Flashback: the Gnostic scifi fantasies of the late 1990s

All this talk of Gnosticism in the movies is reminding me, last Monday marked the 15th anniversary of The Matrix.

It would be impossible to overstate what a huge deal that movie was at the time. It was not the first Gnostic parable to grace the big screen by any stretch — several films that touched on similar themes had come out just the previous year — and the whole thing fizzled out when the filmmakers cranked out two bloated, underwhelming sequels just four years later. But for a while there, the movie had everyone talking about Christ-figures and philosophy and the nature of reality, etc.

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Review: Bolt (dir. Byron Howard & Chris Williams, 2008)

It has been nearly three years since Disney and Pixar settled their differences, leading one company to buy the other. But while Disney technically owns the Pixar label now, the minds that created Pixar in the first place have been calling the shots at Disney Animation ever since the merger — and the first significant result of their efforts is Bolt, a cartoon that could perhaps be best described as “Pixar Lite.”

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Review: The Island (dir. Michael Bay, 2005)

The Island is a movie about clones, and so it comes as no surprise that the movie is, itself, something of a clone. But it is also something of a chimera; that is, it seems like the sort of movie you would get if you took pieces of two very different movies and squished them together, and the result is a monstrosity.

On the one hand, we have a dystopian science-fiction movie about people who live in an artificial environment under a totalitarian regime, oblivious to the fact that they are actually clones who have been manufactured as spare parts, or “insurance policies,” for the rich and famous of the world. The all-white production design and the theme of escape, as two clones try to break out of their world, brings George Lucas’s THX 1138 to mind; but the emphasis on genetic engineering and sterile perfection recalls Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca, and the way the creators of this society use comfort and fear to discourage curiosity about the outside world — all of the inhabitants believe they are survivors of a global catastrophe — recalls Peter Weir’s The Truman Show (also written by Niccol).

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Review: Pleasantville (dir. Gary Ross, 1998)

The movie Pleasantville has a top-notch cast and makes inspired use of digital effects. The story also has the potential to be a profound allegory about grace and redemption. In other words, the film could have been great. But it isn’t. Instead, it celebrates reckless sexuality while delivering a rant against moral conservatism.

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Review: The Truman Show (dir. Peter Weir, 1998)

SO MUCH hype has been built up around The Truman Show, the latest Jim Carrey vehicle to toy with serious themes, one is tempted to scream that the emperor has no clothes. Entertainment Weekly even deemed the film “the year’s best movie” some seven months before New Year’s Eve. Well, fortunately, the emperor is decently attired after all, but his splendor has been somewhat overrated.

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