Five Cyberpunk Shows to Die For

A little extreme? We’ll see.

Back when I was trying to work out what spun my wheels in fiction, I discovered this little book called Neuromancer. It was by this William Gibson dude, who I had never heard of, and my library’s copy has such a worn cover it screamed to be read. Gibson, I was told at the time, had no tech background. He’d made this whole storybook universe that was plausible because he wasn’t shackled to the beliefs us tech junkies held. And, here we are many years on, coming up with [A|V]R virtualities. Who would have known?

Dunno if the story is true, but it’s a neat one, so feel free to spread it around.

The genre was this thing called cyberpunk. Never heard of it before, but I was hooked: a high tech future but with our same low life? Sign me the fuck up. I gobbled a bunch of cyberpunk stories, found a few video games (Syndicate says hi!), and then found that the silver screen was devoid of product in that lane.

No more. Without further ado, I bring you the five cyberpunk experiences worth getting a neural link to access (side note: I sure hope the future has better firewall tech than we do today). Spoilers: You won’t find Johnny Mnemonic on this list. We all thought it was rad when it came out, but time has not been kind.


5. Total Recall

Before you spit in my face, hold up. I was like you: went to the cinema to see it, jacked up on caffeine and hope. What’s not to like? A remake of the classic, but with Farrell, Beckinsale, and Biel? Fuck yes.

Then I saw it, and spent more time thinking, what the fuck did I just watch? The movie was incomprehensible. On a friend’s recommendation, I watched the Director’s Cut, and this, friends, is what you need.

It makes a great cyberpunk tale. Takes its time (17 extra minutes!), which — as it turns out — contained some pretty useful pieces of story. This new version (the one the director wanted) takes the campy flavor of the Arnold v1 and turns it into a gritty, dark exploration of what makes up … you. [IMDB] [Blu-Ray]

4. Ghost in the Shell

I know this got a lot of static when it hit, because Scarlett Johansson is not Japanese. Having been a fan of the 1995 anime, I’m just going to go out on a limb and say it doesn’t matter. If you can make a robot body for yourself, you can change it however you like, and (possible mild spoilers) as it turns out sometimes bad people have reasons for hiding who you used to be from yourself.

Johansson’s performance is spectacular; the way she strides on screen, shoulders square, like she has mass and power. She brings raw physicality to her role. On top of that, the visuals in this film are spectacular; a magically realized future dystopia. [IMDB] [Blu-Ray]

3. Altered Carbon

When I was starting out as a storyteller, Richard Morgan was the author I most wanted to write like.

He still is.

Netflix’s adaptation of his cyberpunk novel is sublime. It’s not just Blade Runner rip-off. It asks us what is the nature of humanity, and how humanity mixed generously with time can make monsters of us all. My wife and I were glued to this, and I almost didn’t go to a friend’s farewell just to watch the last episode.

But, because I like to think I’m not a monster, I went for the beer and pizza, and then we watched the final. Both were delicious. [IMDB] [Book] [Netflix]

2. Blade Runner

I was smuggled in to see Blade Runner when I was a shade too young according to the monitors of the time. Bulky jacket and a hat, and viola, into the cinema I went (not looking conspicuous at all). Since that time to very recently, it was my favorite movie of all time.

Corporates like Tyrell rule all. The movie makes the point that tech will be driven by corporations to serve their economic interests, even if that tech creates life, and that life becomes enslaved. There’s a not-so-subtle jibe here that as long as we get to keep living how we want (cheap shoes, or noodles, or whatever), we’ll be fine with that. It’s exploration into humanity and I believe the nature of the soul is poignant, and before its time. [IMDB] [Blu-Ray]

1. Blade Runner 2049

This is now my favorite movie of all time. If the original Blade Runner was about tech and humanity, BR2049 asks questions about whether the machines we make might want a little me-too action. I left the cinema after watching this and spent about forty-five minutes just walking around, thinking about it.

I wanted to go straight back in for another screening. This is a masterpiece, at times depressing, and at others demanding hope from you. The tantalizing taste is that, while humans may be monsters, possibly the things we create can be better than us. More human than human, or just better? [IMDB] [Blu-Ray]