Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Q: How can sci-fi directors portray the future?

A By shooting their films in the present. As real-life architecture slowly but inevitably approaches Ridley Scott's Blade Runner-vision, the opportunities for futuristic cinema increase - and sooner or later, CGI fans will be going to see period costume dramas rather than sci-fi.

At Sci-Fi London, the future meant Docklands or the Jubilee Line. In Michael Winterbottom's Code 46, the future means Shanghai's business district. The film is beautifully crafted in general, with intense use of light, colour and vibrant sound to invoke emotional atmosphere. It also features two superb actors - Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton. Morton's accent is a bit WTF here (perhaps this is a genuine dialect of the future) but this is irrelevant as she creates a complex tough-yet-vulnerable character that gets your attention without the aid of an empathy virus.

Empathy virus? Code 46 has some similarities to Andrew Niccol's Gattaca - it also deals with the increasingly restrictive use of genetic testing. The plot revolves around the love affair between Samantha Morton's character, a forger of biometric passports that help people fool the genetic tests, and Tim Robbins' married investigator sent in to find her. The empathy virus is his tool of the trade, allowing him to make quick deductions about his subjects based on seemingly irrelevant questions - a new twist on the hunch-following detective. Other behavioural viruses also turn up later in the plot.

The film falls down, a little, in two areas - the back story relies on the governments of the world passing universal laws to condemn reproduction between people who are too genetically close, and while the external cinematography gives a sense of the future, this is a facade - interiors of cars, trains, houses, cafes, offices, clubs are more or less unchanged. The illegal relationship between the two lovers is also complicated and unlikely, although it does introduce a potential complication of cloning that would make Sigmund Freud turn in his grave.

This is not a light entertainment movie, but I'd describe it as a romantic and intelligent drama.

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