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If you like sci-fi that requires some thought and investigation rather than just being amazed by the effects this is for you.
You can guess the main plot twist quite quickly but there's a lot more to discover with some careful viewing and a very satisfying ending that will leave you contemplating how it would feel to be the main character in the last few moments of the film.
Although shot in the early 70's, the futuristic world, which now looks dated, makes a lot of sense in light of the plot and is surprisingly future proof given the overall premise (how we think things will be, not how they are). It would really be a stroke of genius if this was deliberately designed by Fassinder, one suspects, however, he was heavily influenced by Alphaville, simply using futuristic but modern buildings that reflect the ideas of the future at that time, i.e., cheaper than building new sets!
The accompanying documentary is very revealing with regard to clever casting decisions which, unless you were living in West Germany and at least in your twenties when broadcast, won't be apparent.
Each part exists on a separate disc and there's a definite feel of an original film plus a very good sequel. There are prominent 'cut off' points exactly half way in each part which suggests it may have been originally planned as a four part serial or these are spaces designed for 'non-intrusive' commercial breaks.
The only negatives are, a few marks on the film that should have been cleaned up (in the documentary it shows them making the decision not to!) and occasionally over-the-top audio cues which are slightly jarring. However, most of these faults are in the first twenty minutes and soon forgotten.
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A cybernetics institute creates a computerized virtual world resembling our real world & inhabited by "identity units" indistinguishable from humans. This virtual world can be accessed by wearing a headset & getting hooked up to the Simulacron 1 network, but chief scientist Dr Stiller suspects some virtual citizens are coming the other way, crossing over into the real world & passing themselves off as human. Then he starts to suspect a much darker secret - perhaps our real world is itself a programmed computerized virtual world.... Fassbinder has been well served on DVD by the multiple box sets issued a few years back, but there were several items missing - such as World on a Wire, which now turns up & is a real surprise. It was a sci-fi television series (two feature length episodes) broadcast in Germany in 1973. Original television audiences probably responded with a mixture of curiosity & bafflement similar to original reactions to The Prisoner or Twin Peaks. It is filmed in Fassbinder's customary deadpan style with his usual idiosyncratic quirks & perverse touches, but the genre conventions are respected & a fairly tight focus on the plot maintained - helped by a powerful & relatively "straight" action hero central performance by Klaus Lowitsch as Dr Stiller. The main influence has to be Godard's Alphaville - it was mostly filmed in Paris & even features a Lemmie Caution cameo and, as with Godard, the characters are prone to intense philosophical discussions about Plato's theory of forms and suchlike. There are also themes concerning the totalitarian manipulation of reality and identity, not so much for political or fascist ends but by late capitalist consumerism & marketing.Read more ›
This is definitely worth watching for originality. The actors have been directed to use a very mannered style which is a bit peculiar, especially in the women who seem more or less drugged into a complete lack of expression. However, this is more than made up for by the philosophical points raised by the plot, the stunning interiors, the ground breaking camera work and the sheer feel of pure science fiction as opposed to space opera, action blockbuster or Hollywood remake. This one makes you think.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
New German Cinema Sci-Fi Without CGI - Great Job, Criterion6 Mar. 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
This is a movie that I've been wanting to see since I was young, but, although it was made in my time, it wasn't readily available. Alas, Criterion has finally released it, and I was so excited to finally see it!
Basically, it is a TV movie based on the early 1960s sci-fi short story by Daniel Galouye. It's about an engineer who is caught not only in an ethical dilemma on how his machine that mimics reality should be used (for the good of people or for corporate greed), but he debates whether he is in a fabricated reality or a real one. It is more, but I'm not going to ruin it.
The movie itself is an excellent adaptation of the novel MINUS the CGI effects (no flying cars, no futuristic city, no public-opinion polsters). It is made in similar style to Truffaut's "Fahrenheit 451," Godard's "Alphaville," and Barzyk's "The Lathe of Heaven" (or even, dare I say, "A Clockwork Orange"). Many sci-fi fanatics may find this problematic, but I love these movies because it makes them more "down to earth" and more human (for lack of a better word) and less "contrived" and/or reliant on special effects to tell the story.
