Johnny Mnemonic in Black & White (Blu-ray)

A data courier, literally carrying a data package inside his head, must deliver it before he dies from the burden or is killed by the Yakuza.

August 15, 2022 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Jake Keet

Plot: What’s it about?

I have been going back through cyber punk films of the Nineties recently. I had not thought of the genre in a little while, but once I started down the rabbit hole, I could not help but watch more of these movies. After watching both The Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity, my next pick was Johnny Mnemonic. Considering the film was based on a short story by William Gibson (famed author of the definitive cyber-punk novel Neuromancer) and that he had adapted it into a screenplay himself, I was cautiously optimistic for the film. I also checked out the library book Burning Chrome, so I could cross compare the film and the story.

The film begins by reading off this paragraph: Second decade of the 21st century, Corporations rule. The world is threatened by a new plague: NAS. Nerve Attenuation Syndrome, fatal, epidemic, it’s cause and cure unknown. The corporations are opposed by the LoTeks, a resistance movement risen from the streets: Hackers, data-pirates, guerilla-fighters in the info-wars. The corporations defend themselves. They hire the Yakuza, the most powerful of all crime syndicates. They sheath their data in black ice, lethal viruses waiting to burn the brains of intruders. But the LoTeks wait in their strongholds, in the old city cores, like rats in walls of the world. The most valuable information must sometimes be entrusted to Mnemonic Couriers, elite agents who smuggle data in wet-wired brain implants. Sooooo…. Johnny Mnemonic takes place in 2021, where data can be transferred via couriers that can store the data in their minds and deliver it where it needs to go. Keanu Reeves stars as the titular Johnny, a mnemonic courier. Johnny gets sent by Ralphie (Udo Kier) to do one last run in order to pay for an operation to remove his implant and gain back his memory. Johnny doubles him memory capacity to 160 gigabytes before the meeting with his client. His clientele, a group of Asian men in a hotel room, warn Johnny that the capacity for the data needs to be 360 gigabytes or it could cause data seepage and kill Johnny within a couple days. Johnny, seeing his way out, accepts the job. Once he receives the information, men bust into the hotel room and begin to kill all the clients. It turns out those gentlemen were defectors from Pharmacom, and now Johnny is a marked man.

Out of the three cyber-punk movies I listed here, this is the worst of the three despite having some pretty neat sequences. If you have read the short story, you would know that it is incredibly brief. William Gibson tried his best to expand out the short story (which involves a cybernetic dolphin) and honestly the overall storyline is more fleshed out in the film than in the short story. That does not stop the film from having inexcusably sloppy dialogue. This probably was not the best option for expansion into a film, but it does have some interesting ideas that are conveyed well: namely the concept of data implants was interesting.

The acting in the film is pretty atrocious. Then again, the stars of the film are Keanu Reeves, Ice T, Dolph Lundgren, Henry Rollins, and Dina Meyer. Randomly Takeshi Kutano has a small part in the film, which is always welcome. Keanu Reeves is not a bad actor in my opinion, but the director definitely did not know how to use him properly. That is because this director is absolutely garbage. This film has so many interesting little concepts and some cool set design that with a great director could have been pretty cool. Instead the film has action scenes that feel lazy beyond all comprehension, some cheesy synth music that works against the film, and dialogue that works against the film.

Video: How’s it look?

Admittedly, this is a novel concept and I suppose it really could apply to a number of films out there. I suppose the analytic in me asks “why take a 25 year old film and breathe new life into it by removing color?” And we’ll never know. That might have been a good feature for this disc, actually but Sony took the cheap route. That said, the 1.85:1 AVC HD image is certainly unique. There are a lot of comparisons I could make with Mad Max: Fury Road as they did the same thing with that film (though they called it “Black and Chrome”). I will say that I think this works, though. The film is a “cyper thriller” and the lack of color gives it more of an edge and a sleeker, more futuristic look. Amazing how removing color can make a film look more modern. There are still a few tidbits of grain, contrast is a bit on the weaker side but it does work a bit better with the color palette (for lack of a better term, obviously). On one hand I have to applaud Sony for doing this, on the other – the movie isn’t totally great anyway so this is about the only gimmick that might work.

Audio: How’s it sound?

Unlike the video, a much better than expected DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track is provided. This track has good dynamic range and is clear on dialogue. While this track is not helped necessarily by the cheesy synth music played throughout, I was impressed by how immersive and loud this track could become. Keep in mind that some of the sound effects are still a few years removed from The Matrix, but I was definitely happy with what was on display here. Good stuff.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This disc contains no bonus materials.

The Bottom Line

By now, I’m willing to bet that a viewer’s mind is made up as to liking this movie or not. This black and white version does give the film a different look and for those that might appreciate it – I like the way they pulled it off. But it’s still the same movie on a disc with no features. I’m assuming you’re really going to have to like this one to pick it up.

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