Lloyd’s of London presents Brainstorm: Coming Soon To a Theater Near You
January 12, 2019 9:57 PM   Subscribe

Thirty-five years ago, a fantastic movie came out that starred four Hollywood legends, three of whom were Oscar winners. It was directed by one of the most important and influential visual artists in film history, and the plot foretold the invention of virtual reality decades ahead of its time. The script was written as a showcase for a new technology designed to change the way we see movies. One of the Hollywood legends died before the movie was finished, a mysterious death, and this ended up being her last movie—And you’ve never heard of it. The True Story of the Lost Sci-Fi Movie 'Brainstorm,' Natalie Wood’s Last Film By Ryan D'Agostino and Eleanor Hildebrandt for Popular Mechanics, Dec. 21, 2018 [original trailer]

Brainstorm turned virtual reality into the orgasm machine that keeps on giving (Clayton Purdom for A.V. Club, April 11, 2018)
Douglas Trumbull is best known as the special-effects guru behind 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner, but he also followed both films with his own directorial efforts that, in their way, refracted and built upon those more widely acclaimed masterpieces. 1972’s Silent Running transforms Kubrick’s meditation on man, technology, and the cosmos into a more human tale of hubris and environmental catastrophe, and 1983’s Brainstorm grapples with many of Blade Runner’s same concerns about humanity and memory. Trumbull intended it as a showcase for a new technology that would display wider images at 60 frames per second, but logistics forced him to scuttle those ambitions. Instead, the film alternates between 65mm and 35mm film, which, on home screens, means a letterboxed image for the film’s “virtual reality” scenes, and then an even smaller, boxed-in visual plane for the film’s real-world scenes (movie clip from Turner Classic Movies). You’re essentially looking at a small square inside of a big black square for much of the movie.
But the fact that this film was finished at all is a bit of a story. Beyond Trumbull's focus on "upgrading the whole movie experience" (archived interview) with 70mm, 60 frames per second ShowScan format (1990 brochure via In 70mm) that wasn't ultimately utilized by the studio, Natalie Wood died in 1981 at age 43 while boating off Santa Catalina Island, off the Southern California shore, with her husband Robert Wagner and her Brainstorm co-star, Christopher Walken. [At the time, her death was ruled an accidental drowning, but there have been many questions raised about what actually happened on the boat in the time since, and the investigation was re-opened in 2011]. (Kimberly Nordyke for the Hollywood Reporter)

After Tragedy, 'Brainstorm' Resumes (Aljean Harmetz for The New York Times, Feb. 17, 1982)
Douglas Trumbull gave a party on Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Stage 29 on Feb. 5 and presented the cast and crew of his movie with champagne and bright red T-shirts. What was unusual was the legend printed on the shirts: ''Lloyds of London presents 'Brainstorm.' Coming soon to a theater near you.''

Stage 29 was ''hot locked'' last Dec. 20, three weeks after ''Brainstorm's'' star, Natalie Wood, drowned in the waters off California's Catalina Island. The simulated computers, robot arms, ape cages and shelves of chemicals that dressed the central laboratory set of ''Brainstorm'' were padlocked away while M-G-M argued with the two insurance companies that had provided $15 million worth of cast insurance on the movie.

M-G-M felt that ''Brainstorm'' could not be completed without Miss Wood. Mr. Trumbull, the director, disagreed. In the end, Lloyds of London sided with Mr. Trumbull and agreed to spend $3 million to complete production on the movie, instead of writing a check to M-G-M for its share of the approximately $12 million that the studio had already spent. Stage 29 was unlocked.
The film was not a commercial success, and got middling reviews (Wikipedia), with Roger Ebert noting that the technology overshadowed the characters:
The characters take such a secondary importance to the gadget that we never feel much for them. Ironic, that the movie doesn't give us their sights, smells, tastes, etc. The cast is populated with actors whose full abilities aren't used. We particularly notice that in the case of Natalie Wood, who died while making this movie, and who is good to see once again, but who isn't given even one big, challenging, deep scene; she's just part of the plot machinery.