The Criterion version has restored Fassbinder's movie, with not only an outstanding digital transfer, but "New English subtitles" (as stated on the back). I have only seen 1 scene in my life, and it was from a horrible copy! Fassbinder may not be a name associated with sci-fi, but the movie has all of his traits found in other movies he directed: muscular men of different races, overly made-up women with large, blond hair, and give-and-take dialogue. There's even a "Lili Marleen" bit! Equally masterful is his constant use of mirrors (or any reflective surfaces, such as water) and windows. It's fascinating to watch! It is also somewhat slow-paced (not as much as Angelopoulos), and this may tend to turn casual viewers off (I'm noting this, because reviews by other about slow-paced movies are negative because of pacing, and this is something that many viewers have overcome or need to overcome). I like slow-pace; It's not so slow that you are bored. The story carries well. Great use of music (Strauss, Greek folk, and Jazz/blues) and sound effects (screeches and such that heighten tension). Great use of art direction, colors, editing, cinematography, etc.
I watched this movie AFTER reading the story, and, even without the special effects, the movie is on-target with its adaptation (there is some added and some changed, but it works!). No pollsters, but Fassbinder molds the movie in such a way so that not having them doesn't really matter.
There is some female nudity, and, outside of the US or UK, this is normal for TV movies and foreign cinema - I am only noting this because the film has no rating on the cover!
There are some great features on the Criterion set, including "Making of..." documentary. I'm more of a Herzog fan, but I've been revisiting Fassbinder recently (next on list: "Berlin Alexanderplatz, which is also on Criterion and I have seen before). It is a 2-disc set. It's great to sit through the ending credits and chill to the soundtrack.
To repeat myself, it is probably NOT for the casual movie watcher. This is Fassbinder, and if you don't like slow pacing, early 70s cinema, or made-for-TV movies (it doesn't "feel" like one at all), this movie will probably disappoint. In my opinion, it is for those who study foreign cinema, and, especially, New German Cinema (this definitely fits the NGC German identity crisis philosophy), and, even more so, the cinema of Fassbinder.
Spin around in tandem on swivel chairs with a fellow viewer and enjoy! (It's a scene in the movie) ---- 5 stars for film, transfer, and DVD extras combined.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A Director, Wired24 Feb. 2012
Robert Taylor Brewer
- Published on Amazon.com
Rainer Werner Fassbinder's film in this newly released Criterion DVD draws immediate parallels to Fahrenheit 451, François Truffaut's nightmarish vision of a world without books. Fassbinder's film is less openly allegoric, more rooted in a world where corporate interests align with science and technology run amuck. It's especially chilling that a mere 28 years prior to the making of this 1973 film, Hitler's Gestapo performed the same type of eugenics experiments, and deployed the same numbering scheme on human "units" depicted in the film. Fassbinder deploys the same rapier on journalists that he uses to skewer corporate tycoons, noting they seem more interested in helping themselves at a massive press conference feast than in unmasking the human experiments taking place under their noses.
There are several places in the film where Fassbinder could have imposed his vision and left the viewer in the dust, but he's always careful to continue the story thread, and thus keep viewers in the loop. His world is highly stylized, there are no wasted frames - nearly every camera shot is tinged with erotic undertones or duplicity in the making. Fassbinder's film career was as tinged with notoriety as it was brief - this film is as good an introduction to his work as you will find.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Essential Fassbinder Realization of Classic Science Fiction Novel7 Feb. 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
Firstly, it should be noted that this is a Fassbinder movie regardless of genre so one would need to be receptive to his work overall to enjoy this. That said World on a Wire remains true to the novel: Simulacron-3 and although it expands on it stays within its frame work. Also there really is no need to contrast and compare to:The Matrix as they are two entirely different films (both of which I enjoyed). However it is also true as regards science fiction that less can be more such as:The Prisoner: The Complete Series (40th Anniversary Collector's Edition) The abject minimalism of early Fassbinder, Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog may not be for all tastes but it was purposeful not due to lack of effort. Fassbinder in particular generally had screen plays where the overall ideas and themes were more important than the individual characters. World on a Wire wasn't so much a foray into the science fiction genre as an expansion of his themes into the arena. The paranoia and claustrophobia of World on a Wire is true to the original novel but also to the social climate of Germany in the 70's with the ever present reality of the cold war and anarchism (which would be further explored in documentary form in: Germany in Autumn as well as the decadence and excesses of the time. This was the perfect time frame to realize the novel as when it was written the internet was far from realization, at the time later films were made it was a standard part of society but at the time of the 70's advances in technology were both somewhat frightening and dehumanizing but also a fetish as in: Man Machine If you enjoy the genre Fassbinder and others created then yes this would be essential viewing. If not understand that the impression the film creates surpasses the plot but is one that you might want to be enveloped in so give it a try.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
"World on a Wire" is definitely recommended!28 April 2012
Dennis A. Amith
- Published on Amazon.com
In 1973, auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder ("Ali: Fear Eats the Soul", "Lili Marleen", "The Marriage of Maria Braun", "Why Does Herr R. Run Amok") created his first sci-fi film "Welt am Draht" (World on a Wire) which aired on German television.
