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Monday, 19 October 2009

Eyeborgs (2009)

Director: Richard Clabaugh
Stars: Adrian Paul, Megan Blake and Luke Eberl
It's about time someone wrote this film. The US is currently wandering down the same road that the UK has been wandering down for some time, namely throwing up surveillance cameras everywhere possible to provide video evidence in case of a trial. The obvious privacy questions come with how that information is monitored and used. Does anyone watch this stuff without due cause? What happens when we get an algorithm to watch and collate all of it all the time? More importantly, how much of it will it be tied to a proliferation of laws for petty crimes passed only to convict people who the powers that be disagree with, or even to entirely fabricated evidence? It doesn't take a conspiracy theorist to see how that could destroy privacy and freedom of speech all in one shot, and in an environment where everything is based out of fear, who's going to be the next threat? Them? You? Me? This is definitely a film for the tin hat brigade, right down to the obligatory Anarchist's Cookbook reference.

So here we have a near future United States where cameras are everywhere. The Freedom of Observation Act allowed it, the Optical Defense Intelligence Network (ODIN) provided it and the Department of Homeland Security enforces it, with the aid of the eyeborgs of the title. Eyeborgs are mobile surveillance robots, whether they be little critters that look like webcams with legs or much bigger spidery beasts that can climb walls. Of course, while this is believable extrapolation (though how much depends on your personal politics), there's one thing here that would never happen: there's no way Apple would allow anyone to create anything called an eyeborg, however the filmmakers choose to spell it.

While the opening suggests a Terminator style film and returns to that on occasion, it quickly becomes an intriguing cross between RoboCop and They Live, with some very cool mecha designs for their eyeborgs, which after all are a slicker, more navigable and far more scalable version of characters like RoboCop and ED-109. On the They Live side, we have an underground, fighting Big Brother. People like guitar tech G-Man, played by Danny Trejo, belong to it and so does our initial target, a bearded behemoth called Sankur, in the form of Dale Girard. Sankur tells us plenty.

The way he sees it, President Benjamin Hewes wasn't elected, he mounted a coup through rigged electronic voting and has been keeping everyone in the dark ever since. One thing that Sankur finds out the hard way is that these robots, deployed in the name of public safety, do a lot more than that. There's a carefully worded phrase buried on page 792 of the FOA, that allows eyeborgs, in the absence of law enforcement, to stop a criminal from committing a criminal act, and that's a license to kill as long as they're careful about how they do it.

Sankur doesn't even see the DHS as bad guys, like the star of our show, Highlander's Adrian Paul as DHS agent R J 'Gunner' Reynolds. Reynolds is the agent who takes Sankur alive while he's trying to kill the President's nephew Jarett Hewes, but as Sankur sees it, he's just another agent blinded to who the real bad guys are. Over time and circumstances, people like Reynolds, Hewes and a journalist called Barbara Hawkins start to realise that things aren't quite adding up any more. They start to piece the picture together but of course it's a frickin' dangerous picture.

I liked this film, though it does try a little hard to give us They Live without aliens, and loses out in most ways in the comparison. OK, there's no delightfully cheesy wrestling match in an alleyway, but a lot of John Carpenter's genius is missed too and it just doesn't engage in the same human way. It's a well constructed nest of conspiracy theories and realistic extrapolations, though there are quite a few conveniences that can't be ignored. It's not difficult to see through the core secret of the film either, but it's better than most and however far down the paranoid scale any of us really is, the prompting of a few healthy questions can never hurt. It could also work as the pilot for an intriguing TV show.

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