Louise Fletcher is also misused. She plays a chain-smoking scientist. Period. She smokes all of the time. She lights a cigarette every time the camera looks at her. Half of this mannerism would have been sufficient; it becomes a joke instead of a trait. Cliff Robertson and Christopher Walken, as the head of the computer company and his brilliant scientist, also are trapped in roles rather than characters.

But the technical effects are intriguing. Douglas Trumbull, the director, is Hollywood's legendary special effects ace ("2001: A Space Odyssey," "Silent Running," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"), and he does a wonderful job of making the telepathic experiences visually exciting. He cuts back and forth between wide screen and regular format, between ordinary sound and stereo, between standard lenses and astonishing visual effects. Great, except the people get overlooked.
Looking back in a time when VR headsets can be cardboard cases for a smartphone, Brainstorm is impressive for its futuristic view of fully immersive, emotional Virtual Reality (movie clip from Turner Classic Movies), a term that had not yet been used in science fiction context when the movie was being made (Wikipedia). But is that enough to save the film from obscurity?
posted by filthy light thief (59 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
This thing was on The Movie Channel all the time when I was about ten or eleven and I watched the hell out of it. It was one of my favorite movies for a long time.

I need to rewatch it as an adult to see what I think of it.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 10:10 PM on January 12 [13 favorites]

I saw this in the movie theater, but I think it was just a regular movie without the 65mm bits. Even being as young as I was at the time, I could tell it was probably not the movie it should have been, due to technical issues and Wood's death.

Then it disappeared and nobody I knew had seen it or even heard of it. It finally resurfaced years later along with all this information about its intentions and Turnbull and stuff. Really interesting to learn as an adult. I'm glad it comes back up from time to time because it really could have been something major if it had all worked right.
posted by hippybear at 10:18 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]

I guess I can add this to my list of “things that make me feel old:” When a movie that, like Mister Moofoo, I saw a bunch of times on HBO as a kid, and was notorious in the news for being the movie that Natalie Wood was filming when she tragically died, can be characterized by the editor-in-chief of a magazine that I ALSO used to read a lot as a kid as “a movie I’ve never heard of.”

I hope one day you young folk actually invent the Brainstorm technology and can use it to experience the undiscovered country of The Eighties.

To actually comment upon the movie: my young self was disappointed by the big reveal of experiencing death through the brainstorm technology—I wanted it to be more mind-blowing and soul-shaking. If there’s ever a remake of this movie I hope they get someone like Channel Zero’s Nick Antosca or Black Mirror’s Charlie Brooker to write and direct.
posted by ejs at 10:26 PM on January 12 [18 favorites]

Since I saw this as a young teen the whole voyeuristic porn loop bit made an indelible impression.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:27 PM on January 12 [6 favorites]

I saw it in a good NYC movie theater when it came out. Unless you see it the way it was ment to be seen, you really have not seen the movie. The real-world scenes were shot on normal 35mm and the brain playback scenes were shot on 70mm widescreen. It was very effective.
posted by Sophont at 10:33 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]

I’m so glad this is not about the sci-fi film Metoer starring Woods and Sean Connery.
posted by bq at 10:35 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]

Yeah the orgasm loop with the girlfriend in full frontal (and the sort of grim joke that a guy would willingly nearly kill himself to keep orgasming) made more of an impression on me than anything else.
posted by emjaybee at 10:37 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

Oh my gosh this movie! I saw it on VHS in the '80s and I couldn't sleep well for days because of nightmares. I haven't seen it since. Any time I've brought up this movie in conversation, nobody's heard of it.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 10:40 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

Unless you see it the way it was ment to be seen, you really have not seen the movie. The real-world scenes were shot on normal 35mm and the brain playback scenes were shot on 70mm widescreen. It was very effective.

Trumbull talked about seeing this and 2001 on immersive Cinerama screens as the only way to really appreciate these films.

