World on a Wire (1973)

After I had seen Logan’s Run for the first time around five years ago, I stumbled upon this film in the related films section on Rotten Tomatoes, a site which describes this as “a satiric and surreal look at the weird world of tomorrow from one of cinema’s kinkiest geniuses”. It’s not so much a feature film so much as it is a TV film serial in two parts, with the combined length totalling three hours and twenty minutes, almost as long as Ben-Hur. But if you have the patience to sit through both parts, you’ll find a very engaging sci-fi film, and perhaps a good example of the style of sci-fi that was still prevalent in the early 1970’s.

The plot of the film revolves around a supercomputer called the Simulacron, a powerful computer project operated by the Institut für Kybernetik und Zukunftsforschung (or IKZ) that is capable of simulating a full reality with “identity units” serving as citizens of that world. The technical director of the project, Professor Henry Vollmer, is on the verge of making an incredible discovery, but suddenly he dies in a mysterious accident. His successor, Fred Stiller, experiences odd phenomenon, including the disappearance of a good friend name Gunther Lause, who none of the other IKZ employees have any memory of. Soon after the attempted suicide of an identity unit, Stiller is informed that the world he inhabits is in fact a simulation, and when he tells an IKZ psychiatrist of this, he is found dead, with Stiller framed for the murder in a reality-bending corporate conspiracy.

You could consider this an early precursor to The Matrix, only far longer, and requiring much more patience. You could perhaps argue that the comparatively slower, colder approach is the way that The Matrix perhaps ought to have been. Of course, taken as the whole three-and-a-half hour film, the pacing can definitely be quite sluggish, although if you’re into this sort of film, dive right in, but make sure you’ve got a lot of time to yourself, and that you don’t have to prepare any meals in the middle of it.

Since the film is mostly in German I doubt I can offer much commentary on the acting, though I don’t have much issue with the performance, and I’m tempted to say that it’s somewhere above the par of TV acting. To the producers’ credit, the film does do a good job of immersing you in a world that may in fact be an artifice. It has a distinct film noir vibe, the kind you might later see in the notably superior Blade Runner. The music is mostly synthesised, though I find it interesting that the film chooses to end with Fleetwood Mac’s classic “Albatross” (also used at some point close to the end of the second part). The film itself isn’t as dull as its length might imply, so I wouldn’t pass it up, especially if you’re a sci-fi nut.

  • Score: 75%
  • Grade: B

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