Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Film #57: Ghost In The Machine (1993)

The Zack Morris cell phone.
This symbol of 1990s technology was not just insanely cool when it made its first appearance on Saved By The Bell, it was also cutting edge.

At the time, tween viewers like Nick and Chris were collectively amazed. “Wow, Zack can call Kelly and ask her to meet him behind the Maxx for unprotected relations anytime/place he wants! We totally live in the radical future! Gnarly!”
So is also the na├»ve 1990s techno-call that echoes across this week’s film, Ghost in the Machine.

Computers were still frightening to people in 1993. Worried about Big Brother networks of easily hacked personal information, a section of the public shunned such electric monstrosities… and Hollywood cashed in on the paranoia.

Who can blame these technophobes? There are only so many dancing baby screen savers one can see before hanging themselves with the mouse cord.
But computer-based suicide is not the cause of death for our poor victims in Ghost in the Machine… it is, gasp, the computer itself!

Perv computer store employee Karl has an active hobby outside of selling software. He likes to steal people’s address books and then murder those listed within for sport. One day, overworked divorcee Terry Munroe comes into Karl’s store looking to buy an electronic address book, you know, to help organize her hectic single mother life.

She brings along her rap-loving cracker son Josh, who's favorite hobbies include fooling with computers, looking at internet porno, listening to NWA, and hitting on the local recyclin'-loving hottie.

In her haste to buy the software, Terry leaves behind her address book – which falls into the hands of dun-dun-DA, Karl the Killer!

Karl’s all ready to start downloading his knife into Terry’s address book, but on his way to start the murders he gets in a car wreck and ends up in the hospital.

During a computerized MRI scan, lighting causes a power surge that malfunctions the MRI just as Terry technically dies in the machine. What do you get when you mix computers with electricity, a digital Frankenstein! Terry’s spirit gets sucked into the MRI computer, and uploaded to data house DataNet, where the disembodied d-bag commences his stalking and killing of Terry’s associates, this time by way of computer and electronic devices!

DataNet’s chief “Nick Burns,” Bram, catches on to the virtual villain and soon hooks up with Terry to stop Virtual Karl’s murderous ways.

Can this killer computer virus be stopped before it RAMs some whoop ass on the Munroe family and friends?

Find out, in the 1993 technotastic thriller “Ghost in the Machine.”

RDHP Ratings and Review

C-Rating: 2.0
Chris Dimick digitizes:
"“THIS RANT SPONSORED IN PART BY THE YEAR 1958 and AARP-For 30-somethings.
‘Call me an old fart, but technology is overhyped and underperforming. People who camp outside the Apple Store for 48 hours waiting for Steve Jobs to crap out his next techno-poop, I pity you. Get a life.

And that is just it, I hate how technology has begun to not just consume, but run our lives.
You try to have a conversation with someone, and the ass keeps looking at their phone mid-talk.
People today can’t go one minute without updating their Buttbook page on their Dumbphone or Tweeting about the color of their vomit – induced by excessive monitor staring.

Walk into a movie theater, and five minutes into the film some ADD-jagoff is filling your light-sensitive eyes with his damn phone screen light.

Phone calls from your friends, forget about it. Even an email is now considered going above and beyond to contact someone. Saying Happy Birthday to someone now takes zero effort. Buttbook alerts you of the day, you pop on their page and half-heartedly write "Happy Birthday." Wow, real special, thanks for remembering and taking the effort..., oh wait, you actually did neither.

Think about it, when was the last time you sat down to actually write a letter? I can’t remember, and that makes me sad. Buttbook isn’t reality, people, you can’t maintain friendships by sending occasional “what’s up” wall posts via a social networking page. That doesn't count.

Get off your ass and hang out with people in person, or at least call them on the phone!'

Okay, enough ranting. I have to clarify, I don’t hate technology itself. I just hate what technology does to certain (most) people. After all, the RDHP wouldn’t be possible without the aid of Netflix, Skype, Webcams, Blog software, Email and Google. I now say thank you to all those gems.

Ghost in the Machine is a product of its time, mirroring the fears people had about the boom of computer technology that would come to define the entire decade. Just as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein warned of the dangers of the Industrial Revolution, and in later movie adaptations, new-fangled electricity, so does Ghost in the Machine warn of the societal dangers of computers.

These faceless monsters had invaded our homes, and in the process given any perv or killer access to our digital lives. No one really knew how PCs worked in 1993 (do they even today?) so the idea that a killer’s spirit could get sucked into a computer and kill via gigabytes was at least somewhat interesting.

Though now outdated, one can’t completely write off Ghost in the Machine’s message. With today’s Internet and tendency for most of America to conduct virtually all social, financial and economic activities via computer, Ghost could be seen as even more relevant.
While Ghost is an allegory for our fear of technology, the film disappoints by not digging into this subject. It stays on the philosophical surface, and fails in the process.

Beyond the message, the movie itself had some entertaining moments.
Each of the murder set pieces throughout the film were original and entertaining. In one, the digital ghost enters a man’s microwave oven, revving it up to extreme temperatures that boil the homeslice and everything in his kitchen into bloody puddles.
It was sick to watch, but so original you couldn't look away.

But the one note song of “killer in a machine” isn’t enough to make your mind "double-rainbow". The premise wears thin after the first 45 minutes, leaving one to focus merely on the 90sness of the set and behavior to get through the other 45.

Technology is a good thing, and can improve our lives. But only if it is used to enhance, not replace, life’s activities. So, when talking to an old high school friend you run into at the grocery store, don’t peak down at your Dumbphone to stalk other high school classmates via Buttbook.

