|Eyeborgs has an unfortunately schlockly, straight-to-video title that undercuts what is otherwise a smart cautionary tale built on an all-too-believable premise. The story takes place in the near future when fears of terrorism have so gripped Americans that the government has passed a series of increasingly invasive bills that allow for near total surveillance. Government officials, particularly the Vice President (the go-to evil government position in the post-Cheney world), defend the surveillance as a necessary measure to protect freedom, a bit of all-too-familiar rhetoric that should make any free thinking individual’s skin crawl.|
The Patriot Act, which is frequently invoked throughout the film, has been expanded to allow for the networking of all the country’s surveillance cameras and devices, which now feed into a centralized database known as ODIN (Optical Defense Intelligence Network). Even more unnerving is the fact that the surveillance devices are no longer moored to a single spot; rather, many of them now take the form of walking robotic cameras known as “eyeborgs,” some of which are as small as a tennis ball and some of which are the size of a small car. Regardless of their size, though, the eyeborgs are deliberately uncanny creations that are clearly mechanical, yet move and behave in ways that suggest some form of animal sentience, however primitive (or threatening). Their mobility allows them to invade private space like people’s homes and businesses, and although such spaces are still protected by law, obtaining a search warrant is now as simple as swiping a card through a computer.
The film’s hero is a Homeland Security agent named R.J. “Gunner” Reynolds (Adrian Paul), who acts as the film’s evolving conscience. Although he begins as a strictly by-the-book believer in the necessity of surveillance (the murder of his wife and child several years earlier were the emotional catalysts that allowed for the creation and proliferation of the eyeborgs), he slowly comes to realize that such Orwellian power can never be contained, and even if it originated with the best of intentions, it is only a matter of time before it falls into the wrong hands. The story also involves an intrepid television news reporter named Barbara Hawkins (Megan Blake), who at first appears to be an obnoxious opportunist, but turns out to be a character of great moral courage and conviction with her own hidden reasons for pursuing the story, as well as a purple-haired punk rocker named Jarrett (Luke Eberl) who is targeted by the eyeborgs, possibly because he is the nephew of the President of the United States.
As the story unfolds, the characters discover that some of the eyeborgs are committing murder and then covering it up by digitally doctoring the surveillance footage of their activities, which plays as a sharp reminder that what we see on a screen cannot necessarily be trusted, regardless of how photorealistic it may appear. “Are you telling me I can’t believe what I see with my own eyes?” Gunner asks at one point, to which a character replies, “Not with your eyes; with their eyes.” That line of dialogue is the film’s thematic pivot point, which draws into tight focus just how reliant our understanding of the world is on things we have not seen directly, but rather through a camera lens. The images on the news, on the Internet, on all our portable devices proclaim themselves to be “true,” yet each one is a created mosaic of pixels that is subject to infinite manipulation.
Wife-and-husband screenwriters Fran and Richard Clabaugh (the latter of whom, a cinematographer by trade, also directed) don’t waste much time setting up the story and running with it, and if some of the characters seem a bit cardboard thin, it is primarily because they are more interested in the story’s ideas. There are certainly some flaws: at times the film undercuts the audience’s intelligence with forced dialogue and unnecessary bits of exposition (did we really need a character to inform us that smoking is now illegal when we just saw her boyfriend making an illegal purchase of tobacco?), and at other points it feels like it draws too heavily on previous films--the title sequence and accompanying music feel literally ripped from The Terminator (1984), and the parodic use of bright, cheery commercials to sell a dubious ideology is right out of Starship Troopers (1997). Yet, the film persists on its own merits, and its message about the tentative balance between protection and freedom is one with which we will be grappling for years to come. And, in case anyone might worry that the film is too cerebral or hung up in the sociopolitical realm, there is also plenty of requisite action, all of which is ably staged and features digital special effects that are surprisingly credible given the film’s budgetary limitations (the almost exclusive use of handheld camerawork helps significantly). Of course, it shouldn’t escape anyone’s notice that the film’s chief asset--its convincing digital effects--is, in fact, one variation of the very issue the film is critiquing: Don’t trust anything you see on a screen.
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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Overall Rating: (2.5)
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