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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful Science Fiction, 13 July 2010
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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars weird but compelling, 28 Jun 2010
By 
biblia (North London, England) - See all my reviews
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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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sci-Fi Surprise From Fassbinder, 11 Jun 2010
By 
HJ (London UK) - See all my reviews
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.
The film was based on a novel & all these themes were doubtless common in the sci-fi literature of the period, but Fassbinder gives them his typical highly intelligent & radical twist and in terms of cinema the film is strikingly ahead of its time, perhaps because it is driven by high concepts rather than easily dated special effects. As the blurb for the DVD claims, the film prefigures not only Bladerunner but the more recent wave of "paranoid" films about identity & technology such as Existenz & The Matrix. That said, World on a Wire may be primarily for Fassbinder freaks rather than regular sci-fi buffs, but it is pretty accessible & of contemporary interest so it could have a more general "cult" appeal.
The DVD version has been restored by the RWF foundation & includes a good documentary in which some of those involved look back at the making of the film.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "You are nothing more than the image others have made of you.", 26 Jun 2012
By 
Trevor Willsmer (London, England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
"Do you remember, as a child you must have played `I see something you don't.'"
"Sure, all kids do."
"I know something you don't. Something no-one must know. It would mean the end of this world."

When the head programmer at a cybernetics company apparently commits suicide and the head of security vanishes without a trace - and promptly disappears from everyone else's memories - Klaus Lowitsch's engineer finds himself in an increasingly nightmarish scenario. Plagued by dizzy spells where he just stops dead in his tracks or by brief blackouts and by people, drawings and memories disappearing around him, he finds himself not just questioning his sanity but reality. Is it part of a corporate conspiracy to misuse a revolutionary computer simulation programme the company is developing, or is it something even more disturbing?

Virtually unseen since it's two broadcasts on German television in the 1970s, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1973 two part TV movie World on a Wire is quite a major rediscovery. Based on Daniel F. Galouye's 60s novel Simulacron-3, later remade as The Thirteenth Floor, it anticipates films like The Matrix, Dark City and Avatar while tapping into the paranoid conspiracy thrillers of the era more than science fiction, turning its more modest budget to its advantage to concentrate on the big ideas rather than the hardware.

The big revelation at the end of the first part isn't too hard to guess, but Fassbinder does throw in some psychological alternatives and misdirection to make you consider the possibility that there is another explanation. Indeed, the second episode works on the assumption that you've accepted that one character is telling the truth and tries to pull the rug from under that assumption by making it far from clear whether the hero is having a nervous breakdown because of what he has found out or whether what he has found out is simply a delusion caused by his nervous breakdown and that the audience's assumptions of a giant metaphysical conspiracy are merely a misinterpretation of a more mundane corporate conspiracy. Worlds within worlds, realities within realities, Zeno's Paradox that all motion is illusion and Magritte's famous pipe that is not a pipe are all thrown into the mix, with the possibility that nothing really exists but everything is merely an idea of an idea of an idea in someone else's head - much like film itself, which is itself merely an artificial approximation of an idea of reality filtered through a director's reinterpretation of a writer's work. If you like Chinese boxes and Russian dolls, this is right up your street.

Where the big budget remake concentrated on the lavish artificial world - there a spectacular version of Thirties LA rather than the utterly mundane small town here - right from the start and played up the murder mystery, Fassbinder's version doesn't even pay a fleeting visit to it for nearly an hour. The simulation is kept firmly in the background for the first third of the film and barely even discussed. In the novel it was created as a market research tool, but here it's a partially government funded research project with no clear end use, albeit one under increasing corporate pressures to be used for covert financial projections. Even the revelation that it's beginning to suffer system failures because some of the simulations are developing neuroses and even attempting suicide because they can't stand the knowledge that they are artificial and have to be deleted for the good of the system is downplayed.

Rather than treating it as a glossy show-stopping toy, Fassbinder chooses to play up the psychological and moral aspects instead. What happens when an artificial system develops its own consciousness? What moral responsibility do you have to that artificial intelligence you've created? How does creating and destroying artificial lives affect your own conscience? How does it affect your perception of your own reality? And if you can fool circuits and electrodes into believing they are real, how can you believe in the reality of your own existence, especially when you start to malfunction? Is it your mind playing tricks or is someone making adjustments to [I]your[/I] programming because of a faulty circuit? Isn't the real world simply a creation of other people's imagination and desires that you've been thrown into to make your way through their system as best you can? Is God just a megalomaniac computer programmer sadistically enjoying playing with his creations? And if the programmers can download their consciousness into their simulated world, can their programmes reverse the process to come into the real world? Even though an answer is ultimately provided, there's still a hint of ambiguity that it may not be the real one.

Most impressively it manages to throw the various ideas and possibilities together into a strong narrative with a compelling hero, perfectly marrying narrative, themes and imagery for the most part without being too on the nose. At times the world and people around Lowitsch are mundane, at others things go off kilter and the people don't always behave naturally (especially some of the bit players). There's an increasing element of uncertainty as to whether you're seeing the world as the hero sees it or observing it as it is, and neither may be real. You're never quite sure what kind of a reflection you're looking at in a film obsessed with reflections and mirror images. Co-star Kurt Raab's set design fills the film with mirrors and reflective surfaces, occasionally creating a potentially infinite number of reflections, though Fassbinder does overegg the pudding by having one character insist in the opening scene that "You are nothing more than the image others have made of you." When the hero's existential angst is at its peak, he is even torn between pointing a gun at the reflection of one of his tormentors and his own head.

The stylised look, more in terms of architecture and modernistic décor than hardware, isn't the only thing that's strikingly contrived about World on a Wire. You know you're in Fassbinder territory from the party scene that immediately follows the death that sets the plot in motion, and you can certainly tell it was directed by one who was, ahem, `not as other men' even without the bad Marlene Dietrich impersonator, the bizarre shot of Klaus Lowitsch slowly zipping up his trousers or the nightclub where well oiled black musclemen dance disinterestedly with topless women. The biggest disappointment is that this artifice extends to the female cast: the women in the film are all cartoonish stereotypes striking voguish poses, which is not entirely inappropriate but it does render them even more superficial than was probably intended. Most of them could just as easily be played by female impersonators with no additional loss of credibility (and, in fact, one is). Yet despite the sometimes jarring mix of performance and visual styles, the film is not as theatrical as most 70s European TV but more overtly cinematic, even going so far as to shoot extensively in modern locations, predominantly building sites and shopping malls, in Paris to create a world that would be slightly unfamiliar to German audiences, throwing in an eclectic supporting cast made up of former stars from mainstream post-war German films, several members of Fassbinder's stock company (most of the cast of Fear Eats The Soul [1973] [DVD] appear here) and the odd boyfriend and former wife. The result is something compulsively fascinating and surprisingly compelling that feels much shorter than its three-and-a-half hours.

Criterion's transfer doesn't seem to gain much from Blu-ray (the disc is region A-locked) - in some early scenes it seems to exaggerate some problems with the master material while the white subtitles occasionally threaten to disappear into the white backgrounds and the disc takes what seems like an eternity to load, so you're probably just as well getting this one on DVD. Extras are in short supply, but good: an excellent 50-minute documentary on the making and restoration of the film that can also be found on the British and German DVDs, with co-cinematographer Michael Ballhaus admirably insisting that flaws like the occasional hair in the gate be left intact rather than digitally removed, a half hour interview with critic Gerd Germunden that's exclusive to the Criterion edition and a booklet.
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Criterion Collection: World on a Wire [DVD] [1973] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
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