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Docurama presents
William Gibson: No Maps for These Territories (2000)

"It's a strange thing, and it may be a by-product of what I do for a living, but I probably worry less about the future than the average person."
- William Gibson

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: December 07, 2003

Stars: William Gibson
Other Stars: Bruce Sterling, Jack Womack, Bono, The Edge
Director: Mark Neale

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief language)
Run Time: 01h:28m:01s
Release Date: November 25, 2003
UPC: 767685955437
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- BB-B B-

DVD Review

This is certainly an odd little documentary, and while I gladly would expect nothing less from Docurama, this one will likely either drive viewers to the point of eye-rolling exasperation with its own artsy and deep-thinking pomposity, or it will completely rivet viewers who will find themselves eagerly hanging on author William Gibson's every word and thought. Gibson is the imaginative and speculative science-fiction author, the man who coined the term 'cyberspace' way back in 1982 in his short story Burning Chrome. His popularity (almost to the point of religious idolatry) followed him through a series of successful genre novels (Neuromancer, Mona Lisa Overdrive and Idoru among them) and he has been at the forefront of the cyberpunk movement for the better part of a quarter century.

The concept of this documentary is that director Mark Neale has sequestered the technically forward-thinking Gibson in a limousine and embarked on a road trip across North America. With the camera locked in firmly on Gibson, the author is left to ramble on at length on all manner of subjects, from drugs to technology to William Burroughs to Civil War-era porn to cam girls to his own upbringing, as well as his writings. With the exception of a few segments, the entire documentary is Gibson sitting in the backseat of the moving car, talking, talking, and talking. There's no denying Gibson is a smart guy, a talented writer, and he seems to have a logically-rooted opinion on a number of subjects, but unless you are one of the writer's faithful, then his chatty discourses may sound like the caffeinated ramblings of one of those difficult to avoid guys who hang out at Starbucks sipping overpriced coffee and pontificating on life to whomever will listen.

Before I go on, I should point out that I am, in fact, a huge fan of Gibson, and over the years have gobbled up his writings with that rare kind of slack-jawed wonderment that made me feel both stupid and alive at the same time. With that fanboy confession out of the way, I'll say that I found Mark Neale's film to be a quirky, largely enjoyable experience that at times gave me the feeling that I was maybe sharing the ride with Gibson, and getting a peek under his cerebral hood, while at other times Gibson's effusive chatter seemed to show occasional signs of meandering. My lovely wife (not a Gibson reader and far less forgiving when a film or narrative doesn't grab her), scurried out of the room after about fifteen minutes, wondering why anyone in their right might would want to listen to the writer talk and talk and talk. Go figure.

When your whole documentary is a guy in a car talking, as this one is, you need to do something to give it some zing and pizzazz, to liven things up visually, and Neale employs some artsy effects, often treating the windows of the car like a canvas by projecting disparate and unconnected travel images as Gibson speaks about whatever is on his mind. The passenger window may show one location, while the rear window shows another. It is a rather distracting effect at first, but then I realized that it gave me something to focus on, and I sort of rode withe ebb and flow of Neale's fast-cut technofied approach (a nod to the cyberpunk king) to editing. The score is appropriately trippy and ethereal, lending a solid crutch to lean Neale's presentation of Gibson's intelligentsia upon. Some moments, like the brief appearance by U2's Bono (another guy who loves talking and talking), seemed too intentionally over dramatized, where his image is seemingly projected onto a video billboard, reading excerpts from Neuromancer in much the same odd and awkward way that MTV's Kurt Loder was forced to interview the band on big video monitors back in the late 1980s.

Gibson is not alone in the cyberpunk genre, with his most notable contemporary probably being Bruce Sterling (and if you haven't read Sterling's Heavy Weather, I urge you to run out immediately and get it). Sterling does provide some less high-faluting content for Neale's cameras, and he contributes a balanced and brief insight into both of their early writing days. I can appreciate how Mark Neale has given Gibson a rolling pulpit in No Maps For These Territories, which gets its title from the poem Memory Balance, but the ride itself will test the mettle of the casual observer.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Docurama has issued No Maps For These Territories in a nonanamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer. Colors are on the soft side, with a noticeable variance in quality from scene to scene. The lighting in the car, which is where 95% of the narrative takes place, is inconsistent, especially during the night shots, and accounts for a diversity in image quality. Occasional moments of halos and artifacting are evident, though the print is free of any noticeable flaws or defects.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in a front-centric 2.0 surround presentation, one that doesn't offer too much in the way of spatial theatrics, though the gurgly Tomandandy soundtrack bleeds into the rear channels on occasion. Gibson's monologues are reproduced clearly, though the spartan recording conditions don't offer the opportunity for anything too flashy.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
8 Deleted Scenes
6 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Readings
Extras Review: digitallyobsesseThe extras on No Maps For These Territories are broken down into four separate segments (Maps, Readings, Fragments, Origins).

Maps is really nothing more than a clever hiding place for the chapters, and the 24 stops are equally subdivided into Beginning, Middle and End screens.

The Readings section incorporates five audio-only readings from Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties, with each section relegated to a specific chapter. Gibson himself reads from chapters one, five, eight, and sixty-eight, while author Jack Womack reads from chapter four.

Deleted scenes are included in the Fragments section, where there are eight excised clips of varying length, all featuring Gibson expounding on an array of subjects. The best of the batch gives more insight the groundbreaking Neuromancer, and a smart discourse on the origins of crack. The deleted scenes are:
Neuromancer (06m:30s)
Objects (02m:31s)
The Gernsback Continuum (10m:12s)
Crack (05m:08s)
Bohemias (02m:52s)
The Past (07m:35s)
The Future (:47s)
Clocks (01m:37s)

Origins gives room for director Mark Neale to talk about the project, its roots and, yes, the possible sequel. There are six separate sections under the Origins header, and feature Neale answering questions from composers Andy Milburn and Tom Hajdu, along with producer Mark Pellington. To match the theme of this brainy road picture, all the interview pieces were recorded in a car, and even though the premise is a tad arty, the content is actually pretty rewarding and informative, enough so that I sort of wish Neale had provided a commentary track rather than these brief snippets. The six sections are divided as follows:
Who (03m:20s)
What (03m:02s)
When (05:52s)
Where (02m:40s)
How (09m:00s)
Why (03m:27s)

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

I imagine my being a fan of William Gibson has something to do with me being able to mine pearls of wisdom from Mark Neale's film. If you've read and enjoyed Gibson's books, as have I, then No Maps For These Territories will contain, at the very least, the opportunity to hear the master speak. His thoughts on the loss of the non-mediated world are as lyrical as any of his books, and are almost worth the price of admission on this one.

This one's an easy recommendation for fans of William Gibson. All others proceed with caution.


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