I am usually pretty good on movies. I’m the kind of person who always needs something playing in the background when I’m doing housework, or gaming, or things like that. This has led to watching a lot of films in the thirty years I’ve been on this planet, from a wide variety of sources and genres.
The Bourne flicks have been a bit of a blind spot for me, somehow. I vaguely remember watching the first one back when it first came out on DVD and liking it, and planning to watch the next one, but then didn’t end up making time for it and kind of zoned out of the rest of the series. The series does include several of my wife’s favorite action sequences, though, so with the new one in theaters we set aside this week to play catch up for me and let her refresh her memory on the events of the prior films. Partly because I wanted to, partly as trade-off for the sheer amount of David Lynch filmography I’ve been unleashing on her in an endless barrage for the last couple of months.
We just finished The Bourne Supremacy last night, and it’s… very interesting to me.
I read several of the books back in the day and for the first film, it is really fascinating to me how they took something that was very much a Cold War spy thriller in tone and transposed it over the post-9/11 world when a lot of us, particularly those coming of age in that era, were wondering about those blank checks we’d been writing the CIA in the name of “freedom” and other intangible values. The Bourne novels weren’t strictly Cold War in the same vein that John le Carré’s books were, where the politics of the time had an immediate and direct impact on the plot, but they were set against that backdrop of heightened tension when people knew we were doing shady things as a country and just kind of pretended it didn’t exist. Admittedly we’ve always been doing some really shady things as a country, but looking at history there were definitely periods where that activity spiked right the hell up. The television series The Americans, I feel, underplays a lot of the things that happened in the world of covert ops. After reading some of the declassified PSYOPs over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that if I wrote stories citing actual historical examples it would still be written off as insane conspiracy theories and unrealistic in their scope.
But back to the Bourne films. They shave Bourne’s age down quite a bit and jettison some of the subplots from the books, which is fine and still works well. I ended up liking the second film more than I anticipated, even though it is vastly inferior to the first and felt more like an addendum than a sequel, tying up old plotlines instead of establishing something new and interesting. What I did like was watching how the advances of technology necessitated changes in the plot from the 80s stuff. At this point, if you adapt anything from an earlier era to a more modern sensibility with widespread use of cell phones, there’s so much you have to change and that’s intriguing to me from a writer’s standpoint.
You got to see it in action in the new X-Files miniseries too; I felt it was weaker for the agents having smart phones with them at all times and the advent of things like Youtube and social media in comparison to anything we saw in the original series. There are so many of the old episodes that simply would not have worked if Mulder and Scully had been able to whip out a droid and snap some pictures, stream evidence to a remote server or simply have better coverage than anything they would have had access to during the old seasons. You couldn’t have them lose their phones or be out of service areas every single time they encounter a new monster of the week or mythos set piece, it would have gotten old incredibly fast.
I suspect we’ve actually reached the point of technological advancement from my childhood to the point that you can reasonably set a period piece there, so pardon my brief existential crisis as we catapult into those tropes becoming more and more common, like the everpresent 80s pastiche that saturates much of our pulp culture now. Inevitably someone is going to attach a -punk to it and then we’re heartbeats away from crazy open world adventure games set in the neon-coated wastelands of the grunge era. It’ll be like Fallout, except the radios will all be blasting Pearl Jam and Spice Girls as you exchange your hard-earned pogs and foil-stamped slammers for a VHS with rare episodes of Legends of the Hidden Temple containing secret clues that will lead you to the vault where the experimental proto-Furby is kept in stasis, awaiting the chosen one.
Actually, maybe I should set aside this fantasy piece I’ve been working on and do that instead.
Speaking of -punk, and books, Boneshaker by Cherie Priest is my recommendation today. I have an extremely love-hate relationship with steampunk as a genre. I feel that a lot of people take entirely the wrong thing away from the concept of steampunk; it can very easily be read as an endorsement of 19th century imperialism, the careless subjugation of native peoples, the exploitation of the working class on an industrial scale that had never been seen before, and a whitewashing of the planet where a great many cultures still managed to thrive and interact beyond jolly old zeppelin-shadowed England. Priest’s take on steampunk is exactly what I look for in the genre. It’s very much focused on the punk aspects. Her books tend to be about working class folks stuck in a crushingly depressing system without a whole lot of ways out. She touches on elements of the Civil War, stretching it on for years and introducing advanced technological elements that just make it gorier and more miserable for all involved, most of her airships and fancy trains are agents of the corporation-owned state rather than countless plucky bands of rogues. To give you an idea of the tone, one of the major cities of the era has imploded into a cannibal and poison smog filled ruin and no one really cares except for the people who used to live there and the drug runners who are skimming the smog in illegal airships, turning it into fantasy meth and shipping it off to the front lines of the ongoing war while the governments both turn a blind eye. The plucky band of rogues really are a bunch of criminals and outlaws and not-very-nice people who a single mother has to fall in with to go searching for her son, who has vanished into the ruined city. It isn’t an overtly political piece like, say, China Mieville’s Bas-Lag trilogy but it ends up having political undertones by sheer virtue of taking place in a time where the sensibilities completely clash with our modern ones and serve as a bit of a reminder that some politicians and corporate interests would very much like to go back to (or create) a world like this. Minus the poison gas spewing zombies. Hopefully.