World on a Wire: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

September 23, 2015 7 Min Read

Review by: Jake Keet

Plot: What’s it about?

Before beginning this review, it is worth noting that this is the first Rainer Werner Fassbinder film that I have seen. Therefore, I will not have any comparison to his other films in the review. If you are a huge Fassbinder fan, this may disrupt the enjoyment of the review slightly.

I am not afraid to openly admit that I have a strong affection for science fiction films and literature. I enjoy everything from Kubrick’s 2001 to the Colin Ferrell remake of Total Recall. Science fiction tends to excite me when it veers towards realism and is based in a relatively similar future to the time we live in with minor adjustments. The more realistic or dark the material, the more I typically embrace the film or novel. I tend to be a bigger fan of Philip K. Dick than a fan of Isaac Asimov. In looking through the Criterion collection there are not a ton of science fiction films, so when I stumbled across World on a Wire my interest was piqued.

The film takes place in the near future (but the film was made over forty years ago, so the near future looks a lot like Germany in 1973.) At the beginning of the film a man named Vollmer claims to have knowledge that could put an end to the world as people know it. He acts erratically and leaves for a computer room, where he collapses and unexplainably passes away. His closest confidant, Fred Stiller, continues the research they had begun with their Simulacron, a computer simulation where the inhabitants believe that their world is real. At a party where he meets with a friend, Gunther Lause, and they talk about the mysterious circumstances revolving around the death of Vollmer. Mysteriously Gunther Lause disappears from the face of the earth. The next day the headlines have Fred Stiller explaining that he had simply vanished, but the next day everybody has forgotten that Gunther Lause even existed. There is a Gunther Lause in the Simulacron. Fred Stiller becomes increasingly paranoid that the company he works for May have eliminated his friends, and possibly the world around him is a facade.

The movie was made for German television on a shoe string budget, but Fassbinder manages to have a great visual aesthetic in spite of the obvious constraints. There is a nostalgic quality to the film due to the time in which it was made, but the ideas are still relevant and interesting. The acting in the film is solid, and the movie continued to be interesting until the finale. Considering the length of the film it was broken into two parts, and I would recommend breaking it up into two days. The finale really delivers and overall I was really happy with the film. If you are not thrown off by the length of the film, there is a lot to enjoy.

Video: How’s it look?

The transfer of the film is solid, but the film itself was filmed on cheap stock for television. This limited the amount that Criterion could do to the film. Even though the transfer was meticulous and the film is the best it will probably look, don’t expect the film to blow you away with the quality of the image. That said, the film maintains a visual aesthetic that I really enjoyed. Fassbinder used some camera tricks that I really enjoyed in the film and did as much as he could to make the film look interesting from the beginning to the end.

Audio: How’s it sound?

This German LPCM Mono track is pretty solid. The film is dialogue driven and range is extremely limited. The soundtrack works excellently (except for a couple scenes in this one bar that I found extremely strange and out of place with the rest of the film.) I can’t think of anything that really stuck out about this track except that Criterion had done their usual due diligence in their transfer.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Trailer – The original trailer for the 2010 theatrical release of World on a Wire. In German, with imposed English subtitles. (2 min, 1080p).
  • Gerd Gemunden – A great interview that talks at length about Fassbinder and the production of World on a Wire. This was very informative and enjoyable. The interview was recorded for Criterion in 2011. In English, not subtitled. (35 min, 1080p).
  • Fassbinder’s “World on a Wire”: Looking Ahead to Today – A documentary film about the making of World on a Wire directed by Juliane Lorenz. This was well worth my time. It was extremely interesting to see the process of how the film came to be. This was a fantastic feature. In German, with optional English subtitles. (51 min, 1080p).
  • Booklet – An illustrated booklet featuring an essay by film critic Ed Halter.

The Bottom Line

World on a Wire is an excellent addition to the Criterion library. Even with the limitations of the film’s budget and format, the film still shines with the intelligence of the director and writer. The only thing when considering the film is the length of the film which can be a detractor from repeat viewings. The supplementary features were incredibly informative and well worth my time. I am glad that I purchased World on a Wire, and plan on watching more of Fassbinder’s films in the future.

(If you have Hulu Plus the film is available to watch so that you might make your own opinion.)

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