Top Ten Cyberpunk Movies (part five)

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The active members of The Pandora Society Facebook group have seen a lot of films and watched a lot of television, and here we continue the results of a recent poll in which they nominated and voted for their favorite Cyberpunk films and TV shows . . . today we present the top two films of our Top Ten countdown.

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2. Ghost in the Shell

Movie poster imageBased on manga of the same title, Ghost in the Shell was released in 1995. The film was written by Kazunori Itō, directed by Mamoru Oshii, animated by Production I.G, and starred the voices of Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ōtsuka and Iemasa Kayumi.

Ghost in the Shell follows the hunt of the public security agency Section 9 for a mysterious hacker known as the Puppet Master. With the assistance of her team, Motoko Kusanagi tracks and finds their suspect, only to be drawn into a complex sequence of political intrigue and a cover-up as to the identity and goals of the Puppet Master.

The overarching philosophical themes of the film include sex/gender identity and self-identity in a technologically advanced world. The music, composed by Kenji Kawai, included an ancient Japanese language in a wedding song that serves as a key piece of music leading up to the climax of the movie. Ghost in the Shell was received positively by critics, who praised its visuals, which at the time were the most effective synthesis of traditional cel animation and CG animation. 

Ghost in the Shell influenced a number of prominent filmmakers. The Wachowskis, creators of The Matrix and its sequels, showed it to producer Joel Silver, saying, “We wanna do that for real.” The Matrix series took several concepts from the film, including the Matrix digital rain, which was inspired by the opening credits of Ghost in the Shell, and the way people accessed the Matrix through holes in the back of their necks. Other parallels have been drawn to James Cameron‘s Avatar, Steven Spielberg‘s AI: Artificial Intelligence, and Jonathan Mostow‘s Surrogates.

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1. Blade Runner

Blade_Runner_posterRelease on June 25th, 1982, this is the oldest film in this Top Ten countdown (it came out exactly two weeks prior to Tron) and is widely held as the best example of a Cyberpunk film, and is a cinema classic of the 20th century.

Set in Los Angeles, November 2019, the film follows ex-police officer Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who is forced out of retirement; his job as a “Blade Runner” is to track down escaped bioengineered beings known as replicants who have come to Earth illegally, and destroy them. The Tyrell Corporation, the manufacturers of the replicants, build them with  only a four-year lifespan; the replicants, led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) have come to Earth in an attempt to extend their lives. Deckard’s investigation is complicated by his involvement with Tyrell’s “niece” Rachel (Sean Young) who causes him to question the nature of replicants and assess what it means to be human.

To date, there have actually been seven edits of the film. Since the release of the “Director’s Cut” in 1992, the tacked on “happy ending” and pedestrian voice over in which Deckard comments on the investigation have dissolved into the film’s history; it has now existed for 23 of its 33 years without them.

British director Ridley Scott and French concept design artist Moebius (aka Jean Giraud) bring a distinct style to Blade Runner that was heavily influenced by Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks (pictured left). Scott describes the style of the film as “retro-fitting” in which buildings, vehicles, and fashions of the past have been augmented with the technology of the future. Even the cinematography of the film is essentially “retro-fitted” as Scott employs common tropes of a film-noir detective story from the 1930’s or 40’s with dark lighting and shadows that are splashed with contrasting colorful neon lights.

There is so much that can be said about Blade Runner (and probably the subject of upcoming article), it is a film rich in plot, acting, visual style, a fantastic music score by Vangelis, and thematic content. Despite being a cult and artistic classic, the film did not do as well at the box office; it made a $10 million profit, but it was a film literally ahead of its time and perhaps too cerebral for those expecting another action adventure like Harrison Ford’s Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Current Hollywood news reports that Harrison Ford will be returning for a Blade Runner sequel which has fans of the film very divided and extremely nervous. Blade Runner is a perfectly enclosed story to which all the unanswered questions actually contribute greatly to the holistic phenomenon that is one of the best films ever made.

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There are many other great Cyberpunk film and TV titles that did not make it into our Top Ten, and perhaps we shall visit them in different articles, meanwhile . . .

click here if you need to return to the beginning of the Top Ten countdown.

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