He also talked about directors who insist on sticking wit 70mm film, saying that digital projection has benefits not available to film, particularly with the frame rate:
the digital projectors that are in tens of thousands of movie theatres can run at 144fps and no one’s using it. When I started my own experiments I went to Texas Instruments who make the chips for the projectors, I went to all the camera companies and said, ‘How do these cameras really work? Will they run at higher frame rates?’ and they all have knobs on! You can do all kinds of things that people don’t’ use because the industry is stuck at 2K resolution and 24 frames a second and the idea that a movie is a rectangular 16x9 image on our screen at the end of the room. I completely resist that idea.

I discovered that by changing the frame rate dramatically to 120 frames per second and using 4K projectors which are available off the shelf and using 4K cameras that are available off the shelf and running them at 60 frames per second, which is standard on most of these cameras, a completely new cinematic effect emerges from that, which is like a window onto reality. It’s what the movie industry has been striving for throughout its history. Lumiere would have loved it. Edison would have loved it. Everybody would love it but they don’t understand today yet how easy it is to do it. The kind of business resistance to the giant screen has not come from the fact the filmmakers don’t want to do it. It comes from the fact that studios don’t want to spend the money. They don’t want to buy the raw stock because the prints cost twice as much. IMAX costs many times more. A film print of an IMAX feature film can cost $40,000.
He said all this in 2015. In comparison, I think Better Call Saul is shot in 8k, but I'm not sure about the frame rate. In other words, the resolution has definitely increased, but I'm not sure if anyone is using increased framerates like Trumbull has wanted to do for decades now.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:45 PM on January 12 [9 favorites]

Peter Jackson shot The Hobbit films at 48 frames per second and got mixed feedback on it as some found the experience unwelcome, perhaps just too different than previous convention. The new Avatar films were alleged at one point to be shot at a higher frame rate, but I'm not sure whether that's still the plan or not.

Never took much to Brainstorm myself, I thought the "virtual reality" idea was neat, but felt like the rest of the film was searching for a plot to highlight the idea as much as anything. I didn't especially dislike the movie or anything, but nothing but the vr-ish gimmick stayed with me even after it was replayed so often on cable back in the day.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:00 PM on January 12

35 years ago check. 14 years old check. One of my favorite films check. Nerd check. Favorite film along with Dreamscape. Those were good times for movies. I remember most the death bits. To experience the death of someone in the mental way going all glimpses of spheres of memories. All Indra's net like. Who is whom? What's the difference. I can be you, you can be me. That more than the porn.

Love/Loved this movie 5 stars.

Now to read the post and get into the cinematic/blah details.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:20 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]

Lost? I saw it on Turner Classic Movies a few months ago.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:02 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]

Interesting. I didn't know it was "lost" but my impression was always that it wasn't a good movie, so I never saw it despite being a pretty big sf fan. The trailer doesn't look good, but now I'm intrigued enough to check it out.
posted by bongo_x at 1:28 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

I am on team “saw-this-on-HBO-and-vividly-remember-death-by-orgasm”
posted by chavenet at 1:30 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]

Ang Lee's film Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk was shot at a frame rate of 120 frames per second in 3D at 4K HD resolution. Reception was mixed and the film didn't do well.
posted by octothorpe at 4:20 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]

I'm a fan of the film and I own it. I agree with Ebert's review. I like the actors, but the characters don't come across with as much depth as they might have since the film is more interested in the tech. Yet I'm OK with that because the ideas are interesting! For a long time, there was nothing else quite like it. I feel obligated to mention Strange Days, which features the same tech, but with tapes or live output.

I almost brought up Brainstorm in the recent AskMe about cyberhorror. IMO, the most indelible thing about the film is the ending, and particularly what the AV Club article above refers to as "techno-hell." As Walken's character experiences death through the headset, part of it is depicted as horrible screenfuls of meat. I can't imagine being a filmmaker and aiming that high, and actually trying to depict death. I guess no one can tell you you're wrong. Seems like they did a good job. It's a nice-looking sequence that's open for audience interpretation.
posted by heatvision at 4:36 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]

Glad someone brought up “Strange Days”. When I see one of these movies, it always makes me think of the other.
posted by hwestiii at 5:30 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]

Early filmmakers experimented with different frame rates, hand cranked could choose the speed. The 30fps was settled part for technical practicalities but also for feel. One problem with higher fps is it feels like video, the Hobbit was a good example, it was just too sharp for that kind of story, the cuteness of the dwarves or hobbit hole seemed stark rather than cozy.

