Image Entertainment presents
Gadget Trips: Mindscapes (1995)
"Six scientists, or maybe seven / Ascent, or is it descent / Para-experience or precognition / The past extends into the future / The scientist's daily labors / A machine that doesn't work / Investigation by Army Intelligence / Unusual activity at the Museum / The Sensorama goes round and round."- excerpt from the book Inside Out With GadgetDirector: Haruhiko Shono
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable, abstract imagery)
Run Time: 01h:16m:29s
Release Date: 2002-02-19
DVD ReviewThe early 1990s saw the rise of CD-ROM technology, allowing a whole new approach to how software could be manufactured and presented. It's something taken for granted now, but in those days, it was the birth of something that would radically change all software, and it did. Of course, like most technological revolutions like this, the realm of video games was among the first to take advantage of it. One of the first major multimedia entertainment titles made available on CD-ROM, Myst, still achieves high sales almost 10 years later. Actually, Myst was a good example of where many people hoped CD-ROM would head: games that were more than simply killing aliens and the like, but rather interactive works of art that, though still playable, immersed the user into something far more engaging and absorbing than "good versus bad." Japanese multimedia artist Haruhiko Shono saw this potential and created the critically acclaimed 1991 piece, Alice, which was loosely based on the Alice in Wonderland stories. It wasn't really a game, but rather an interactive, visual art gallery; highly conceptual for its time. Shono's 1994 project, a collaboration with Japanese composer Koji Ueno, would not only change many people's ideas of what a 'game' constituted, but to this day remains an inescapable masterpiece to many, including myself. It won major critical praise (including a few Game Of The Year awards), and made Haruhiko Shono into a celebrity for a brief time.That project was Gadget: Past as Future, a surreal, story-based interactive CD-ROM that played out much like a graphical novel that the user forwarded at his own pace. You couldn't die, you couldn't lose, you just made the plot unfold. At the time, it used visionary graphics (a special texturing technique that made the most realistic people ever seen in a software title up to that point) and the artistic style was way beyond the conventional. Set in a retro-futuristic world connected by 1920s-style train railways, you played a character who had lost his memory and was given a task by a mysterious government agency. You were assigned to find 7 missing scientists and get back crucial components of a device they were working on. In the process of operating as this "cold war" agent, you eventually discover that things are not quite as simple as they seem. All sorts of unsettling elements begin to emerge, from a mental torture device called the Sensorama, to a government operation about digging up ancient asteroids, to the ghostly image of a small boy carrying a briefcase. Eventually, the concept of an espionage adventure is replaced with the slow revealing of a complex mystery, at the core of which are the missing scientists.Haruhiko Shono produced two additional projects in conjunction with the CD-ROM; a book entitled Inside Out With Gadget, and an animated film Gadget Trips: Mindscapes, which appears on this DVD, presented as part of the Mind's Eye series of computer graphics discs from Image and Odyssey; in fact, I believe this marks the first widely available version of Mindscapes outside of the original laserdisc. Gadget Trips is best described as a visual interpretation of the elements of the game and was originally intended as part of a gallery exhibition. Technically, it has very little to do with the game, but the characters, realms, and overall setting are used as an abstract basis for a variety of works. Very much like a video installation piece or a "moving painting", Mindscapes is an incredible collage of images and sounds that has little story or connecting elements between them. Although at first the setting for the game Gadget is used, eventually the film becomes an ambient meditation on itself, often using kaleidoscopic effects and dissonant music to create an effect not unlike the fictional "Sensorama" machine is supposed to induce in its victims. We see characters sinking into a strange swamp, trees growing and fading, machines operating, and stars exploding.On top of the absorbing visuals, the amazing musical score by Koji Ueno is a large part of the enjoyment. At times, the music is a bit uninspired, comprised of mainly badly synthesized horns and orchestral sounds; but his "live" work with real musicians adds a whole new level to the hypnotic scenery. Much of his work consists of rhythmic drums and chaotic strings that, while very much in the contemporary-classical