I just finished watching Altered Carbon on Netflix and enjoyed the story, it wasn’t brilliant, but it was entertaining, backed by strong performances by Joel Kinnaman, James Purefoy and Martha Higareda along with a strong supporting cast in most roles. This article is not going to touch on plot or storytelling. Instead, it will have an examination at the world of the 24th Century that the show took place in and a few areas that could have been improved upon.
The first thing that gave me pause in the first ten minutes of the film were the suits of armour that the Protectorate forces wore. The uniforms were dark grey and topped off with a helmet which appeared to have six orange lights on it. What becomes abundantly clear about this armour, while looking very cool and stylish, is that throughout the entire series, it doesn’t appear to offer any advantages. The armour is easily defeated by what look like conventional ammunition, and don’t seem to offer any advanced physical capabilities or enhanced sensory systems. The whole suit appears to be mainly for show, rather similar to the armour Storm Troopers wear in Star Wars. Both sets of armour look cool, but all they do is act as a liability for the wearer, and maybe offer protection against environmental threats. As any soldier will tell you, survivability on the battlefield is paramount, so putting forces into suits that reduce that by hindering mobility is very counterproductive.
One of the big flaws in the world the show created was that everyone is just walking around like we are today. Flesh and blood, and very fragile. In the show, a character gets an artificial arm which in turn makes them quite deadly and gives them super strength, and the arm itself seems invulnerable, which aids the character greatly later in the series. If such technology existed, the military, possibly law enforcement, but certainly the super rich like Laurens Bancroft played by Purefoy would be using bionic bodies instead of flesh and blood ones. Why drive a clunker around when you could be indestructible? If all you have to do is upload your mind into the body, why can’t you upload it into an armoured cyborg? Certainly, this would make sense for advanced military units, and maybe bodyguards and elites. Serious continuity issue with this one.
Of course in any sci-fi actioner, you need guns, lots of guns, and while there are some cool guns in the show, a few energy pistols, and a gun that can auto-recall an expended round, most of the weapons are very conventional by today’s standard. And while there are some very cool weapons, the show didn’t put enough money and resources into its armoury department and used props from Elysium, another futuristic film, more notably the AKM, the Modernized Automatic Kalashnikov as a weapon for the evil government forces. While this weapon system may look cool, it’s not very futuristic. Another issue are the rifles carried by the bulk of the Protectorate forces which use the Picatinny rail systems on the tops of the weapons, albeit without any sights or optics mounted on them, forcing the operator to rely on iron-sights, something that you wouldn’t even find today in a modern army. It’s just not very futuristic. Aliens succeeded in this area by creating their weapons, even if they were formed around existing rifles.
While Altered Carbon is visually stunning, and the bulk of the best costumes go to the Bancroft family, with its head, Laurens played by James Purefoy getting perhaps the best fabrics in the show, the program lacks a real attempt to embrace future styles. Everything looks very similar to something that you’d be able to find on the market today and fails to show what a future on Earth will look like. I think a lot more risks could have been taken in this department, and not made all the styling so 2018.
Finally, the last thing that caught my eye in the show was that while 90% of the show takes place in what I believe to be a futuristic version of San Francisco, and while we do see Blade Runner like flying cars, not much else is advanced. No space-ships are seen, but we do get glimpses of plenty of bicycles and even a skateboard. Perhaps some more imagery about how the rest of the populated systems work would have been interesting. Spaceships would have been a great addition.
All in all a good show, with some minor complaints about the world that was created. Perhaps that’s the real struggle with creating a television show or film that takes place in the future: making a world where every fibre of it looks like it belongs in the future, not to the present.