Thursday, September 24, 2009

A retraction

In two different posts earlier this year, I cast a skeptical eye on a little Mexican sci-fi film called Sleep Dealer. In the first post, it was a direct attack. In the second, it was indirect, more of a dismissal of it as "the best they could come up with" for the Latino image awards.

Well, I saw the movie last night, and darn it if it wasn't really good.

You may remember (especially if you just followed the first link above) that my skepticism was primarily based on what I considered to be its theft of the iconography of The Matrix in its billboards. I'm pleased to tell you that writer-director Alex Rivera does not actually owe a debt to the Wachowski brothers -- at least, no more so than any other filmmaker who has been influenced in some way by their landmark film. It's got plenty of its own interesting ideas about the way linking our bodies to machines may one day change our day-to-day existence -- even if those ideas are in fact purely science fiction.

For example, the central idea is very interesting: That one way for the U.S. to outsource its labor would be to have not only its tech support in other countries, but to keep the actual people doing the grunting and lifting there too. Sleep Dealer posits a world where workers slaving away on 12-hour shifts in Tijuana could connect their bodies to machines via cables that enter nodes affixed to their skin. In that way, they could remotely control robots that climb up and down the sides of a San Diego skyscraper under construction, or milk cows in Iowa. The movie sardonically -- though, alas, probably accurately -- suggests that some Americans would love the benefits of Mexican labor, without having to look at or tolerate actual Mexicans.

Oh, and that's only one of the many interesting ideas this movie touches on. You should definitely check it out.

Another complaint I had was that I doubted there would be any way for Sleep Dealer to meet the visual expectations of a viewing public raised on top-notch special effects. Well, having watched it, I feel guilty for having blithely assumed that good visual effects were impossible without Hollywood money. Yeah, you can tell that Industrial Light & Magic wasn't involved, but darn it if those effects don't look plenty good on their own. Good enough, anyway, when the script is as good as Rivera's script is.

I was already planning to pimp Sleep Dealer in my blog today when I noticed over breakfast a newspaper ad for Pandorum, which made me realize I had even more reason to let Sleep Dealer off the hook. I don't think Pandorum has much to do with The Matrix either, but it's no less guilty of trying to remind us of The Matrix with its own poster, as seen above.

And if I'm going to give either movie the benefit of the doubt, it should be the one that really needs the help to get the viewers it deserves, not the one starring Dennis Quaid.

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