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VWN Product Reviews: Strange Days

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Los Angeles, 1999. Lenny Nero used to be a vice cop, now he?s a street hustler, dealing in virtual reality datacordings acquired and sold illegally. These datacordings are virtual reality clips that allow a user to experience the recorded sensations of others. The only problem is they are addictive as hell, and habit-forming.

On the eve of the millennium, Lenny?s life is turned upside down when a datacording obtained from the mind of his ex-girlfriend contains the memories of a murderer killing a prostitute. Lenny?s old cop skills come to the fore, and he finds himself pulled deeper and deeper into a swirling web of deceit, murder, blackmail, and rape.

Plot

This is a complex film, one of those where you cannot miss any or you lose the plot completely. Sadly, the first half hour or so is a jumbled mess, as it zips from one location to another, filling in bits of backstory and plot that will be needed later on. However, once this whirlwind is over, and the plot starts to settle, you will find bits starting to slide into place in an enjoyable manner.

The plot is deep, and whilst the technology it portrays is both fascinating and fully believable, the film?s main plot is a humanistic angle, with the whole thing having a fairly dark undertone.

Technology

The technology this movie digs deeply into, is of course brain-machine interfaces. Time and again through the film, you see models of a helmet-like interlaced affair, almost like a hair net, but rigid, which fits snugly over the cranium, from the top of the forehead to the back of the neck.

Small enough to fit under a wig or hat, the device is connected by a thin wire to a computer pack elsewhere on the body. It is designed specifically to record and playback brain impulses. It records to the point that the very recorded memories and emotions, the deepest feelings and thoughts of the recorder at the time of recording, are projected into the brain of the person playing it back. They see what the recorder saw, feel what the recorder felt, for the duration of the recording.

Many examples throughout the film show how good this technology could be ? at one point Lenny gives a wheelchair-bound friend a birthday present of a recording of someone running along a beach, looking at their feet as the waves lap across them. Via this technology, every sight, smell and feeling is bypassed from the senses and played directly into their brain. What a wonderful gift.

On the flip side, the film does explore the darker aspects of the technology ? such as its ability to fry the neurons in the brain from a blast of over stimulation from a carefully prepared fake recording. Such a blast could fry the higher functions, leaving a subject a mindless vegetable, but not legally dead.

This technology is made all the more real by recent developments in neuroscience that point to what the device offers, actually being possible, if not quite with us yet. With the technology being theoretically possible, the issues addressed with it, all throughout the film do bear scrutiny.

Addiction to VR is already an acknowledged issue, with the simple systems we have. What would it be like with total fidelity such as that? Addictive? Street peddled? ultimate boon? Ultimate disaster?

The film provides some great ammo for all arguments, for and against such technology, watch it to learn them.

 

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