Monday, 12 February 2018

Altered Carbon: Out of the Past (Miguel Sapochnik, 2018)

E'en as a fully paid-up total geek (the kind who wilfully wields the word "e'en", for a start), there are areas of the Subbacultcha that do upon occasion elude me.  One of these, it seems, was Richard Morgan's 2002 dystopian cyberpunk opus Altered Carbon, of which i first heard fully four days ago during the following conversation with a friend:

"Have you been watching Altered Carbon?"

"What's Altered Carbon?"

"Are you telling me you've never heard of Altered Carbon?"

"I'm assuming it's a TV show."

"Have you never heard of the book?"

"Is the book called Altered Carbon?"


"Then the fact that i said 'What's Altered Carbon?' should tell you that i haven't heard of the fucking book, either.  No.  Is it any good?"

Torturous intros aside, and the fact that my friend then went on to attempt to convey in quite some depth the labyrinthine plottings of an SF novel while we were on a night out and my concentration may not have been at it's absolute 100% peak efficiency (it never is in pubs, you know) that wound up coming across as some crazed mass of verbiage that was "Takeshi" this and "Laurens" that and "a bit like Blade Runner meets Gattaca (or, at least, that's sort of how it came across with all the mention of futuristic elites and rain-soaked neon), i did take in some of the conversation and made a mental note to check this show out at some point.  I mean, i trust John's judgement on matters science fictional (with the caveat that he told me back in the halcyon dreaming days of Uni that Space: Above and Beyond was worth watching, and it was so much one of the worst things i've ever seen that i think i almost felt physically sick while trying to fight my way through the first few episodes before utterly giving up), so - it should be okay.  Even if it's managed to somehow completely slip past me.  Let's give it a go.

Adapted for the screen by Laeta Kalogridis (co-writer of Timur Bekmambetov's slice of Slavic supernature Night Watch [2004], which is a good sign, and also the co-writer of Oliver Stone's 2004 Macedonian monstrosity Alexander and Alan Taylor's 2015 late and lamented rear entry in the Terminator franchise Genisys, which aren't such good signs) and directed by Miguel Sapochnik (helmer of the thoroughly entertaining [not as good as Repo Man, obviously] 2010 Repo Men, as well as a reliable director of such TV genre standards as Fringe, Game of Thrones and Beneath the Dome), the series' premiere episode was already onto a good start e'en (please, somebody stop me) before i noted that the episode title was a nod to the classic '40s film noir (aka Build My Gallows High) starring Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas.  This noirish nod would go on to prove to be accurate as to the tone and flavour of the show itself - its future world very much a similar SF noir to the rain 'n' neon soaked streets of Ridley Scott's 1982 Philip K. Dick epic.

Throwing us headlong, everlong, into this future scene wherein the memory engrams of the deceased can be re-uploaded into new "sleeves" (the streaming of the minds of the dead into newer, fitter bodies reminded me of Robert Sheckley's Immortality, Inc., filmed in 1992 by Geoff Murphy as the unlikely Mick Jagger and Anthony Hopkins team up of Freejack), old lives shucked off the way that in the spring snakes shed their skin and they blow away in the changing winds, we are launched into the life, death and afterlife of Takeshi Kovacs (Will Yun Lee) - a hitman and former Envoy 9a kid of adaptable all-terrain assassin) who is taken out and finds himself rudely re-awakened in a new incarnation in the form of Joel Kinnaman (yes, the rubbish RoboCop.  No, worse than Richard Eden.  Hey don't diss Robert Burke - he was in Richard Stanley's Dust Devil, motherfucker).  The scenario of the newly-reborn (literally, emerging from an amniotic fluid-filled body bag and pulling an intubated umbilicus from his throat like an awakening from the Matrix, or like Bobby De Niro as the newborn Creature in Kenneth Branagh's 1994 Mary Shelley's Frankenstein) Kovacs staring at the reflection of his new visage in the mirrored surface of a metal tray is highly reminiscent of the early scene of the newly-regenerated Patrick Troughton in Doctor Who's 'The Power of the Daleks' Episode One - both scenes having a character newly awakened into a new body at first beholding their original reflection: seeing the self that they expect to see, only to have that fade into the person that they now are.

The Doctor Who comparison is an apposite and interesting one, i think, as we are in the age of the politics of identity and a minor furore around the Doctor - a previously male character - becoming a woman (in the form of Jodie Whittaker).  It honestly wouldn't surprise me if there has been some kind of fuss around this series of a main character being played by a Caucasian actor but having an Asian name - we are in the era of the "whitewashing" outcry after all (which is well-meaning and everything, but when you're dealing with a character who is of Asian origin  but happens to be incarnated in a white body, surely he's free to still identify as Asian, right?).  It's an interesting thought though - in the realms of fantasy and science fiction, why shouldn't it be okay to have a character of non-white (do i have to say POC? I hate that acronym) origin played by an actor of a differing ethnicity should be okay, yeah?  Especially when it's actually part of the plot?  But then - i remember the "whitewashing" outcry over Iron Fist (a series which cast a white actor as Danny Rand, a white character in the original comics, but still got called out as racist) - and i just shrug.  But not like Atlas.  Ayn Rand sucks.

The rebirthed Kovacs finds himself at the behest of the rich and powerful Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy, Marc Antony of Rome [2005-2007] fame, V from V For Vendetta [2005] for about minutes possible fame, and the titular Solomon Kane [Michael J. Bassett, 2009] and Dracula from Big Finish Doctor Who audio Son of the Dragon "probably only in my house fame"), who is in the rather singular quandary of wanting to know who has killed him.  Being a "Meth" - short for "Methuselah", as in the long-leggedy long-lived Biblical patriarch - Bancroft is at least three centuries old due to having the means to be able to download his soul (if the rich can be perceived to possess such a thing) into a new body every so often, but has been shot through his prior head and the backup personality that has streamed into his new corporeal coil is missing the vital hours that contain the knowledge of who his killer actually was.  So the new-reborn man finds himself reluctantly on the payroll of posh Laurens - literally a rich man's toy - and taking on the case of the (admittedly non-permanent, but still rather serious) death of this guy who literally dwells in an ivory tower in the clouds; Laurens' grand mansion house with its spacious gardens and ornate statuary towering high above the grinding Metropolis below is so Fritz Lang it almost hurts.  In that painful, but pleasurable kind of way.  Pegging Doctor Freud.  Paging.  Shit.

So far, so intriguing, and that's without mentioning the glimpses of the other characters and the rest of our brave new world ready to be tentatively probed and explored (my mind's still on the last paragraph, isn't it?) - such as dogged Detective Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda), ready to get on Kovacs the cold case; or the intriguing Poe (Chris Conner) - a seeming replicant of Edgar Allan Poe himself and proprietor of the appropriately Gothic-accoutremented The Raven hotel (bedecked with an appositely pendulumed clock).  I'm being drawn in to this futurescape awashed with a hard rain (hard enough to wash the slime from the streets).  We can only but wait to see what happens.  For we are all interested in the future.  For that is where you and i shall spend the rest of our lives.

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