Before the world premiere of So Unreal at Fantastic Fest 2023, the programmer said one of the reasons they loved this particular movie was because they love movies about movies. That got my attention. I too enjoy movies about movies and so, right away, I was excited about what was in store. Even then, what followed blew away those expectations. So Unreal is a fast-paced history lesson filled with warming nostalgia, kick-ass film recommendations, and heady ideas, all sprinkled with just a dash of fear and inevitability.
Directed by Amanda Kramer, So Unreal is a documentary showing how the evolution of modern technology has been viewed in movies. Not the technologies that make movies, our technologies. Computers, internet, cell phones, Wi-Fi, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, the film dives into all of it. It shows how the movies we’ve watched react to what is happening in reality. Sometimes the movies got it wrong, sometimes the movies got it right; sometimes they were early, and sometimes they were late. By using clips from some of your favorite tech-centric movies (and plenty you haven’t heard of too), Kramer captures a snapshot of movie history most of us lived through, and makes us think about it in all new ways.
Told through voiceover by Blondie’s Debbie Harry, So Unreal tracks how cinema has reacted to and used human technology as a plot device, going back as far as the 1950s. It starts with simpler things, like the bugs of The Conversation, before jumping into more modern tech and blasting off from there. The film posits that Hollywood has been very fast to latch onto modern technologies as storytelling devices, but rarely cohesive in its interpretations. We see how some films are fearful and prophetic, while others are pessimistic and silly. All the while, Kramer gives us this huge meal to digest, illustrating the history from all different angles.
Footage from hundreds of films tells the tale with some, such as The Matrix, Tron, The Terminator, and Hackers, getting more extended sequences. Others have shorter but still crucial sequences, such as Sneakers, The Net, Virtuosity, and The Lawnmower Man, and even more are peppered throughout (Basically if you can think of a movie that has a hacker, VR, AI, or a computer in it, it’s in here). And while seeing footage from movies you know is always fun, especially when accompanied by interesting new context and insight, it’s even more exciting to discover weirder smaller films that maybe you haven’t heard of.
Now, everyone’s film-watching experience is different, and no one has seen or heard of all the same things. Me personally, I worked in a video store from 1994-2000 and I thought I’d heard (or at least been aware) of basically everything. I had not. Some of the sort of deeper cuts I knew, like D.A.R.Y.L. But others, like Arcade and Nirvana, escaped me. That was half the fun, though: seeing footage from new movies inspired me to make a mental note to check them out.
Plus, in that huge variety of films, you glean all sorts of knowledge. It’s fascinating to see what films of the 1970s and 1980s thought technology would be. It’s equally hilarious to see films of the 1990s and 2000s get things incredibly wrong. Then in cases like The Matrix of The Terminator, it’s terrifying to see not only how right the movies seem, but that we maybe haven’t seen the worst of it yet. Viewed altogether, So Unreal makes us consider how much the movies have influenced our views on technology, as well as the opposite, and what that all means.
A few sequences of the film come off a little too dense, while others are a little too surface. But for the most part, So Unreal hits a happy medium between educational, entertaining, and enlightening. If you love movies about movies, you’re certainly going to like it.
So Unreal had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest 2023 but does not yet have a release plan.
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