Existenz is about a VR game system that uses organic matter mutated through the use of recombinant DNA
This is the third movie concerning virtual reality that I’ve seen in as many weeks. Existenz not only has an excellent plot, it is well acted and very well directed.
Existenz is about a VR game system that uses organic matter mutated through the use of recombinant DNA. This in itself is a novel twist. The main character is Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the foremost designer of these organic VR games. During a beta test/promo of her latest game, eXistenZ, and a group called Realist that morally opposes such games makes an assassination attempt. Even the weapon used is organic, being made of flesh and bone shooting human teeth. She gets away with a public relations man, Ted Pikul , played by the up coming actor, Jude Law (Gattaca). What follows is a wild ride through alternate realities, danger and an atmosphere of complete mistrust.
To make this type of movie work, acting is vital. Existenz not only has very strong leads but the secondary actors are stars in their own right. Ian Holms and Willem Defoe have smaller but crucial parts in this twisted tale. As always, they show the truth in the phrase that there are no small actors, only small parts. They give their all in their roles and it is reflected in the overall quality of the production. Leigh and Law provide enough tension and chemistry to carry Existenz along. The pacing of this type of movie is also critical and the director has managed to move the story along as you sit transfixed by the special effects yet never losing sight of the story. There are, of course, little inside jokes such as one scene where Pikul’s spine is injected with a game port resulting in a loss of function in his legs. This provided a throw back to his role of a genetically superior paraplegic in Gattaca. The actors appeared to have enjoyed making this strange film and that is also reflected in the finished product.
Existenz was directed by one of the strangest directors of all time, David Cronenberg. Cronenberg has never chosen easy projects and this one is no exceptions. While not up there with his classics, The Dead Zone, Videodrome or Crash, eXistenZ grabs hold of the audience and maintains your attention throughout the film. Cronenberg’s work is hallmarked by his fascination with flesh, disease and mutation. (e.g. The Fly). His use of organic game pods to interact directly with the spinal cord of the player is typical of his work and very graphically done. The game pod seems to have a life of it’s own as seen by the concern Allegra shows when the pod is injured and dying.
The sets are a combination of the mundane and the bizarre as Cronenberg use of psuedo-flesh, blood and bone pervade the film. Existenz marks the first script penned by Cronenberg since Videodrome and is very much an extension of that theme. As stated in another Cronenberg film, ‘it’s all about the flesh’. This is what drives Cronenberg in most of his films. Flesh merged with machine, flesh diseased or broken and flesh as the ultimate technology. As a director Cronenberg moves you through eXistenZ with great care. Each shot is framed and lit to perfection. The sound melded to the visuals that keeps the audience watching even when the scene seems disturbing. While Cronenberg is not a director for everyone’s tastes he is without a doubt, one of the most imaginative and gifted directors around.
The DVD itself is very good. A couple of points are worth noting. First, the film is presented in Dolby Surround and not 5.1. Existenz would have been incredible if the full sound field was used. Next, the letterbox is only 1:1.77 instead of the more common 1:2.35 or even 1:1.85. These are decisions made by the director and do not reflect upon the producers of the disc. For the fan of the weird, get it.Review by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com
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