***½/**** Image A Sound A Extras C+
starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Alan Arkin, Jude Law
written and directed by Andrew Niccol
by Walter Chaw No great surprise that the end of our last millennium coincided with a glut of reality-testing, existentially thorny speculative fictions--films that reflected a sudden Ludditism spawned by the looming Y2K disaster, a spate of scary school shootings, and a decade in cinema intent on paving the way for the CG phantasmagorias of the '00s. In ten years, go from the truth-telling, auburn celluloid lasso of sex, lies, and videotape (1989) to the truth-telling digital one of American Beauty (1999), with touchpoints in the appalling, historical-integrity-raping Forrest Gump and Titanic along the way. Of course we're asking ourselves if we've taken the virtuous path through the wood when all looks to be falling down around our ears. The prescience of Blade Runner and The Terminator become clearer, too, as the Eisenhower-era nostalgia fostered by Reagan's time in the White House reaps its harvest in the barely subsumed sex of Pleasantville (1995) and the god in the machine of The Truman Show (1998). Meanwhile, our viability as a species is questioned in solipsistic wonderlands like The Matrix (1999), Dark City (1998), and Michael Almereyda's wonderful Hamlet (2000), wherein noir anti-heroes are transformed into deities of their technology-sick societies. It even explains the black, awesomely unpleasant ending of Spielberg's A.I. and, fascinatingly, why A.I. is now enjoying a critical revision. How terrible is wisdom when it brings no profit to the wise indeed in the key picture of this cycle, The Blair Witch Project; and how brilliantly Kiwi hyphenate Andrew Niccol's Gattaca (1997) manages to craft as timely a picture as there could be about our regret and loathing of our wet-nurse technology, in addition to our dawning recognition, too late, that the birds have come home to roost.