A Blade Runner for the smaller screen?
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, James Purefoy, Martha Higareda, Kristin Lehman, Will Yun Lee, Chris Conner
Series created by: Laeta Kalogridis (based on the novel by Richard Morgan)
Written by: Laeta Kalogridis / Episode directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
What’s it about?
250 years after his death, Takeshi Kovacs awakens in a new body to find he’s been enlisted to solve the murder of a wealthy industrialist…
A Netflix Original, Altered Carbon is an intriguing and stylish piece of dystopic cyberpunk science fiction that takes themes of identity and society and infuses them into a futuristic murder mystery that, in its first episode – titled “Out of the Past” – gently absorbs the viewer into this rich and visually astonishing world. It’d be fair to cite that for seasoned fans of classic SF, Altered Carbon doesn’t necessarily offer anything completely new and original – the lavish, expansive cityscapes, existential ponderings and societal examinations are well worn tropes that have been represented in various cinematic classics including Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis but it’s more a case of homage and acknowledged appreciation than outright uninventive riff.
Following a violent and bloody opening, we’re transported 250 years into the future as the ‘terrorist’ (as he’s perceived at this point at least) Takeshi Kovacs is ‘re-sleeved’ into a new body – introducing series lead Joel Kinnaman (RoboCop, Suicide Squad) – thanks to bureaucrat Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy) who wishes to enlist Kovacs to investigate his ‘murder’ 48 hours prior. You see, in the world of Altered Carbon the human personality is digitally stored in a ‘cortical stack’ that can be transferred to a new body and Bancroft has survived thanks to a regular backup of his stack to an orbiting satellite…albeit any memory of his ‘death’ lost due to the murder being conveniently timed before the next backup. This appears to form the central narrative of the series and “Out of the Past” plays out as more of a tease for what is to come, instead serving to establish the main players of Altered Carbon together with its visual aesthetics and the ideas it wishes to emulate, the notion of the human body as something that’s disposable, like an old mobile phone, proving the most evocative (and the re-sleeving of a seven year old girl into the body of a middle-aged woman the most alarming).
Initially, a little attention is required as Altered Carbon makes efforts to explain its future jargon with terminology akin to Ron Moore’s reimagined Battlestar Galactica but it’s soon easy to grasp if one focuses on the more or less self-explanatory basics of ‘stacks’ and ‘sleeves’ and the concept of the ‘Protectorate’ as a state or ruling entity.
In terms of the cast, Joel Kinnaman is clearly the focal point and does a decent job of presenting a weary and brooding (yet darkly comic) persona uninterested in redemption and second chances, instead favouring a blast of excess before going back on ice for an indefinite period. The supporting characters are a little sketchy to begin with, with a particular air of mystery and ambiguity surrounding James Purefoy’s Bancroft (together with his wife and son) who draws the suspicions of Police Lieutenant Ortega (Martha Higareda), whose presence facilitates some of the establishing exposition. With this being merely the opening chapter, it’s surely a given that the series will delve more deeply into the characters as the story progresses across this ten episode first season.
The bottom line: Slickly presented and with some substance to go with its style, Altered Carbon opens with an interesting and visually absorbing premiere.
All ten episodes of Altered Carbon season 1 are available to stream now on Netflix.