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Bis ans Ende der Welt (1991)

A very overlong science fiction art film that sets out to be the ultimate road movie, straggling on locations across four continents before anything like a plot - indeed, something very like the plot of Brainstorm (1983), albeit with Max von Sydow hauled in to replay his role from Le Mort en Direct (1979) - comes along. In 1999, with the Earth endangered by an out-of-control Star Wars satellite, various characters - enigmatic wanderer Solveig Dommartin (the actress co-wrote the original story with director Wim Wenders), mystery criminal William Hurt, Dommartin's ex-lover (Sam Neill), a private eye (Rudiger Vogler), some bank robbers, Hurt's parents (Jeanne Moreau, von Sydow) - traipse from Venice to France to Berlin to Lisbon to Tokyo to San Francisco to the Australian outback, revolving around each other and such mcguffins as stolen money, various prices on Hurt's head, sundered relationships, computerised person-trackers and, finally, a camera device invented by von Sydow which can help the blind see and also transmit images from one brain to another. This invention has driven von Sydow into retreat, since he has a paranoia movie fear of US government intervention: 'it can take visual information straight from the brain. Once they can do that, they can suck out your dreams and look at them like television.' Hurt, gradually going blind, comes to depend on von Sydow's device which, when the explosion of the satellite convinces him the world has ended, opens the way into Aboriginal dreamworlds.

Wenders builds the film on references to his earlier works ('Weren't you the angel in Lisbon?') which sometimes come close to self-plagiarism. His grab-bag of mystic, social, personal and scientific ideas are not drawn together by the arbitrary device of the coming of the Millennium or half-hearted attempts to mimic the generic forms of the international conspiracy thriller or the apocalyptic science fiction film. In its international version, it is stuck with tin-ear narration from Sam Neill and scads of trendy music samplings, while an earnest group of excellent actors struggling to make something of amazingly thin characterisations.
KIM NEWMAN

First Published In: Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction.


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