Since 2001 a Space Odyssey I've been a fan of Trumbull and he's right that high frame rates can seem like a window but wrong that it's what an audience wants. Some of the most effective images and art is not crystal sharp but slightly obscured and your mind has a momentary reveal, ahhh moment.

It also puts a huge burden on the set, costume and makeup artists as every tiny zit and false wall shows up in dramatic detail.
posted by sammyo at 6:19 AM on January 13 [5 favorites]

Yeah the orgasm loop with the girlfriend in full frontal (and the sort of grim joke that a guy would willingly nearly kill himself to keep orgasming) made more of an impression on me than anything else.
posted by emjaybee at 10:37 PM on January 12 [1 favorite +] [!]

The Black Mirror mini episode on this theme of 'emotional VR used to experience death' gets even darker, as you might expect
posted by eustatic at 6:25 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]

I saw Brainstorm in the theater as well as a teenager - it was good and the idea of the technology fascinated me more than the plot which seems to jive with the other sentiments here.

I always categorized the film as belonging to this niche of 80s films that were proto-cyberpunk but also tinged with the post-60s / Cold War paranoia of Awesome Technology In the Hands of Evil People.

Films like Brainstorm, Runaway, Freejack, Robocop, and - my favorite - Michael Crichton's Looker.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:25 AM on January 13 [7 favorites]

That the "technology overshadowed the characters" was kind of the point, I thought. We really don't know what demons we'll unleash when a new technology is added into the mix. Sometimes our highest ideals come crashing down when technology meets reality (hello, Internet!).
posted by SPrintF at 6:25 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

Since 2001 a Space Odyssey I've been a fan of Trumbull and he's right that high frame rates can seem like a window but wrong that it's what an audience wants.

Tom Cruise seems to agree with this.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:28 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]

Altered States (1980)
Brainstorm (1983)
Dead Zone (1983)
Dreamscape (1984)

Man, the early 80s really wanted to get into your unconscious.
posted by gwint at 6:31 AM on January 13 [7 favorites]

Or did the Reagan-era "Say No to Drugs" movement just force us to look at technology to replace LSD?
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:37 AM on January 13

I don't know why but I always conflate this movie with "Videodrome".
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 7:02 AM on January 13 [4 favorites]

I don't think the tech of recording people's direct experience/consciousness/dreams is all that close to VR (and despite the hype at the beginning, by the end the article seems to agree with me). But I am sad I've never gotten to see Wim Wenders' extended cut of Until the End of the World.
posted by rikschell at 7:07 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]

Actually Tom Cruise has an even better but slightly more technical point. The Motion Smoothing is a feature of newer HDTV that does just that, approximates the jitter between frames that are not synchronized exactly from the original 24fps and the native rate of the display (60 FPS or higher). It's a basic division problem, 24 does not divide evenly into any of the video rates and thus at the end of a second a tiny fraction must be extended or dropped to line up with the next second, usually it's imperceptible but on a noticeable (close up of a toe kicking a ball) event there is a distinct jitter.

(Made a typo on my previous comment, film is 24fps. Standard video is 30, actually 29.97)
posted by sammyo at 7:21 AM on January 13

I remember all the coverage during the movie’s production in magazines such as Starlog, but for whatever reason I never saw it. Strange because it was/is right in my wheelhouse.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:30 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]

Something else interesting about Brainstorm: Most of the scenes were filmed at the Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters, a spectacular piece of mid-century modern architecture in Research Triangle Park, NC designed by Paul Rudolph. The Rudolph Foundation has a flickr album that includes stills from the movie.

