Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

" Nobody goes into the valley of death. That’s why they call it the valley of death. "
— Grant Heslov, The Scorpion King

MRQE Top Critic

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Teknolust is a bright and airy sci-fi comedy. But I wondered while watching it, are we laughing at the right jokes? The obvious attempts at humor are only half clever, yet because there are some amusing moments it seems to be funny in spite of itself. Still, it is a big improvement over Conceiving Ada, director Lynn Hershman Leeson’s first effort at sci-fi with a feminist slant.

The Tilda Swinton Show

Swinton creates more Swintons
Swinton creates more Swintons

As in Conceiving Ada, the thing that makes Teknolust worth watching is Tilda Swinton. In fact, this is the Tilda Swinton show as she plays four roles: ace programmer and girl genius Rosetta Stone, and her three computer-programmed progeny Ruby, Olive and Marinne. Swinton does the best performance by a human of an android/robot/clone since Arnold, and she does it three times over. She’s even better as Rosetta, the mop-haired nerdy optimist. Rosetta is a refreshing comedic change from the stereotypically fat loser hacker like Wayne Knight’s Nedry in Jurassic Park.

Sadly, Rosetta is saddled with that awful name which becomes less funny every time you hear it. How about something more farcical like “Ada Kuppa-Zooker”, sweet and computer-y? The bad naming convention continues with the “Self Replicating Automatons” or SRAs which are not machines but (and I’m guessing here) AI program constructs. Leeson has them cleverly color coded red, green, and blue — the RGB triad of the computer graphics transmissive color pallet. The red one is Ruby and so far so good, but the green one’s name starts to drift off theme with “Olive” and the blue one is lost as “Marinne.” OK, sea = blue, but how much better to have been Jade and Sapphire? ... or “Sappho” to pun on the blue gem idea but still remain relevant to the story.

Still, the RGB convention makes for some colorful scenes and the brunette predator Ruby is right-on with her slinky red dress and android demeanor. The green Olive is a Veronica Lake lookalike and vacuous blonde stereotype while blue Marinne is a wacky redhead. There is a great scene where all three characters do a goofy dance (or as they say “new program that they learned”) for Rosetta that is worth the price of admission. Yet it bugged me that when the three SRIs are together they should be colored white not yellow... sigh, so close, yet so far.

Jeremy Davies who, as the hapless Sandy, is a character strong enough to play opposite Ruby. I think Davies’ nervous neurotic could make him the Don Knotts of the 21st Century. He delivers that weird magic fans of Lost will remember in the physicist Daniel Faraday.

Returning from Conceiving Ada is Karen Black. As Ada’s mother, she seemed confused. I guess we all were. But here as Dirty Dick (see discussion of bad names above then multiply by 10) she’s a private investigator/fixer and having a grand time camping it up in a crazy space all her own. I’m not exactly sure what her purpose is in the film, but Teknolust would be the less without her.

From Lust to Creepy to Comedy

The film starts out in the first minutes hot and strong on the “lust” part, and then it gets edgy when Ruby brews up a batch of used-condom tea for the SRAs. She pops the boiled condom in a specimen jar and puts it in the cupboard with a shelfful of others. This is a neat bit of filmmaking that gets the story humming along to the next scene where the SRAs all shoot up the semen Ruby has “harvested.” It seems they need it to survive.

But then Rosetta Stone enters and the movie shifts from creepy to comedy.

Once Ruby hits on a guy, he becomes impotent (and what could be funnier than a man who can’t get it up, except for maybe a stutter and/or a limp?). He also gets a red rash over his third eye (The mark of Cain? A scarlet letter? Who knows?). Soon an epidemic is declared (Ruby has been busy) and the medical world is confounded. Enter the “whispering doctor,” a funny running gag unlike any of the others in the film. (Why do I think it was an improv by the actors and not written into the script?)

There is some muddle by Rosetta’s pain-in-the-ass boss about “bio-gender warfare.” The sinister forces of the military-industrial complex start sniffing around as they put Ruby’s conquests in lockdown. The FBI has a special agent hot on Rosetta’s trail... but what is this? Is he going to fall for the daffy programmer? This is absurd fun that put me in mind of Dr. Strangelove, a film that was conceived as a serious drama but it quickly became obvious that it could only be done as a comedy.

Climax

Soon Rosetta’s “children” are starting to wish for a life of their own outside the confines of Rosetta’s home PC (they do grow up so quickly, don’t they?). And how are you going to keep them down on the hard drive after they’ve seen San Francisco? Through a mechanism that’s not adequately explained, the SRAs can cross over from the virtual to real world. This annoying bit of improbability seems left over from Conceiving Ada but is not a show-stopper.

At this point in a normal sci-fi thriller, the city would soon be swarming with SRAs and either Bruce Willis, Will Smith or the National Guard would be called in. Buildings would topple and the special effects budget would go out the roof. But in the determinedly cheerful Teknolust, the infected johns are healed, Ruby and Sandy hook up (who saw that coming!?), Rosetta gets her FBI guy, and Olive and Marinne find each other. Everybody lives happily ever after... almost.

With the finish line in sight, Teknolust jumps the tracks (and the shark) when the SRAs begin to self replicate. As the credits begin to roll, we are up to our eyebrows in Tilda Swintons.

Teknolust is the second in a proposed “Millennial Trilogy” by Leeson. If the third one is as much improved as Teknolust was over Conceiving Ada,it’s going to be a pretty good film.

DVD Extras

The disc includes a discussion with Leeson and Swinton filmed in 2009 after a screening of Teknolust. There are some interesting insights into Teknolust and Leeson. If you’ve gone to the trouble of watching both Conceiving Ada and Teknolust,it’s worth watching.

Picture and Sound

Both good. The score is of mixed value but is dead-on in the SRA’s dance routine.

How to Use This DVD

This is an effective remedy to get the bad taste of Conceiving Ada out of your mouth. Keep this film in mind years from now when comedic feminist sci-fi is an established genre and we remember Teknolust as the film that started it all.