World on a Wire (Welt Am Draht)

Ok, so this movie has a sort of cult status because it was made for television, shown once, then ‘lost’ for many decades. But once you get that out of the way… it’s a pretty, comma, bad movie. Oh yes, the low-budget photography has its impressive moments and the sets are tinged with the midcentury weird aesthetic also found in the cult T.V. Show ‘The Prisoner’ but the story drags on and on.

The outline is that Stiller, a computer scientist, is promoted to the head of the SIMULACRON project to create a virtual computer world after the mysterious death of the project’s manager. Soon, he discovers alarming information about what the SIMULACRON project is really about and bizarre events occur which suggest the conspiracy may be unimaginably big.

Possible Influences: Kubrick, Phllip K. Dick, The Prisoner, The book Solaris by Stanislaw Lem and the film by Tarkovsky, Walter Benjamin

Possibly Influenced: Blade Runner, The Matrix, The Lathe of Heaven, Inception

The biggest problem is that the film is nearly *FOUR* hours long but the treatment is probably worth about 55-90 minutes tops. There are long, unmotivated digressions that don’t work because they neither motivate the plot nor improve the characterization. I rarely complain that movies are too long.

The film also takes ages to establish fairly ‘one-and-done’ plot points. For example, early in the movie the character of Lauser vanishes into thin air and nobody except the protagonist, Stiller, remembers he ever existed. Stiller spends a considerable amount of time in multiple scenes which drive home the fact that nobody remembers Lauser well after the point that the audience ‘gets it.’

This is also a major plot hole. Once the reason for Lauser’s evaporation is revealed the fact that Stiller can remember his existence makes no sense at all. It’s a bit hard to discuss this movie because there is a major plot twist just before the end of the first half. Unfortunately, most people will probably have tuned out by now.

This plot point is revealed in the worst possible way—dialogue, delivered by the worst actor in the lot—in the worst possible setting—the cafeteria—with the worst-possible dramatic timing—it’s completely arbitrary and feels forced. To make matters worse, it is totally impossible for this character to know the information revealed. Not “hard” not “surprising” but, in the films ontology, completely non-possible. It’s a major plot hole and it’s not one that occurs to you after a while it’s one that is immediately obvious and offensive to the audience’s intelligence.

More plot logic and pacing problems pile up very quickly. To avoid spoilers let’s just say that the ‘bad guys’ are established as being in possession of a plot apparatus that would enable them to instantaneously annihilate Stiller and remove all evidence of his existence in the same way as Louser. It’s also established that they have twice done this to others for reasons of them learning the information in the ‘plot twist.’ They don’t, however, do this for no discernible reason despite events which clearly establish that they do know that he knows the secret because they do stage several attempts on his life with fake accidents and have one of the other characters warn him ‘forget everything you saw.’

A recurring point through the plot is that Lauser’s vanishment was reported in the press and investigated by the police but that the police and reporter also forgot Lauser ever existed and the newspaper story has been ‘vanished’ as well, replaced by an unrelated piece. The final crowning ‘proof’ that the plot-twist ‘secret’ is correct is revealed when a ‘correct’ copy of the paper is discovered by one of the paper’s foreign bureaux. As with Stiller’s unexplained but plot-convenient ability to remember the disappearance, the existence of this unexpurgated newspaper is completely illogical.

The second half is worse than the first half, it spends most of its time meandering pointlessly except…. it starts to get a lot better about halfway through. The visualization is impressive, but empty due to the vapidity of the script. However, the script, acting and directing dramatically improve late in the game and by the time the final twist-within-a-twist is revealed and the credits role it truly becomes memorable and worthwhile, even thrilling! It’s a pity the rest of the film could not be as vigorous.

Rating: D-

Alternative recommendations: Solaris, Tarkovsky A+; Blade Runner, Ridley Scott, B-; The Lathe of Heaven, David Loxton and Fred Barzyk, C+


Have you noticed how Apple and Google are now making cars?

Apple car will not have seats or climate control but will be very pretty and many of its owners will have weirdly personal, defensive attitudes about the car’s shortcomings. It will be hugely influential and financially successful—despite relatively low market share—because of its built-in vending machine that dispenses six different types of intoxicating liquors. Other car developers will race to add vending machines and copy its styling but with mixed results. MoMA will acquire several models of this car for its permanent collection.

Google car will spy on you constantly while issuing vague reassurances that this is so they can make a better car. You can turn the spying off, however this results in irrelevant types of cars appearing in your driveway. Google does not actually make the car, rather the car is made by a South Korean company which changes the design in arbitrary ways that everyone hates and adds extra switches for each of the features. Google car’s vending machine mostly dispenses free liquors meaning the manufacturer makes very little money on them and the quality leaves much to be desired. The beverages also spy on you. Though launched with great fanfare, Google car will be abruptly discontinued with little warning. Owners will be offered a suitcase that contains lint from the upholstery before it is automatically vaporized from everyone’s driveway.

Microsoft car will get off to a very rocky start several early models being prone to exploding but fifteen years later Microsoft cars work very well despite being a bit ugly and the most popular model achieved over 97% market share. However, the company followed this blockbuster up with a completely different style of car with uncomfortable, neon-colored seats and a vending machine that only sells prune juice. After the failure of this model the company will bolt some of its parts onto the old model then start sneaking into everyone’s driveways and replacing their old cars with the new one against their will. This car does, very occasionally, needs to have the engine re-installed for no obvious reason.

Linux car started out as a project in someone’s garage and has somehow become something that Fortune-500 companies rely on. This car is available in 3, 4 and 5 wheel models. In addition to a burgeoning corporate market, dozens of warring factions battle each other to produce consumer versions but only sell kits that require the user to remove the body, engine and other components from their existing car and bolt new parts onto the chassis. These cars will sometimes refuse to drive on certain roads due to licensing politics. Unfortunately, some of these roads are quite popular. After a while, the owners of these roads will start to produce add-ons that enable some Linux cars to drive on them but they have to be installed separately and occasionally make the car explode. The car has a legion of PR people who keep saying “This is the year of Linux car on the driveway!” But it never comes true.

BSD car is extremely similar to Linux car except for certain minor things which are completely incompatible and cause accessories designed for Linux car to break. BSD car comes in three models that are mutually incompatible. Some of the varieties support a feature called Ztrailer in which arbitrarily large arrays of trailers can be combined to create what appears to be a single gargantuan, fault-tolerant trailer which can instantaneously be returned to any previous state (although, if you only want to get one item from a previous state it could take hours.) Linux cars scoffed at Ztrailer and said it was unnecessary but eventually capitulated and copied most of its features. BSD car has much larger market share than commonly imagined.

OS/2 Car used to be very popular according to its manufacturer, which currently only manufactures trains, though there is little evidence of this. OS/2 Car was originally a joint project with Microsoft Car but the developers got divorced and things got messy. OS/2 Car no longer exists but it had a really weird way of starting up and there is still an option to configure some roads to work that way.

Blackberry Car has fallen on hard times after being the most popular model for many years. Blackberry Car has ten times the airbags of the next safest model however its vending machine is always out of stock and only accepts $50s. The steering wheel of this car is legendary and remains heavily touted by the company. Critics question whether this can truly be considered a self-driving car, in part because of the steering wheel. In desperation, Blackberry did a deal to release a version of Google car that was mostly self-driving, had a much better vending machine and had the Blackberry steering wheel bolted onto a sliding panel so it could be put out of the way when not in use. This ended up pleasing nobody.