Thursday, February 8, 2018

Altered Carbon on Netflix


Yes I know this came from a book series. And I know it's a little derivative, paying homage to Blade Runner and other Noir detective fiction. And I know it exists in a well-established genre of cyberpunk. But can't we just rejoice in the fact that Netflix pulled off something no one's done in a long time: an original sci-fi concept  pushing all the right buttons while simultaneously pushing some boundaries.

I've maintained that a good TV show is essentially beautiful people in dangerous situations wrapped up in an episodic arch that connects to a larger whole (season). Altered Carbon does this in spades. Beautiful people? Check! We've even fit some nudity in there. Violent situations? Check! We spent so much money on gore effects some of our CGI cars look a bit wonky. Story arch? CHECK! We get well-encapsulated stories that build on one another until they come to a tightly satisfying ending even your English professor would be stoked about.

There's even a scene in which a beautiful woman kills fifty naked clones of another sexy woman as they come alive attack her. It's creepy, sexy, violent, and creative.

Altered Carbon sells us a universe with as little exposition as possible and trusts its audience to go along for the ride and figure it out as we go. There are a couple clunky lines in there, but who cares? We're having fun piecing it all together. And even when the show introduces a good soldier vs. bad soldier scenario, we at least have some motives in play. And that's hugely refreshing. The terrorists might be the good guys, or they might not be; you decide! 

I still don't know why the Star Wars Empire is going around blowing up planets? Tax collection?

NO CHOSEN ONE!!! NO PROPHECY!!! They could have gone down that road for expediency, but instead they put characters and events in motion creating a protagonist worth following around. I'm so sick of Harry Potters and Luke Skywalkers and Alices and Neos ad nauseam. It's cheap story-telling, and we'll have none of it here. Instead we get women of agency and men who aren't idiots and men playing women and even a black man playing an Asian woman playing a black man. That's Shakespearean!

Music. The music is fantastic in this thing. Two stand-outs were the More Human Than Human cover by Sune Rose Wagner and A Nyughatatlan's God's Gonna Cut You Down cover. There's a Nine Inch Nails song in there for measure, too. Check out this track list!

The plot moves dexterously through some big blink-and-you'll-miss-them points but still addresses some major themes. Obligation is a big one: Familial, friend, class, state loyalties are questioned and investigated. We get to ask what mortality is, what power is, and even what God is.

In the end we get to ask my favorite sci-fi question: What is it to be human?

OK! But is there anything you hated?
Yes. I hated this stupid tattoo Takeshi and Reileen had. This tired old symbol, Ouroboros, is the most boring, lamest symbol they drag out on TV. It's a dragon biting its own tail in the shape of an infinity loop, and it's featured heavily in the opening credits sequence. I rolled my eyes every time I saw it. It reminded me of Hemlock Grove, and this is leaps and bounds better than that early Netflix attempt. It's unneeded and loud.

The ending was a little rushed, but it was satisfying and didn't leave a ton of question marks like most science fiction does. Altered Carbon also plays by the rules of its own universe. There are some Chekhov's guns in there that seem a little elastic, but that's OK; they all pan out.

Over all, it's a wonderful new show. Aren't you tired of Disney trotting out more Marvel shit to see what sticks? Aren't you just a little bit bored by Star Wars by now? Doesn't the Pacific Rim sequel look ridiculous and stupid? This breath of fresh air is worth every moment spent watching it. 


Sky Jack Morgan said...

I love cyberpunk. I think my favorite it Snow Crash. Do you have a favorite cyberpunk novel?

tuzakey said...

I've always been partial to Gibson's work. Both the Sprawl trilogy and Blue Ant books, and Burning chrome has a bunch of great shorts. I soak up everything Gibson and Stephenson put out. Bruce Sterling has some good stuff too.

Sky Jack Morgan said...

I need to read more Gibson. I mean, I know Johnny Mnemonic, and I think that was the first time I'd ever heard of Cyberpunk when that movie came out. I don't know Bruce Sterling. I need to google him and figure something out. I think these novels really translate to film well, especially now. I hope we see more of it.

I can't help but think that Grant Morrison and Alan Moore are kind of cyberpunky, especially the former with works like WE 3. But even Grant Morrison's Animal Man run and everything he did with Batman Inc. feels cyberpunk even if it doesn't check all the boxes.

Anyway, I think we're going to see a lot more of this genre through screens soon, so I want to read as much of it as I can before all the characters are in my head as actors' faces.

Thanks for the comment dude.