Here's a blog post documenting a tour of the building in 2016 showing the state of disrepair it is currently in. There are also some interesting comments from folks who used to work in the building. One of them points out that the cafeteria scenes in Brainstorm were filmed at the National Humanities Center, also in Research Triangle.
posted by adecusatis at 8:01 AM on January 13 [8 favorites]

Like some of you, I saw the movie in the theater, amidst the stories of Natalie Wood's death.
It was odd, with some strange shifts of tone. The tech fascinated me.
posted by doctornemo at 8:22 AM on January 13

I haven’t seen this in decades, and I’m still confused about what happens to the son. The device records experiences, so what is he seeing that includes the presence of Walken? Or did the government guys figure out how to spoof new, non-existent imagery for their purposes?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:39 AM on January 13

I'm not sure why I didn't see this, because it sounds way more up my alley than, say, The Big Chill, which came out about the same time and wasn't much of a much, despite having a pretty good cast. I suspect that it just wasn't very well promoted at the time, due to a combination of Wood's death and a lot of people just not really getting it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:46 AM on January 13

Not that it happened in this case, but the article makes me think of the cases where the studio has a multi million dollar motive to have a star or director killed. This would be when a film is mostly completed, but the studio has lost faith in the project, and could just claim the insurance and scrap the movie. Maybe we’ll see a movie with that plot. Also it’s amazing Johnny Depp is still alive.
posted by w0mbat at 9:37 AM on January 13 [4 favorites]

I get choked up just thinking about the scene where they relive their memories and fall in love again. It's so beautiful.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:46 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]

I saw Brainstorm more than once in a big theater, and for some reason thought I'd somehow seen the 70mm version, but now reading this thread, realize I couldn't possibly have. What it was, was me high on acid at the local twin cinema. And yeah, I guess I liked it, at least enough for a return journey.
posted by philip-random at 10:15 AM on January 13

I liked this film but remember thinking that the whole military take-over plotline was a lazy cliche even back then.
posted by octothorpe at 10:17 AM on January 13

I know I have seen this, but I can't remember any details other than Christopher walkens recumbent bike from the opening. I also get it mixed up with demon seed, though they are wildly different movies.
posted by jonbro at 11:08 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

In writing this article, we asked several dozen people if they had. One guy said he might have maybe seen it, a long time ago.

I gotta say, those authors must run with a really dull crowd, if they asked several dozen people and only one person was aware of it, and maybe not even that one. Oh right, they're writing for Popular Mechanics.

I saw this as a young adult (maybe in theater?) and was thrilled by it, even though I could tell the acting or pacing or something was all wrong, just kind of stiff. It was one of my top-five movies for years (Shining, Mad Max, etc.) I didn't know who Douglass Trumbull was. Youth is wasted on the young.

My mom was pretty sad about Natalie Wood passing. I never looked at Robert Wagner the same way again.

Altered States, maaaaaaan.
posted by intermod at 11:20 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]

Thanks for the memories. I've come to the conclusion that I always liked Douglas Trumbull but didn't know it. Encyclopedia Britannica would put out addendum type volumes every year or so with new entries and such. One of those had a section of pages on movie special effects. The viper launch sequence fromBattlestar Galactica. The magic from 2001. And the whatnot of Silent Running... that spaceship was made from hundreds of plastic model kits mostly tank parts. Guess it turns out I really liked Trumbull movies.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:14 PM on January 13

. I also get it mixed up with demon seed, though they are wildly different movies.

Man, when there were only 4 to 6 channels on TV, and they went off the air, ( try to explain Poltergeist to a teen today... ) we all shared this core cultural awareness, including late night movies like Julie Christie in The Demon Seed.
posted by mikelieman at 12:49 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]

gwint: Man, the early 80s really wanted to get into your unconscious.

JoeZydeco: Or did the Reagan-era "Say No to Drugs" movement just force us to look at technology to replace LSD?

