There are very few people whom I’d consider listening to as they babble on in a car for an hour and a half. William Gibson, the author of the seminal science-fiction novel “Neuromancer” and a man generally regarded as the godfather of cyberpunk, is one of them.
In director Mark Neale’s provocative documentary “William Gibson: No Maps for These Territories,” the acclaimed author simply embarks on a cross-country limousine ride with a camera rolling. He talks at great length throughout the voyage; a discourse that encompasses not only his life and his work, but takes on an even more philosophical tack. Gibson casually launches into cigarette-fueled extemporaneous monologues about a future that, in some ways, resembles the world he described in “Neuromancer” a bit more every day…yet in other ways is drastically different.
Fortunately, the film consists of much more than just raw footage of Gibson talking as he rides in the car. No one, not even the well spoken and engaging father of cyberpunk, would be compelling enough to make that interesting.
Instead, Neale breaks up Gibson’s monologues with complementary interviews from such luminaries as Bruce Sterling, Jack Womack, and “U2″‘s Bono and The Edge. He also punches up this rolling conversation with some clever editing and a wide assortment of effects and trick photography. The most common trick is a sort of split-screen background; the shifting view outside the passenger side window being different to that outside the rear window. This simple but unsettling technique alone gives the film a slightly disorienting, appropriately futuristic edge.
The most haunting sequence here shows Bono on a “Bladerunner”-ish, wall-sized video screen reading passages from “Neuromancer” while Gibson listens and smiles enigmatically; his limo gliding underneath the singer’s ghostly countenance along a nighttime city street.
The film does drag on a bit after the first hour or so, its famous subject repeating information or saying the same thing in a slightly different way. Even so, its rapid-fire editing, mystically brooding yet ironic atmosphere, and eerie soundtrack keeps it from ever becoming dull.
One doesn’t have to be a Gibson freak or pathetic fanboy groupie to take something away from this fascinating film. Elegant in its simplicity, not only because of what the man has to say, but because of the way the film’s visuals help him say it, “William Gibson: No Maps for These Territories” is a brilliant and intelligent viewing experience.