ah well, I'll just have to wait for Neuromancer, I guess. It's being directed by the guy who did the claustrophobic under-rated classic Cube (and also Splice), so it might be interesting at least.

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