A common practice at the time for German filmmakers was to have a theatrical production which was then shown on television at a later time. But for Fassbinder, he created several films for television due to him wanting his work to gain popularity in Germany and the fact that there were not as many places to view cinema in Germany at that time.
The film was broken down to two parts and was an adaptation of Daniel F. Galouye's novel "Simulacron-3'.
"World on a Wire" featured a screenplay adaptation co-written by Fritz Muller-Scherz ("Fiorile", "Belle's Paradise"), cinematography by Michael Ballhaus ("The Departed", "Goodfellas", "Gangs of New York", "Dracula") and Ulrich Prinz ("Martha", "Fear of Fear") and music by Gottfried Hunsberg ("La Paloma", "Shadow of Angels").
The film would star Klaus Lowitsch ("The Marriage of Maria Braun", "Cross of Iron", "Das Urteil") as the main protagonist, Fred Stiller. The film would star actress Barbara Valentin ("Ali: Fear Eats the Soul", "Martha"), Karl Heinz Vosgerau ("The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum", "Knife in the Back"), Wolfgang Schenk ("Martha", "Effi Briest") and Gunter Lamprecht ("Berlin Alexanderplatz", "The Harmonists", "Das Boot", "The Marriage of Maria Braun").
While the film was enjoyed by those who watched it in Germany when it first aired or those who were able to find it digitally, the film was unlike Fassbinder's other films in the fact that it was a sci-fi film but it was also a television film that had been forgotten for decades, due to the fact that it was not featured on VHS or DVD. Also, it was a film that Fassbinder himself, never really discussed much about when he was alive.
But the "World on a Wire" has been a film that received a cult following and fans acknowledge the fact that the film predates virtual reality and technology before there were films such as "The Matrix", "Avatar" and "Blade Runner". In 1999, a loosely-based American adaptation of "Simulacron-3' was created and was titled "The Thirteenth Floor".
While "World on a Wired" was screened at a film festival in 1992 as a 10-year anniversary film retrospective for the late Fassbinder, the film would receive a complete restoration in 2010 for the 60th Berlin International Film Festival and various theaters around the world.
And now the film makes its Blu-ray and DVD debut in North America courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
"World on a Wire" makes its debut on Blu-ray and DVD and it's important for me to note that if you want the best version of this film, purchase the Blu-ray version.
With that being said, "World on a Wire" is presented in 1:33:1 aspect ratio and the film was shot via 16mm. According to the Criterion Collection, "World on a Wire" was supervised by director of photography Michael Ballhaus, this new digital transfer was created on an ARRISCAN film scanner in 2K resolution from the original 16 mm A/B reversal rolls; color correction was done on a Discreet Lustre system. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris and scratches were removed using MTI's DRS.
There was a lot of experimental filmmaking in order to achieve the look and feel of technology but also something different visually. According to cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, there were time when they held a bunsen burner underneath the camera in order to get a certain effect.
The film presentation does have a high level of grain (mixed with noise) and while another company had released the film with DNR (Digital Noise Reduction), it's rather subjective to the viewer of whether or not they prefer it. I haven't seen the Blu-ray version but for this DVD version of the film, the film does have a lot of grain but didn't notice any major problems such as intense blurring, softness, artifacting, etc. I did notice a bit of saturation of a scene during the second half of the film for an indoor sequence. But it's a short sequence that didn't ruin my viewing of the film.
While the film does look its age due to the clothing of the time period, it's rather an interesting film because it deals with a topic that still has relevance in today's modern society and our view towards virtual reality and technology. We have had big production films take on the subject, may it be "The Matrix" or even "Avatar", but what I enjoyed about this film is how Fassbinder and Ballhaus were able to effectively use the surroundings and clever camera techniques and movements to delve into the character's psyche.
I was pretty impressed by what was accomplished in 1973 and how the film was edited. It was a bit jarring and surreal, but I enjoyed the cinematography for this film.
As for the audio, audio is presented in monaural German with English subtitles. Dialogue was clear and heard no problems with audio whatsoever.
According to the Criterion Collection, the monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original 16 mm magnetic perforated reels. Analog artifacts like clicks, crackle and noise-floor were removed at CinePostproduction Bavaria Bild und Ton, Geiselgasteig, Germany, using a digital audio workstation. Additional restoration was done by the Criterion Collection, where clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated workstation.
