Filming the Gibson

Filming the Gibson – Johnny Mnemonic

 

As a lifelong fan of William Gibson, I always find myself cringing a little when I read interviews with him conducted by someone who either believes that they need to start with a Gibson For Dummies primer piece or are surprised that he wrote most than just That One Book.
He’s so much more than ‘The Man Who Coined The Term Cyberspace’ or ‘The Godfather of Cyberpunk’. He’s a beat poet. A lyrical, cynical wordsmith whose ability to posit where our technology will take us 10 minutes into the future has mostly been accurate due to the sheer number of readers he has inspired to learn to use computers.
If Gene Rodenberry created a generation of wouldbe astronauts then William Gibson inspired a generation of programmers and console cowboys.

His influence on popular culture is impossible to assess at this point.
Whenever a movie or video game styles itself as cyberpunk today it has Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner and Gibson’s Neuromancer in its DNA. Crapsack worlds populated with film-noir losers, eking out a living on the fringes of society. Megacorporations that seem to have replaced governments. Continuing themes of our relationship to technology and the loss of our humanity…
What’s not to love?

The writing style of his books is too dense to successfully make the transition to film however. Even as a reader, it’s sometimes a couple of chapters in before the story fragments start to coalesce into something meaningful.
A 3 hour arthouse film that culminates in a CGI filled political thriller finale would be close, but it probably wouldn’t be an easy sell.

New Rose Hotel is probably is the most faithful adaptation storywise but it feels too melancholic, a little too meandering, for me.
Tomorrow Calling is a short, fever dream that doesn’t outstay its welcome but feels like a hurried sketch of a story.
Johnny Mnemonic is the closest adaptation to the spirit, if not the letter, of what I love about the cyberpunk genre. Once you take it on its own terms, it’s surprisingly fun and enjoyable.
It’s CyberPunk writ large, with chrome crayons. The broadly painted characters are cast perfectly.
Takashi Kitano lends the film some credibility as the yakuza boss.
Dina Meyer is the closest to Molly Millions we’re ever going to get.
The presence of Ice-T and Henry Rollins ground the film firmly in the 90s.
Cybernetic, religious nut? Check, courtesy of Dolph Lundgren.
Creepy, nightclub boss? Udo Kier. It’s a B-movie Who’s Who and it works.

The titular Johnny is played by Keanu Reeves, with a socket in his skull before it was cool…

Don’t get me wrong. This movie is far from a masterpiece, it’s a comic book CliffsNotes on cyberpunk, but take it for what it is and you’ll be entertained for 1 hour 47 minutes.