From the very first scene of his film, Cosmopolis, it is clear that director Babak Anjumi wants the audience to feel something. This is most notably achieved through a cinematic use of green screen effects, where the camera is literally replaced by an image that could be anything. The only limitation is the imagination of the director and cinematographer – Anjumi and his team – and their ability to pull off what they envision on screen.
What would happen if a film were to be produced with a similar cinematic style that is not based on an existing material? What if the film crew were to take the audience on a journey they could share with others through social media?
These are the questions Anjumi and producer Jocelyn Faukes ask themselves as they set out to make a truly original movie, adapting William Gibson’s bestselling novel, Neuromancer. The film opens in theaters on August 3 and is now available for pre-order from Amazon.
Anjumi, a graduate of the London School of Economics, studied experimental directing under Peter Weibel. He then went on to found the Post-Production Institute of London in 2012, a creative hub for filmmakers and digital artists interested in exploring new artistic methods. A year later, he founded the Episodic Collective, a production company that focuses on narrative non-fiction and documentary films. Most notably, he is the co-founder of the Altered Egos project, which adapts the work of William Gibson for the big screen.
Anjumi’s cinematic style has been described as ‘a mix between documentary and fiction, with a heavy emphasis on aesthetics and experimentation.’ The French newspaper, Le Monde, calls him, ‘An experimental artist who delights in defying the rules that govern cinema.’
An example of his work is Dead Pigs, a 2012 documentary short about food waste that has won numerous awards. One of the unique things about this film is that it was made without any dialogue, simply using sound effects, music and images to evoke a feeling of awe and wonder.
Futurism And Expanding The Boundaries Of Sci-Fi
While most of Anjumi’s projects to date have been in the realm of science fiction and fantasy, he promises that Cosmopolis will not be a rehash of existing material. Instead, he wants to push the boundaries of what is possible on film and to inspire spectators with something new.
An illustration of the extent to which he is doing this can be seen in the way he has used green screen technology and altered egos to digitally composite a wide range of landscapes and locations, from New York to Tokyo, into one seamless environment. These are then animated as if the entire stage were filled with living, breathing characters.
The result is a film that feels more like an extended gallery show than a traditional motion picture. In addition to showcasing the amazing compositing and visual effects technology, Cosmopolis also offers a glimpse into the future of cinema as we know it.
An Impression Of William Gibson
Whether or not one thinks of William Gibson as an author to watch out for, it is clear that he has had a major influence on the contemporary science fiction and cyberpunk literatures. In particular, his 1982 literary landmark, Neuromancer, was a pioneering work that examined the impact of digital technology on society and how individuals will have to adapt to a world of smart-mobiles, giant video displays and omnipresent surveillance. It was not only the beginning, but it was the culmination of a literary career that has seen Gibson adapt his work to the big screen twice before, with 1997’s Sleeper and 2018’s Zero Days.
Anjumi is clearly a huge fan of Gibson’s unique brand of prose. As he put it in an interview with Variety, ‘I was immediately drawn to Neuromancer as a narrative about the near-future. It really is a fascinating, terrifying book, and one that I feel perfectly fits into the cinematic world we are creating.’
The Book That Inspired The Movie
Gibson’s other major work published in 1982 was the literary thriller, Burning Chrome. In it, he imagines a world where surfing the Web has replaced going to the movies, where people spend their time immersed in virtual reality, and where technology has advanced to such a degree that humans and machines can coexist in perfect harmony.
Gibson’s influence is also felt through the structure of Cosmopolis. This is most notably in the way that it alternates between present-day Tokyo and the virtual world of the Metaverse. The former is now a bustling metropolis, while the latter is a place of cybernetic monsters, holographic projections and human-machine interaction.
These are all key aspects of Gibson’s early cyberpunk writings, where the lines between reality and virtuality are blurred. As he said in an interview with the New York Times, ‘I believe in the existence of multiple realities, and I often use fiction to help me navigate them.’
Why A Batman And A Star Wars Story?
Even though it is a world away, the intersection of all these literary, cinematic and technological influences is, in fact, New York City. Specifically, the 20th floor of the Time Warner Center, a luxurious skyscraper that straddles the intersection of Broadway and West 22nd Street. This is where Anjumi has chosen to set his cyberpunk film because it is the location of the Gotham Museum of Art. The building was designed by the renowned architect, Richard Meier and its distinctive feature is the glass facade, a fitting backdrop for a film about the financial district of a future New York.
But setting a futuristic thriller in present day New York is not a new phenomenon. It has been done before, notably in Ridley Scott’s 1999 movie, The Martian. While that film used visual effects and a green screen to great effect, it was in fact set mostly in the deserts of Mars. A similar technique was also used in the James Bond film, Spectre. That too was set partly in the future, but mostly in the present day, where SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) carry out their dastardly deeds.
What makes Cosmopolis different is that Anjumi has used this cinematic tool not to mask reality but to illuminate it. The point is not to make the film feel like an extrapolation of existing trends but to suggest something new. This is most notably seen in the way that the city that surrounds the protagonist, Hans Solo, is presented. The most distinguishing feature of this section of the film is not the buildings or the people but the way that they interact. To quote Faukes, ‘Hans becomes the canvas on which the city’s inhabitants paint their stories. As he moves though the city, we see its various facets through his eyes – a view rarely seen in conventional narrative films.’
The Biggest Surprise Is Off Screen
This cinematic technique has not only been applied to an imagined New York but throughout the entire film. One of the unexpected pleasures of Cosmopolis is the way that Anjumi weaves in and out of the present day with scenes from the Metaverse. While the majority of the scenes are played out in front of an audience, the storyteller, played by Robert Pattinson, stands at a lectern as holograms of famous people float around him, filling the stage with animation.
This approach is both innovative and exciting for audiences. Rather than being limited to the dialogue and actions on screen, the immersive quality of this type of cinema allows the audience to participate through digital devices as the story unravels before their very eyes.
Pattinson Is A Master Of Contradiction
Pattinson’s performance as the unreliable narrator, Hans Solo, is one of the highlights of the film. The British actor is well known for his roles in blockbusters such as the Harry Potter series and the Twilight Saga. Not only is his acting impeccable but he also possesses a deft touch with a comedic timing that keeps the audience entertained. This ability to entertain while also educating the audience about the complex issues that surround environmentalism, identity and the nature of truth is what makes him so appealing as a creative and intellectual lead.