"World on a Wire - The Criterion Collection #598' comes with the following special features:
Interview - (34:12) Featuring a 2011 interview with German-film scholar Gerd Germunden who talks about Fassbinder, "World on a Wire" and how it is a lost-film, themes and structure of the film and more. Trailer - (1:35) The trailer for "World on a Wire" (restored version).
Fassbinder's "World on a Wire": Looking Ahead to Today - (50:38) Featuring the 2010 documentary by Juliane Lorenz and interviews with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, co-screenwriter Fritz Muller-Scherz, actor Karl-Heinz Vosgerau (who plays the role of Herbert Siskins) and learning of what took place behind-the-scenes in the making of "World on a Wire".
18-Page booklet - Featuring an 18-page booklet with "The Halls of Mirrors" essay by film critic Ed Halter.
In the west, when one thinks about television films, most never equate these films to quality cinema. They are films that are great for popcorn entertainment, never too deep, often contrived and kitschy.
But in Germany, television gave new German filmmakers a chance to show off their creativity but also a way to generate buzz about their films to a larger audience.
It's been written that Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a filmmaker who never sought to become an auteur, if anything, he wanted to be a popular filmmaker and wanted his work to be well-known to larger audience. And while this film is classified as a sci-fi film and has your elements of the suave protagonist, beautiful women and even a few action-scenes, what separates this film from kitschy television films is that this is also a cerebral film.
Of course, with computers and technology and having had big-budget films on virtual worlds featured in films such as "The Matrix" and "Avatar" and also a plethora of video games, back in 1973, these stories were imaginative.
Supercomputer? Aside from major corporations, computers were not in consumer's homes at this time. Virtual reality, could you imagine for those not exposed to computer technology trying to fathom virtual worlds? It may have seemed farfetched but when you watch this film today, it's quite amazing of how this film explores simulation but also exploration into sophism and philosophic aspects of the human mind but also scientific research.
So, when you think of teleplays or television films, they typically resonate around experiences that people are accustomed to or have read in their newspapers. May it be love, courtroom dramas, police dramas, crime, etc. And yet this film which predates "The Matrix" and "Avatar" was made in 1973 for television.
Suffice to say, it aired on primetime television and did well in the ratings. But it was one of Fassbinder's films that was never released on video until its restoration in 2010. Watching this film today, one can easily be in awe of what Fassbinder was able to create and bring to a televised audience. Also, be in awe that this auteur created a science fiction film.
While I do praise the film for its storyline and for its clever editing and beautiful cinematography considering the budget that Fassbinder had in creating this televised film, the film is not perfect. Sure, the acting is good but definitely not great. The film is slow-paced but this is a film meant to take in slowly and watch as the character of Stiller begins to make his discovery and we see how his world is literally turned upside down. He knows he is not a real human and that the world that he lives in is a simulcron. But anyone who is close to figuring out the truth will be eliminated or deleted.
And while watching "World on a Wire", I was just amazed by what was pulled off in 1973. While cineaste are familiar with Fassbinder films such as "The Marriage of Maria Braun", "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul", "Veronika Voss" or his wonderful TV mini-series "Berlin Alexanderplatz" and be entranced by how his films were written, how his films were shot and structured, even for a television film, Fassbinder was able to integrate that into "World on a Wire".
From utilizing special effects through clever editing and just capturing a world where there is conspiracy, a world written around simulation, one man's regression (and showcasing his evolving psyche) when he finds out the truth of his world, not only did I find "World on a Wire" to be a smart, classy and artistic film, I absolutely enjoyed it.
I loved the use of reflections, the eery music and even characters that seem unusual at times, it was as if we had a mixture of James Bond meets surrealism meets futuristic veracity.
While I have not seen the Blu-ray version of "World on a Wire", I am confident that the Blu-ray version is the one to get, and the colors and detail would probably be much more pronounced than the DVD version. While there is considerable amount of grain and noise, picture quality for the film is good and it's monaural lossless soundtrack is clear and understandable. Subtitles were easy to read and the DVD comes with a wonderful documentary plus an in-depth interview with scholar Gerd Germunden.
Overall, "World on a Wire" is a pretty good Fassbinder film. While I am biased towards many of his other cinema work and enjoyed "Berlin Alexanderplatz", I am quite amazed by how well-structured this television film was, especially how smart and enjoyable it turned out.
You just don't come across television films like this as it is a rarity and when you do, you just want more of it! I would imagine that the release of "World on a Wire" would make Fassbinder fans quite happy. Also, the potential of discovery of more wonderful television films by Fassbinder and other German filmmakers, who knows what other exciting films have yet to be found and introduced to the public.
