No Maps For These Territories (2003)

Written & Directed by Mark Neale
Your Passenger: William Gibson
Featuring Bono, The Edge, Bruce Sterling, Jack Womack


Released by Docurama
Rating: NR
Region: 1
Anamorphic: No.

My Advice: Any fan of science fiction should own.

Pretty much any sci-fi fan with any cred knows William Gibson. Even if you're not very ingrained into the genre, you've felt Gibson's influence. Trinity from The Matrix and Mace from Strange Days are both just riffs on Molly, the original kick-your-ass drop dead gorgeous cyberbabe from Gibson's Neuromancer. Hell, he's the one who coined the term "cyberspace" which has been used everywhere, whether correctly or not. In short, he's a genre literary icon who even where he's not known, he's known.

Enter writer/director Mark Neale. In a move that gets points for inventiveness, he loaded Gibson and a bunch of audio and video equipment into a limo and then drove the author around North America, letting Gibson ramble on about things with occasional prompting from interviewers (or even Bono in an electronic billboard--long story). Now, to the uninitiated, this might sound about as enticing as reading another interview with Britney Spears. Or even the first one. But to those who know Gibson, hearing this man ramble is a helluva lot better than ninety-five percent of the active conversations you've engaged in during the last year. He is a walking quote-generator and I had to stop myself from trying to transcribe this damn thing so I could review it.

Adding to the surreality of a sci-fi grandmaster in the backseat of a car are the games that Neale plays visually. You've got the aforementioned U2 frontman reading from Neuromancer on an electronic billboard (and doing not a half-bad job it), and when Gibson is asked what he thinks of the author of that work, Gibson responds that he might buy the guy a drink but he wouldn't loan him any money. That's right--Neal Stephenson's granddad thinks that Neuromancer is an interesting "garage band novel." Anyway, Neale brings in Bruce Sterling in what appears to be some kind of cafe, discussing the influences that Gibson has had on his writing--cutting back to Gibson in the car discussing what it was like to find a comrade like Sterling. You also get Jack Womack, first on a phone, then phasing out with Gibson in the back seat (trust me, this all makes some modicum of sense when you see it). The landscape outside Gibson's window will speed up, change, freeze frame, words will appear there, all to underscore the hyperreality of some of the things Gibson discusses.

The whole thing is vastly entertaining. As stated, Gibson's observations--on his work, on technology, on his life--are fascinating, and what could be distractions anywhere else (just what the hell do U2 have to do with anything, for example) work just fine. Edge on a mini-monitor? Sure. Why the hell not? About the only trick that Neale plays with too much is crossfading between Gibson in the backseat and the empty backseat. It was a neat concept at the beginning, but after a while it's just tired.

I'd like to point out that the menus for this disc are very interesting as well. Anyone who's read a number of my reviews know that normally I find menus about as exciting as watching mold propagate, but here you've got menus that truly reflect the subject matter. Scene selection are broken up by section into simply beginning, middle and end. The portion of the disc that covers the discussions with crew and such are all labelled "Who," "What," "When," and so forth. Transitions between screens are fairly slick and the background match the title perfectly.

The aforementioned features are fairly extensive, and I'm not sure what else they could have added. You get "Fragments," which are deleted scenes consisting of more of Mr. Gibson rambling away. There's also the readings from All Tomorrow's Parties with Womack and Gibson sharing the duties and the making-of interviews with director Neale. As a side note, the soundtrack by Tomandandy is absolutely balls nasty and I wish I could track down a copy. Any help would be appreciated.

This documentary is a fascinating portrait of an author and his work--but it's also a lot more. Let's face it, Gibson has foreseen a lot (although he admits, rather deadpan, that he didn't expect the nude webcam explosion--although he doesn't mind it now that it's happened) so he's worth listening to regardless. Fans of his or of sci-fi in general should snag, but everyone will probably want to give it a rent.

Discuss the review in the Gabfest!

Greetings to our visitors from the IMDB, OFCS, and Rotten Tomatoes!
Stick around and have some coffee!