And when you are in a movie theater. Please, PLEASE, don’t check your phone after the trailers end. You just paid $14 to see this thing, give it your undivided attention. That email isn’t going anywhere, but your teeth might be if you shine that phone in my face one more time."

N-Rating: 1.7
Nick Rich digitizes:
"While it earns a 4.5 for sheer 90-liciousness with its baggy-pants wearing, hip-hop listening, stereotypical suburbanite 12-year-old white kid - along with its super-sweet display of the state of computers in the early 90s - sadly Ghost in The Machine had little else to offer the viewer other than a time capsule caricature.

Hey, don't get me wrong... I loved the early 1990s! Super Nintendo's Mario Kart for the hands, Newsies for the heart and Boyz II Men for the soul... what's not to love? Oh, wait... I remember now: all of the baggy pants wearing, trunk bass thumping, Nirvana-grunging posers that infested that era! Of all of the fashions of the past century, I was unfortunate enough to go through not one, but two of the worst periods during my adolescence!
Hip-hop & Grunge...
If 1940's fashion is a filet mignon, these two are rejects are cafeteria sloppy joe's.

Wow, sorry about that! I guess 13 year old Nick really didn't appreciate ill-fitting clothing... and to be honest, I still don't. As you can see, the fashion and flashbacks to this scarring time in my life proved to be the most interesting thing thing about this film (and all the flashbacks did were make me relive the horror I originally felt at seeing people dress and act like they did back then!).

For a movie all about a killer roaming through the cyberspace and killing people without mercy, Ghost lacked some serious byte. The acting was adequate, but felt a bit dated and was by no means impressive (except for a creepy exchange between the killer and mom after he met her hip-hop son for the first time).
The effects on the other hand were actually kind of fun to watch with Ghost's hokey interpretation of what it looks like inside a computer system (mainly like an Atari game if you're wondering), of course, being extremely dated but mildly enjoyable to behold.

For my money however, the single most unforgivable thing about this film was its lack of a true sense of danger. The story kept presenting these outlandish ways in which a computerized man could kill his prey, but none of them felt even slightly plausible in our modern world of connectivity - let alone the state of computer networks and such in 1993 (when the story was supposed to occur)!
I found myself time and time again saying (or thinking) 'why don't they just...' and giving a simple explanation as to how they could avoid the 'mortal' danger in which the characters found themselves in. This makes for an unconvincing film which, at 90 minutes, felt like it ran well over 2 hours... and generated exactly zero scares (fashion notwithstanding).

Unless you're really, really in the mood to see what ugly form teen angst could take ala 1993, I would suggest skipping Ghost In The Machine... after all, youtube is quicker, more entertaining and won't make you want to jump off of a roof (well, it's less likely to anyway).

The Skinny: If I were you I'd skip this flick like a scratch track on a used house DJ record - that is, unless you're morbidly curious to see what Mrs. Bluth was up to before Arrested Development.

Things We Learned From Ghost in the Machine:
-Pixy Sticks make you so high, you murder.
-Nick never had to do Shirts and Skins in Gym class.
-Nothing is more American than apple pie, baseball and divorce.
-The Paper Warrior software is made by anal retentives, for anal retentives.
-“Be careful with your caring systems.”
-Junk mail pisses off more people than Howard Stern.
-Friday night is always large.
-12-year-olds drown sorrows in milk and Oreos.
-Cartoon boobs are enough for 12-year-old boys.
-Tears from one’s eyes are tasty.
-It costs $32.30 for the hot babysitter to flash you.
-Men hold you all night, and make everything all right:

Quote of the Viewing:
[Flirty babysitter Carol is murdered by the Machine Ghost while caring for Josh. Sitting in the kitchen, the computer ghosts causes the dishwasher to overflow onto a power cord, which electrocutes Carol and causes her to flop around on the floor. She croaks.]

Chris: “Don’t tell Mom, the babysitter’s dead.”

RDHP Presents:
Tweenin’ in the 90s
Ahhh the tween years. Not quite a man, yet not still a boy. The hormones, the new mezzanine-level hair, the awkwardness! The early teen years have it all. Like Ghost in the Machine tween Josh, Nick and Chris were also in their early teens in 1993. Josh loved internet porn and instant messaging, so just what were we into in 1993?

"It's Friday Night/And the Moon is right/Gonna have some fun/Show ya how it's done. T.G.I.F!"
When you heard this song, tweens knew it was time for their favorite, family friendly, so dull even grandma could watch ABC shows: Perfect Strangers, Step by Step, Full House and, of course, an Urkel laden Family Matters.
"Got any cheese?" Urkel would ask. We sure do buddy, and its pouring out of your TV scripts.

The cutting edge of music at the time, nobody got tween angst and depression about 8th period better than these grungers. Because tween have sooooo much to be depressed about.

Girls... sort of
Going through the year book and discussing with dude friends which girls in class you would "do" wasn't really all that innocent when you think about it. Thing was, none of us had ever even kissed a girl.

MC Hammer
While into alt rock, the tween in us still couldn't ditch those infectious, though totally "sell out" jams of MC Hammer, who by this point had actually dropped the MC and stuck just with the tool box accessory. He was named after a tool... yeah, that sounds about right.

Going to the Mall
The place to see and be seen... and play laser tag or try out that bitchin' virtual reality kiosk (which is actually featured in this film). The mall: when your parents can't find a babysitter.

When you don't have a car, and bikes are too "babyish," one must turn to the blades. At least we looked cool. Right?

The Adventures of Pete and Pete
This Nickelodean TV show launched in 1993, and gave a voice to a generation tweens annoyed with family car trips, being grounded, and having to let go of childhood. This whimsical series is near perfect, and still worth a modern day viewing. You'll be surprised who'll show up (Michael Stipe, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop!).

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