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Movie Gadget Friday: the brain scanner from Brainstorm

Peter Rojas


Movie Gadget Friday spends another week in the year 1983! Last week Josie Fraser checked out the W.O.P.R. from WarGames (make sure you check that one out, John Badham, the film's director responds in the comments!), this week she fulfills another reader request and takes a look at the brain scanner from Brainstorm:

Brainstorm (directed by Douglas Turnbull, the man behind the special effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and now IMAX Supremo) is a flawed but interesting film about tech product development. We see the team go through the excitement of research and development, from clunky prototype to marketable product, and to the inevitable final stage – military funding/take over and exploitation of the application for nefarious ends.


Scientists Lillian Reynolds (Louise Fletcher at her chain smoking best) and Michael Brace (Christopher Walken holding down his mad dog thing) develop a method for recording lived experience on holographic tape which can be then played back directly inside someone else?s head. Going far beyond the modest ambitions of a computer generated virtual reality environment, the process produces the effect of total immersion in another?s thoughts, feelings and full sensory experiences. The potential and intended uses are all very commendable ? for the first time, people would have the opportunity to really be able to understand each other?s points of view and ways of seeing the world. However, in keeping with the history of representational technologies, someone very quickly records the experience of having sex, and someone else works out how to play it back to themselves on permanent loop. And in a scene guaranteed to make you all feel good about your own rubbish parenting; Christopher Walken?s son manages to plug himself into a military recording of what it?s like to be horribly tortured.


Dr. Reynolds is such a dedicated workaholic that half way through the movie she manages to hook herself up to the recording device while suffering from a fatal heart-attack. Brace then becomes obsessed with experiencing the death tape for himself, on the premise that it will let him experience some kind of universal truth about what happens when you die. I don?t want to give away the ending, but one of the writers (Bruce Rubin) was responsible for the equally gushy and literally Christian finish to the otherwise great Jacobs Ladder and the entirely schmaltzy Ghost.

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