Wednesday, December 21, 2016

World on a Wire

   I must admit, I was at a bit of a disadvantage when I popped in World on a Wire. I slowly realized that yes, it was based on the book Simulacron-3. You know what other movie was based on Simulacron-3? The Thirteenth Floor. And, can I just say really quick... Fuck that movie. Fuck that movie so hard for wasting such sterling potential. World on a Wire is a million times the movie that The Thirteenth Bore is. It's engaging, intriguing, well-acting, suspenseful, intelligent and exceptionally well written. I thought I was done being mad at The Thirteenth Floor, but I guess not.

   I don't hate remakes or re-adaptions, and the 90's were a perfectly ripe time to re-explore the themes put forward in Simulacron-3 and World on a Wire, but to produce such a turgid piece of crap when your inspiration and source material are so amazing... it's ultimately insulting. I didn't realize at first that both movies shared the same source material, and frankly, I haven't thought of The Thirteenth Floor in ages- but I started to see similarities, and a little 'ding' sound went off in my head. Just about a third of the way into World on a Wire's three and a half hour runtime, and already it was a masterpiece by comparison.

   I'm not sure why exactly this made me so mad about The Thirteenth Floor. Maybe it's because I so very badly wanted that movie to be really damn good too, but alas. I wanted to be surprised by the twists in World on a Wire, but they were spoiled for me already. Yet the movie kept me watching throughout. The movie unfolds like a low key thriller about industrial espionage, but is layered with smart, confident, and cerebral science fiction melodrama. World on a Wire towers over all it's inferior successors in movies like Tron, The Matrix, Inception, and the goddamn Thirteenth Floor. While so many sci-fi movies with similar themes feel hopelessly dated, World on a Wire, miraculously... doesn't.

   Nobody passes around floppy disks in this movie, or brandishes an all-important flash drive. Nobody talks about internet uplinks or spouts nonsensical jargon about hacking. The physical sci-fi elements of World on a Wire are not endlessly explained, thankfully. There's a computer simulation that a user can enter by way of a headset. There are NPCs that are called identity units. They've been programmed to be self sufficient A.I. units- like real people. But as characters in the movie are so fond of saying, they're just "bundles of circuits..." This is all plainly and matter-of-factly presented to the viewer. It's easy to get lost in this world, because it's so evergreen. It's concepts are not nonsensical fantastical like Tron, nor laced with religious allegory like The Matrix. It just... is.

   Mixed in with it's corporate settings, boardrooms and the like, there are dimly lit nightclubs, well worn bars, and characters who are always pouring themselves a drink. World on a Wire is less concerned with what's real and what's not, and more of why, and why not? Main protagonist, Fred Stiller, a scientist working on the Simulacron program, is convinced that something shady is going on. As well he should be, because people are disappearing and crazy shit is going down. The seemingly labyrinthine plot is actually much less complicated that in would have you believe. In the end, all is explained within the span of a scene or two.

   Not that the twists and turns will really matter to a seasoned viewer. Even without immediately realizing that this is a beat for beat predecessor to The Thirteenth Floor, I knew the big twist. So will most people. But, it's the eccentric style, noirish intrigue and irresistible wit of World on a Wire that drew me in and kept me watching. I found myself newly invested in characters and subplots that I already knew how they'd end. I was thoroughly engrossed in this lean and sleek thriller. Its restrained and sophisticated style are deceptive, because eventually, as the laws of cinema would dictate, things eventually go crazy.

   World on a Wire isn't an action movie though. It's not concerned with car chases or shootouts. Instead it's more about clues, headlines, and femme fatales. It grapples heavily with themes of self-identity and subjective reality. Is Fred Stiller going crazy? Or has he stumbled onto the ultimate conspiracy. Fred is no messiah-in-the-rough, like Thomas Anderson, but then again, World on a Wire has no need of an Agent Smith either, and I suppose that says all it really needs to. A wholly fantastic movie, and easily recommended to serious genre fans. Science fiction is rarely this good anymore.

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