Altered Carbon takes place 300 years into the future, where you can live after you die, as your mind and memory can be “re-sleeved” into a new body, making it sound a bit like one of my favourite films of all time, Freejack.
Most disgruntled of all is specially trained “Envoy” soldier Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman, above), who was brought back to life thanks to wealthy aristocrat Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), but was Kovacs murdered when he died? The last few hours of his life are missing in his automatic backup, since like a hard drive’s programming, it can only store at certain times. Kovacs needs to discover the truth, and in the role, Kinnaman should know best about not quite feeling himself, given that he starred in the Robocop reboot, when there wasn’t an awful lot left of his original character.
When he awakes, he discovers he’s been in Alcatraz prison for 250 years. Given that the human body can’t live that long, that’s why he has a new body, but hey, at least he’s repaid his debt to society!
That said, being taken away from everything and only knowing what’s going on years down the line, is similar to how Stallone’s Demolition Man could’ve turned out, had John Spartan been kept in cryogenic suspension for the full 70 years.
However, Bancroft has made him an offer he can’t refuse, as he was bumped off and wants Kovacs to discover who kiled him. If he succeeds, Bancroft will commute his sentence to time served, give him a big stack of cash, and he can even choose a new sleeve if he wants! …and he can’t refuse, since if it does, Bancfroft will put him back on ‘ice’, never to wake up again. Tough choice…
For those without the means, if you’re dead, and can’t afford a new body, yet your stack is untouched, virtual reality is sometimes the only way you can be ‘seen’ again. Of course, should you really be ‘spun back up’? My Dad died three years ago and while, in this world, it would be possible to put him in a new body, not only do you question whether that goes against nature, but also surely the world would be even more overpopulated than it is?
On the plus side for Altered Carbon, there’s quite a few one-liners thrown in by Kovacs, which isn’t bad for a man who’s gone through such a horrendous ordeal, and the city makes San Francisco look like Los Angeles in the Blade Runner era, but that’s a good thing since as it’s always felt like it’d be good to spend longer in that environment, even with the recent inclusion of Blade Runner 2049. There’s also Katya from Neighbours, as his sister! Her character is Reileen, and the actress is Dichen Lachman for anyone with short memories.
I also liked the inclusion of flashback scenes to Kovacs in his previous body, to fill in some of the back story, and as Kovacs goes about his business, there’s occasionally whispering voices from Quell, which can only really be made out with the subtitles, so while that all sounds mysterious, it feels a little uneven when mixed with the (less serious) one-liners and banter elsewhere in the show. That said, and when I saw a preview of this, English subtitles weren’t available from episode 3 onwards, so they’re not easy to make out.
On the downside, I enjoyed episode 1, but after that, things rather dropped off a cliff. Far too many scenes end up in silly punch-ups – like the typical Liam Neeson movie in recent years, and all too often, it feels like it strays too far from the futuristic side of things and more into the murder-mystery without actually getting anywhere in that, with additional characters that don’t really fit in.
When I got to episode 4, it felt like I was suddenly watching a different show with the same characters, as the whole central plot about Kovacs having to find Bancroft’s killer has seemingly been abandoned in favour of random violent nonsense. Plus, whenever cop Kristin Ortega’s (Martha Higareda) talking to her mum, it’s usually in Spanish, and… well, I’ve already mentioned the problem with subtitles.
Similarly, there’s a particular scene early on with Poe (Chris Conner) – the hotel manager with a difference, when he’s not with Kovacs, which looks like things will develop further for his character but… again, that also just gets forgotten about. In fact, someone else who’s been forgotten about is Bancroft, as Mr Purefoy hasn’t been in it a great deal up until this point.
As to whether I’ll watch the remaining six… I think I’ll wait and see the reaction to the series once it’s released this Friday. If it sounds like it really picks up, I’ll head back in, but other than that, the mystery for me is why the murder plot was left to rot.
Altered Carbon isn’t yet available to pre-order on Blu-ray or DVD, but is released on Netflix from this Friday, February 2nd.
Running time: 10 episode at 48-60 minutes each
Released: February 2nd 2018
Episode 1 score: 7/10
Episodes 2-4 score: 3/10
Series Directors: Uta Briesewitz, Peter Hoar, Nick Hurran, Andy Goddard, Alex Graves and Miguel Sapochnik
Series Producer: John G Lenic
Series writers: Brian Nelson, Steve Blackman, Laeta Kalogridis and David H Goodman (based on the novel by Richard Morgan)
Music: Jeff Russo
Takeshi Kovacs: Joel Kinnaman
Laurens Bancroft: James Purefoy
Kristin Ortega: Martha Higareda
Poe: Chris Conner
Lizzie Elliot: Hayley Law
Isaac Bancroft: Antonio Marziale
Reileen Kawahara: Dichen Lachman
Ava: Cliff Chamberlain
Captain Tanaka: Hiro Kanagawa
Miriam Bancroft: Kristin Lehman
Okulov: Alika Autran
Jimmy DeSoto: Teach Grant
Curtis: Zahf Paroo
Abboud: Waleed Zuaiter
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.