Wednesday, 26 August 2009

8th Wonderland

I've seen the trailer for Cameron's Avatar, albeit not in 3D, and my initial impression is that the film may be impressive on a conceptual level (not least for the depiction of a militarised future reminiscent of Aliens), but perhaps lacking in its execution. Therefore I concur with the many bloggers who have complained about the character design resembling the dreaded Jar Jar Binks from the Star Wars universe.

I don't have much else to go on at this stage, and I'm also not particularly interested in following the Fanboy type arguments too far, so I've directed my attention elsewhere. I've come across 8th Wonderland, which is already starting to generate some positive advance notices (visit the accompanying "virtual" nation here). I regard the film as effecting a thematic displacement of the Darwinian model of evolution embodying adaptive fitness towards a greater emphasis instead on creativity, as per the vitalism of Henri Bergson and, perhaps more importantly, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's conception of the "noosphere".

Hence I foresee critical discussion devolving on the issue of whether the emergent noosphere depicted in the film is representative of a new "post national" stage of human evolution. One should remember in this context that nationalism is a discourse intended to heal the contingency associated with modernity (which is why it has been described by Benedict Anderson as equating to an "imagined community"). It is analogous to Walter Benjamin's urban archetypes, such as the detective, who attest to the power of consciousness to retain its synthesizing powers. In comparison this makes the hacker a dangerously ambiguous figure: on the one hand very creative and autonomous, in the manner of the detective who also steps back from the circumstances at hand through a sheer force of will and intellect. Of course the difference is that the hacker is ultimately less interested in rationality as a restorative agent for law and order, leading us to understand that anarchist movements always remain a possibility because self-organizing networks are an inherent feature of complex systems, including social systems.

Because I have yet to see the film, I can't judge the extent to which it acknowledges this fact as either a good or a bad thing. The former could exist anywhere on a continuum spanning from Rheingold's electronic homesteaders to Negri and Hardt's emergent "multitude", whilst the latter would dovetail with Jean Baudrillard. Judging by the capsule review I've pasted below and the representation of violence in the trailer, it is probably closer to a Baudrillardian dystopia insofar as it is [seemingly] not amenable to rational planning and democratic control by human beings. I haven't read Julian May's Galactic Mileu series so I can't cite it as a sci fi precedent for the themes of this movie. In any case, here are some details about 8th Wonderland:

They are of all nationalities, all professions and creeds. They’ve never met face to face but they share a common secret. Together they form a clandestine community based in 8th Wonderland, the planet’s first virtual country. Motivated by the same goal, they communicate daily to concoct strategies for counteracting the Machiavellian plans of the world’s capitalist societies and create a land on Earth where, at last, peace reigns. After disabling a project that might have started a war, 8th Wonderland finally attracts the attention of the global media and with it, that of anti-terrorist organizations. Risking the worst, the inhabitants of the synthetic nation elect to move ahead with plans to impose their laws on all the world’s leaders. A new era is beginning to emerge, even if it’s threatened buy the sudden intrusion of someone claiming to be the creator of 8th Wonderland.

Easily one of the most fascinating genre films of the last half-decade, 8TH WONDERLAND, by newcomers Nicolas Alberny and Jean Mach, is a triumph on every level. By imagining an alternate world that would no doubt have intrigued Jean Baudrillard, the French filmmakers offer a smart consideration of the place of new media in contemporary society. The undeniable political power of Web communities has never been so effectively presented in cinema. Though editorial commentary is the leitmotiv, Alberny and Mach dodge intellectual heavy-handedness by incorporating it into a gripping story of suspense, a conspiracy tale loaded with humour, tension and surprising twists and turns. This captivating trip across the Web culminates in a climax that matches that of Park Chan-wook’s OLDBOY in its impact. With a multitude of mini-stories woven into a massive narrative and a precise and original use of the split screen (the scenes occurring inside the 8th Wonderland site are a feast for the eyes), Alberny and Mach succeed where Zack Snyder failed in his transposition of the spirit of Alan Moore’s comics to the big screen. 8TH WONDERLAND may well be the film of its generation, for whom Facebook and Twitter are part of a daily existence split between the real and the virtual, one that demands justice and equality for those denied them, one that wants to see its utopian dreams at last realized.

Simon Laperrière (translated by Rupert Bottenberg)

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