I think the comment by Hunter S. is relevant.
My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights — or very early mornings — when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour... booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turnoff to take when I got to the other end... but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: no doubt at all about that...
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda... You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning...
And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave...
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes, you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
Psychedelics didn't do it. Maybe tech can?

Narrator: It cannot.
posted by mikelieman at 12:53 PM on January 13 [7 favorites]

This thing was on The Movie Channel all the time when I was about ten or eleven and I watched the hell out of it. It was one of my favorite movies for a long time.

No. No, no, NO! You've never heard of it. None of you have ever heard of it. How many times does TFA have to explain it to you?
posted by Naberius at 12:59 PM on January 13 [7 favorites]

Psychedelics didn't do it. Maybe tech can?

Get an Oculus, no don't, they can't even get a good first person shooter that doesn't make people throw up or get bored. Well, getting there.

(not singling out Oculus, the entire 3D/VR/AR industry just has not found a killer app)
posted by sammyo at 3:53 PM on January 13

Solidly half of my life I've been hearing about how 3D/VR is about to break wide open and blow your mind any minute now. It's the original "year of Linux on the desktop".
posted by bongo_x at 4:34 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]

I don't know why but I always conflate this movie with "Videodrome".
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 7:02 AM on January 13 [4 favorites +] [!]

Yes, I've had this pegged as a Cronenberg film since forever, which seems shameful now. I'd love to see it again sometime.
posted by lipservant at 8:26 PM on January 13

Some might get this mixed up with DreamScape with Dennis Quaid that came out around the same time - they might appear similar but have different themes and technology (DreamScape was about entering the dreams of others, Brainstorm was about recording and replaying thoughts).

Both fascinating technologies, and maybe not all that far off.

To compare the two movies
  • Dreamscape pluses - the acting is a little better or more chewy anyway - David Patrick Kelly's Tommy Ray Glackman saying "I don't touch drugs, I'm messed up enough" and that absolutely haunted little boy with the recurring nightmares. Plus Kate Capshaw.
  • Brainstorm pluses - better writing, more consideration of its topic, Louise Fletcher's world-weariness and the visuals are of course on a completely higher plane.
Both are worth watching and maybe if someone promises not to go into Lawnmower Man cheese might be ripe for a retelling.
posted by lon_star at 8:47 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]

sammyo: Killer app for AR/VR right now is in industrial mechanical assembly/mechanical QC. Think a HUD showing you relevant branches in the electrical harnesses of a 747.

I’m told Google Glass didn’t really die, it’s just being used in large scale mechanical/mfg industry.
posted by drfu at 8:48 PM on January 13

You know, the other thing that fascinated me about Brainstorm, and I've never really seen any mention of this, is that the writers were hip to Moore's Law.

Watch how the brain transmission headset goes from a huge stationary mess to a portable mess to a smaller unit to a compact system over the course of the movie.

On top of that they also added remote access, over public telephones! Chris Walken's character gets to play back the final part of the death tape from a phone booth.

Someone on the writing team thought this stuff out, which I thought was pretty neato.
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:12 AM on January 14 [6 favorites]

Some might get this mixed up with DreamScape with Dennis Quaid that came out around the same time - they might appear similar but have different themes and technology (DreamScape was about entering the dreams of others, Brainstorm was about recording and replaying thoughts).

Mash them up and you get Until the End of the World, which is about recording and replaying dreams. Whoa...
posted by Naberius at 5:13 AM on January 14

I, too, am “saw-this-on-HBO-and-vividly-remember-death-by-orgasm” years old.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:24 AM on January 14

I'm a little surprised by this.

I saw it at an impressionable age too and love some of the ideas in it.

However upon rewatching it a few years back, I found it pretty disappointing. The acting feels pretty phoned in and the script is tonally confused at best.

