Ralph Fiennes Lenny Nero
Angela Bassett Lornette "Mace" Mason
Juliette Lewis Faith Justin
Tom Sizemore Max Peltier
Michael Wincott Philo Gant
Vincent D'Onofrio Steckler
Glenn Plummer Jeriko One
Brigitte Bako Iris
Richard Edson Tick

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Written by James Cameron and Jay Cocks. 1995. Running time: 145 minutes.

Your beliefs and character will of course determine where you'll be at midnight on 31 December 1999. 

If you're a non-Christian or atheist, then the date will probably be meaningless to you. If you're of a religiously fanatical or secular apocalyptarian bent, you'd either be expecting the End Of The World or the Second Coming and probably won't be out partying in the streets. If you're a party animal, then you'll probably already have plans for the day. 

If you're a born contrarian and maintain that the new century only starts on 1 January, 2001 (which it does), or that it already started because of a mathematically inept monk who got the conversions between the old calendar system and the current one wrong back in the Middle Ages, then you might just be staying home and be in the market for an evening's video entertainment. And do I have just the video for the occasion . . .

It is the 1995 sci-fi actioner Strange Days, directed by Kathryn Bigelow and starring Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett and Juliette Lewis. While a lot of movies usually get made around the concept of a particular "momentous" future date (some very bad action movies set around the then-future transfer of Hong Kong from Britain to China comes to mind), Strange Days is probably the only movie that deals with New Year's Eve, 31 December 1999. When one thinks of the massive hype surrounding the event, this is rather strange. Sure, there were some plans a wile back to film an action/disaster movie revolving around the dreaded Y2K bug that'll cause older computers to simply go belly-up with the rollover from 31/12/99 to 01/01/00. However, the producers realised that they'll never get the film made in time. (Filmmakers probably don't like to be kept so stringently to such a tight schedule.)

If you're suffering from millennium hype overload like me, then you're probably glad. However, despite this, Strange Days is definitely worth a rental. Not that the movie managed to predict the "future" (i.e., our present) all that accurately - but that was probably never the intention. For starters, there is no way that anyone in 1995 thought that virtual reality would come as far as the so-called "squids" featured in the movie.

The "squids" are small Sony Playstation-like boxes that allow one to "record" another person or your own experiences. Leading a dull and placid experience? Then with the help of the "squids" you can experience another (no doubt more exciting) person's experiences. Or you can simply record some of your own, more enjoyable experiences and play them back later on. In Strange Days the experiences peddled are: a real-life robbery in which the person being recorded dies, a woman in a shower and, in a particularly poignant scene, a man running on a beach being played back for a wheelchair-bound person, etc. 

The main character Lenny Nero (fiddling while Rome burns no doubt) played by Ralph Fiennes of Schindler's List and Quiz Show fame deals in such "squids". He however does not adhere to the dealer's rulebook and has sampled his own produce: he continually reruns recordings of happier days with an ex-girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) who has gone on to be a rock star.

The complete immersion technology of the "squids" is, of course, probably a far way off. Yet it is a potent symbol for the "virtual reality" our technology does make possible. Besides, what else can books, movies, TV shows, plays, etc. be described as than chunks of other peoples' existences? It would seem as if our lives have always been drab and in need of some excitement or entertainment. As one critic remarked: Strange Days is one of the few cyberpunk movies to have captured the addictive thrill of virtual reality . . .

Like the "squids" the Ralph Fiennes character deals in, Strange Days is visceral as opposed to intellectual. While it presents the thrill of virtual reality, it never really explores why we are in such desperate need of it. The closest explanation one can get from the movie is that we need it because our current reality is so rotten, a world plagued by violence, crime, racism, hate and so forth. It is an action movie at heart, albeit an above average one with some good acting, exciting action sequences, good production values and so forth.

Its final resolutions reveal the hand of director Bigelow's ex-husband James Cameron (who contributed to the screenplay) in that the ending seems to be a forced tagged-on happy ending, just like a similar unlikely ending spoiled his 1989 movie The Abyss. Yet, like that movie it remains one hell of a ride and it is a shame that the film bombed so badly at the box office upon its release in 1995. Surprising, considering that that year's sci-fi output included the dismal output of the likes of Johnny Mnemonic, Tank Girl and Judge Dredd . . .


Copyright © December 1999 James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page



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