Our review of Johnny Mnemonic: Superbit Edition, published October 25th, 2001, is also available.
"Upload begins, when you press here. Hit me."
Adapted from the brilliant William Gibson's short story, Johnny Mnemonic was a movie hindered by a number of factors against it. It was about four years ahead of the curve for cinema and audience tastes; if it had been released following The Matrix, audiences would have been better prepared to receive it. As it was, the masses couldn't grasp the story buried beneath the director's fumblings.
The film itself is simple enough. Johnny (Keanu Reeves) is an information courier, an individual with computer hardware implanted in him that can smuggle classified or rogue data across faction and national borders. Johnny is seeking a way out of his chosen career, because in order to fit in the implant hardware he had to lose some long term memory. Some of his natural memory. But to have reversal surgery, he needs the cash. So he takes on one final job, and then he wants out. Little does he know.
Johnny's clients are a team of renegade corporate scientists who've stolen away from a major medical megacorp with a complete set of data that will enable a cure for a terminal disease sweeping the world (similar to AIDS of the present). The corporation finds far more profit in charging for symptomatic relief than in a one-time cure, and goes all out to recover the data. Throughout it all, as corporate sponsored Yakuza and bounty hunting street muscle pursue him, Johnny clings to his original desire; to get out.
Again, this is a film that certainly was before its time. The essence of Gibson's original story is retained strongly, including the overall look and feel of the world in which Johnny moves. Despite other shortcomings, Johnny Mnemonic remains a cult classic because it's one of the better cinema examples of cyberpunk. With a rather straightforward story, everything depends on the viewer's acceptance of the world and the premise contained therein. Fans of the genre have cleared this hurdle, and thus can enjoy the film for what it gives them. Other members of the audience are forced to grapple with the concept. Perhaps now, after The Matrix has broadened horizons, Johnny Mnemonic will be better received.
The strongest piece is the acting, with a fan ensemble cast organized from some of the better fan level film actor favorites (Keanu Reeves, Dina Meyer, Dolph Lundgren, Ice-T, Henry Rollins, Udo Kier). Ice-T (New Jack City, Tank Girl) and Rollins (Heat, Lost Highway, The Chase) make turns in character roles, and continue to this day to make appearances infrequently in character parts similar to their efforts in Johnny Mnemonic. Udo Kier (End of Days, Blade, Barb Wire) is making a rather nice name for himself as a fan favorite actor, popping up in the oddest films, always playing off his unique accent and look. Dina Meyer is on the verge of breakout success, if only she can get a part in another good film. To date, the only two notable roles she's been given are Jane, in Johnny Mnemonic, and Dizzy Flores, in Starship Troopers. And of course, Keanu Reeves (The Matrix, Speed, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure), often pillorized for his subdued acting style. As Johnny, however, he plays it well and really brings forth the heart of the character. We follow him around the world and get a real sense of a man who knows his element, who can move and shake with the best of the players on the street.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Unfortunately, that's about where the good things stop. The film itself is adequate; with a low budget that shows in the lack of actors filling out the sense of world in many shots. The director also uses an extremely heavy hand that never translates well, and certainly contributes to the low regard many have for this film. Likewise, the script adaptation is also a bit thick in places, especially with the 'ghost in the machine' plot element that plagues the megacorp executive pursuing Johnny.
As for the disc itself, this is an excellent example of why Columbia/TriStar earn a C from me on the Studio Report Card. While other of their discs might have excellent transfers, this transfer is muddy and not very crisp. It's of only average DVD quality which, while better than anything one will experience on VHS or analog television, is still far short of reference quality discs like The Matrix or The Mummy. Only minimal artifacting, but edges aren't as clear as they should be. Colors are solid, but not vibrant or bright; even the completely CG virtual reality matrix sequences look a bit washed out. This is definitely not one of the better transfers I've seen.
Audio is sufficient, with both 2.0 and 5.1 Dolby soundtrack options. While better than the uninspired video, the soundstage is only adequate. There are options for subtitles in two languages (English and Spanish), and for audio in three (English, Spanish, French). Thirty-six chapter stops on the disc do break the film up nicely.
However, the disc is bare-bones. One side has a 1.85 widescreen version, the other a full screen pan-and-scan. Both sides are single layer. Static, unanimated menus in a rather garish shade of purple. No other content of any kind is on the disc; no commentary tracks, no documentaries, no interviews, not even the usual studio filler like liner notes, actor biographies or trailers.
Fans of the film will probably break down and purchase this title, but then hate themselves after they've watched their new disc. Aside from diehard genre fans, however, no one else will feel the need to go anywhere near it.
The Director is sentenced to Hollywood limbo, where he shall remain.
The scriptwriters are to be chained to a William Gibson library until they understand and freely admit the mistakes they made in altering his masterpiece.
The film itself is pardoned with the court's abject apologies, as are the cast.
Columbia/TriStar is sentenced to five hundred hours of community service and placed on probation until such time as they deliver a disc worthy of this title.
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