Videdrome, otoh, is a masterpiece.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:32 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Some of you must be misremembering. There is no death by orgasm. It's worse. The guy survives his night of orgasm-on-an-infinite-loop and after that -- after he is ignominiously discovered sitting there in his bathrobe, and resuscitated -- he ends up a changed man. Never the same again. No longer interested in earthly pursuits. Disconcerted the hell out of me when I saw it in the theater.
posted by bleston hamilton station at 1:12 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

It's a basic division problem, 24 does not divide evenly into any of the video rates

This is why most modern sets can run at 120Hz, into which 24 divides perfectly. 24fps has been a solved problem since Blu Ray.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 5:42 PM on January 14

I was really into Videodrome at the time, but I've never gone back to see how it held up.
posted by bongo_x at 6:34 PM on January 14

I liked this film but remember thinking that the whole military take-over plotline was a lazy cliche even back then.

I think that it was a combination of left-over Watergate paranoia and the messy end of the Vietnam War combining to create that sense of the military-industrial complex out of control, still with a huge budget even with the end of our Southeast Asia adventures; barely five years between the last chopper out of Saigon and Reagan saber-rattling his way to the presidency, and with even that demi-decade having the Islamic revolution in Iran and the Soviet Union's rolling into Afghanistan promising potential fun times ahead. Not much daylight between Cambodia's killing fields and the alleged new domino effect sparking off in Nicaragua, and Reagan's SDI program got nicknamed after the then-most-popular science fiction film ever, which itself featured an unstoppable killing machine whose existence was its own justification.

Small wonder that SF went there, both in contemporary nightmares (this movie, WarGames, Blue Thunder (both by John Badham), The Terminator (basically what would have happened in WarGames if WOPR didn't have a friend)) and in more futuristic settings including Alien and its sequel (both suggesting that the real enemy isn't the xenomorphs but the corporation, with deep ties to the military including using it directly in the second film, trying to weaponize them), Robocop (more police-industrial complex, but same basic idea--ED-209 seemed like more of a repurposed military platform), even arguably Star Treks II and III (the Genesis Project was supposed to be for the peaceful rapid terraforming of barren planets, but Bones McCoy immediately saw the potential military use and abuse of the technology, and so did the Klingons); probably some more that I'm not thinking of immediately. Fear and loathing of the military and/or government also comes up in many Stephen King novels of the era; The Stand and Firestarter are both about secret government projects run amok, and The Dead Zone (also starring Walken, and the only David Cronenberg movie not from an original script of his up to 1993) featuring a precognitive psychic who foresees an out-of-control populist president (ahem) who sparks off a nuclear war. Sometimes it's not so much a "lazy cliche" as something that seems to have a desperate relevance.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:28 PM on January 14 [10 favorites]

Jeebus, Halloween Jack. You just completely crystalized a thing that needed to be expressed. Thank you.

The dystopias of Brazil and Blade Runner also figure into this (with the corporation running amok), and you can even put Labyrinth in there with its draining of the life-force of the poor in order to reinforce the lives of the ruling class. Rollerball also belongs to this era.

As do forces like Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Bronski Beat/The Communards who were actively fighting against the dominant gloom in an entirely different medium.

You've given me much to think about this evening. I'm not sure whether to thank you or to bill you for CBD so I can get to sleep later.
posted by hippybear at 9:39 PM on January 14 [3 favorites]

(And honestly, having lived through all this and having lived in (then West) Germany in 1986-87 which was perhaps the height of the whole Reagan saber-rattling era, I'd have to say the Cold War stuff was much more a preoccupation of people of age around 20 from about 1984 until the Berlin Wall came down. At least, amongst my cohort groups both in the US and Europe across those years.)
posted by hippybear at 9:43 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Bravo, Halloween Jack. That was exquisite.

What I'd really like to figure out is where and how we transitioned from the environmental/overpopulation dystopia sci-fi films of the 70's (Soylent Green, Omega Man, Planet of the Apes, Silent Running (Trumbull again), Logan's Run) into the technological dystopia films of the 80s and 90s.
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:30 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]

I saw this roughly the same time I saw Dreamscape, and now they are mixed up in my mind.

(I was too young to fully understand either of them)
posted by Chrysostom at 2:52 PM on January 15

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