No Maps For These Territories (2000)

Written by Mike Lyon on April 23rd, 2009

Mark Neale’s unusual biopic of William Gibson is a strange and polarizing film. Neale placed Gibson in a limousine wired for sound, equipped with several video cameras and outfitted with a laptop and cell phone (no mean feat for 2000) and sent him on a cross-country trip from California to New York, supplying him with questions along the way. The premise is solid gold, and Gibson is as much a halting poetic genius in person as he is in his brilliant novels. He stares out the window at the blurred trees, smoking cigarettes and holding forth on his past and the future of humankind. In a particularly poignant sequence, he romantically describes his first novel, Neuromancer, as taking place in “a world where there are no families”, as cryptic and beautiful a description of the book as has ever been made. His slow and metered responses showcase a truly incisive mind.

And yet, the film is drowned in stylistic flourishes and shitty editing that unnecessarily draw attention away from Gibson. Terrifyingly stupid cliches pop up every ten seconds, a sad irony considering the film’s focus on Gibson’s futurist tendencies. This is the man who coined the term “cyberspace”, and the internet was subsequently designed by programmers enamored of his ideas. Here is a man who has consistently envisioned the future of humankind under the guise of literature for over 30 years, and yet, conversely, Neale buries Gibson’s observations in 30-year-old video art trickery, from painfully period-dating technological montages to reversing the flow of traffic in Gibson’s limo windows.

Indeed, the stylistic choices are so damaging as to completely derail the simple power of Gibson’s words. His speech is halting and quiet, which makes him, apparently, not exciting enough, and so layer after layer of bullshit has to be slathered on to hold the imaginary film-goer’s attention. Ultimately, the film’s infantile visuals can be a sincere struggle to tolerate. Maybe No Maps For These Territories would have made a better audio-book, considering how poorly Neale treats what should have been a sure-fire high concept.


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