But on it's own, "World on a Wire" is a must-buy Rainer Werner Fassbinder DVD release from the Criterion Collection. No need for big budget special effects, this 1973 TV film relied on structure, character development, wonderful cinematography and clever editing and in the end, Fassbinder was successful.
"World on a Wire" is highly recommended!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Fassbinder Examines Cylon Philosophy10 Dec. 2012
W. T. Hoffman
- Published on Amazon.com
WORLD ON A WIRE has all the trademarks of prime Fassbinder cinema. You have your Michael Ballhause cinematography, all reflections, mirrors, transparencies, and circular tracking. He's as much a part of Fassbinder's style, as the Serk stylistic references, the reappearing stock company, and the ironic wierdness that spreads over his films. Even tho its technically a Scifi film, since it deals with scientific inventions of the future, at no point would the imagery tell you this. Instead, you have this odd mash of 1940s costumes, with ultramodern settings. WORLD ON A WIRE examines a future where computers can approximate human behavior. One particular company (IKZ)has a mega-computer with about 11,000 of these simulated humans programmed into it. The hero of the film, STILLER, understands this world, and the company that runs it. Yet some upper management, like VOLLMER, who discovered an unbelievable secret about IKZ, mysteriously disappears. He's at a party talking to STILLER one moment, and gone the next. Not only that, nobody realizes he just disappeared except Fred Stiller. VOLLMER not only disappeared, but nearly all memory of him has disappeared as well. Meanwhile, the company IKZ tells Stiller to forget about the whole thing, and accept Vollmer's old job. Yet Stiller cant let it go, as he works to prove that Vollmer DID exist, he slowly endangers himself. Stiller suspects that IKZ had him bumped off, because Vollmer had made a startling discovery about IKZ right before he died.
Even before the audience knows whats going on, Fassbinder is providing you with all the information you need to understand the situation. The minor characters all exibit blank stares, and appear oddly perfected in their clothing, make up and demenour in a way that's not fully human. Many dont blink. When not engaged with conversing with Stiller, they just stand there. This is true creativity, when the only special effect needed to show a person isnt real, is the acting. Also, the soundtrack drones in the backround constantly, usually trite 1930-1940s type movie composistions. Emotionally, the music is out of context with the lead character's situation, tho it helps immensely in providing a sense of falseness to the film. When the lead character discovers, or asks questions that fall outside the strange laws governing this odd world, the trite classical soundtrack becomes loud feedback, frightening and jarring for the audience. Eventually, as Stiller moves closer and closer to the truth, these harse soundtrack bursts of sound become more frequent. The first half of the film finishes on this bizaare note, like waking up screaming from a nightmare, as the soundtrack feedsback. Then there's a sharp cutaway to the end titles, while Fleetwood Mac's ALBATROSE song plays. Part two begins with Stiller's discovery that he lives in a computer program. He, and his entire world, isnt real. (The paralells to THE MATRIX are obvious.) What he discovered, was that even tho there are computer simulations "below" the level of reality of his computer world, there are also worlds "above" his world, until you finally come to our REAL world. The second part centers around Stiller's detective work, trying to discover how to break thru to reality. And one person in his circle of friends is real, and will help him attempt to escape the computer program.
If we treat the scifi elements as abstraction, then the film fits comfortably into the avant guard style so often found in Fassbinder's work. Much of Fassbinder's ironic tone derives from lifting Serk's Hollywood mainstream film noir/melodrama, and placing it over strange, modern situations. (Chinese Roulette worked that way, as did Bitter Tears.) I'm often surprised at how much Fassbiner reminds me of David Lynch, who also loves mystery, avant guard, scifi elements, and mixing the normal with the bizarre for ironic tonality. Both directors love to write their films, and both employ idiomatic cinematography to jar the viewer from complacenty. The Criterion edition is first rate, with an entire DVD and booklet devoted to deconstructing the work, and placing it in the larger context of Fassbinder's other films. Altho WORLD ON A WIRE is a bit slow paced, and even obvious, it doesnt detract. After you accept the seriousness of STILLER's quest to discover the dark secret of IKZ industries, then the movie will have hooked you in, as you wait for the plot to unfold. The lack of special effects to drive home the visual element of a future setting matter as little here, as they do in Tarkovsky's best Scifi work like STALKER or SOLARIS. The dialogue, music, and settings provide scifi cinema of the MIND, not scifi of CGI and special effects. In Conclusion: Fassbinder fans will LOVE the film, as will fans of Tarkovsky's scifi work.