realm, still manages to evoke feelings of an unsettling, alien place, which is perfect for the film. This music was used in the original game, but only to a very minor extent, and certainly not the full-length tracks presented here.Haruhiko Shono, who was once the darling of the evolution of cyberspace, seems to have faded from favor in the West. His efforts still continue, though, with many projects along similar lines to Mindscapes. Recently, he had been enlisted to help develop and publish David Lynch's CD-ROM project, Woodcutters from Fiery Ships. His latest piece of work is an audio/video experience entitled Video Drug VRD 2001 which seems to be quite well received in Japan, and is luckily available on non-region coded DVD. Playing Games Interactive, an online retail company specializing in hard to find/out of print software titles, seems to be the last place that the 1998, 4-disc edition of the CD-ROM Gadget can be purchased, as well as Shono's 1992 project L-Zone. Unquestionably, his work here was a major stepping stone in the evolution of games as "art", and I think with the upgrade in power we're seeing in today's video games, many other developers are grasping that idea. In fact, the recent Game Developers Choice Award nominees featured nods to visionary "art" titles like Ico and Rez, the latter of which was inspired by the works of Wassily Kandinsky. I believe we have really only experienced the tip of the iceberg of computer graphics, audio, and gameplay as art experiences, and Mindscapes, oddly enough, seems more futuristic today than it did in 1995.For those looking to this DVD for a direct connection to the CD-ROM, you won't really find it, but don't be disappointed. The vague and enigmatic nature of the game is preserved in the nonsensical, travelling images. Mindscapes is not a conventional "film", but rather a continuous audio/visual experiment that can either be taken in doses (each chapter seems nicely self-contained) or watched in one long sitting. Those who have played the game or read the accompanying book will understand more of what these images mean, but newcomers shouldn't shy away by that because, on its own, Mindscapes is a fantastic experience that is quite unlike anything else. While there have been experiments with this kind of atmospheric work on DVD, this disc brings the true elements of a video installation or performance art into your home to either be enjoyed in the background, or focused on with all your attention.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The full-screen transfer is clean and crisp with no major complaints. Mindscapes often gets pretty chaotic visually, so the solid transfer is very welcome, adding no compression artifacts or stray pixels into the mix. The source itself is without damage or any serious problems, but the black level in some of the computer-generated sequences is a bit gray. Also, given that this was made in 1995, the frame-rate on some of the moving parts is not as smooth as present day CG animation, and there are a lot of jagged edges on objects that appears to be a result of not having access to better anti-aliasing at the time.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 2.0 Surround audio works well, but seems to lack a certain quality that would match the visuals. There are a few surround effects, mostly enhancement to the music, but they're very muted and easily missed. The problem, if it can be called that, is that the soundtrack feels too much like a "movie" soundtrack, which would be fine if Mindscapes were a normal movie, but because of i's heavily artistic nature and the obvious need to have the viewer immersed in it, I would personally recommend that, for optimum conditions, one should use headphones and downconvert the film into a stereo signal. It really drops you into the work more forcefully, and is also good for "zoning out" as relaxation. Another suggestion would be to set your reciever to a soundfield mode that surrounds you better and forces slightly heavier rear-channel activity. Ideally, I think a PCM Stereo track or an expertly mixed 5.1 track should have been used here.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Extras Review: There are no additional features on the disc, but the menuing system is quick and nice (justchapter-stop listings with full-motion images) and there's a healthy amount of chapters, helping to divide the film into each of its specific portions. The design on the menus is really simplistic, but yet, obviously took some thought to artistically match them to the movie.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsGadget Trips: Mindscapes is really a wonderful disc for anyone who appreciates something experimental and unusual in their cinema. While it can be enjoyed as a single film that immerses the viewer in bizarre visions, it can also be broken up into pieces and enjoyed in small chunks of "synaesthesia."
Dan Lopez 2002-02-18