Hologram Man is obviously and undeniably a silly movie. (Your first clue: it’s called “Hologram Man” and not something more portentous like “ The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”) It is set in a near future world where our prisons use computers to rehab criminal's brains while their bodies are cryogenically frozen. Although that sounds like a set up which could never go wrong - (computers always work perfectly, right?) - it does, in fact, go wrong after a hacker liberates super-criminal Slash Gallagher's brain pattern from the penal server. You might think that a non-physical version of a man named “Slash” wouldn’t pose that much of a threat to the city of L.A., but that’s because you don’t know that holograms are actually capable of lifting things and shooting lightning out of their fingers and robbing banks and attempting to overthrow the government. (Slash is very busy for a man whose body is in a freezer.)
There’s not a lot of real insight you can pull out of Hologram Man directly, but if you put this movie into context it does say something about how our culture felt about technology in the early 90s. Hologram Man came out in 1995, which means it was part of a wave of movies like Lawnmower Man and The Net which were expressing uncertainty about the way that computers were slowly invading our lives. Those movies are interesting artifacts now because of course they were right – computers have taken over our lives - but they were also massively wrong, because we don't feel the emotions they expected us to feel. Yes, computers spy on us and report back to potentially untrustworthy figures in the shadows - but mostly we're fine with that because it's nice to be able to pay bills without having to own stamps. They knew that computers were potentially shady, but they didn't know that we would welcome our electronic overlords with open arms.
Now, all of what I just wrote is true, but it is also slightly misleading, because saying that implies that you can take this movie seriously even for a second. However, there is a scene in this movie where the cop who is trying to stop Slash Gallagher also becomes a hologram and then the two of them get into a fist fight. That's right: two immaterial beings - things that by all rights should be incapable of touching anything - get into a fist fight with each other. I should also add that one of those holograms is a white guy with dreadlocks and the other is a white guy with a chestnut colored ponytail. Both of them are wearing white unitards. This movie’s epic climax is two blue tinted weirdoes in unitards kicking each other in an underlit warehouse. Can you use this movie to say something about our relationship to technology in general and holograms in specific? Probably. But why would you want to do that?
Trying to review a movie like Hologram Man in good faith puts me between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand I want to use it as a chance for alchemy – to take a movie that isn’t that insightful and use it as a springboard to write something that is more thoughtful. On the other hand I don’t want to fall into the Emperor’s New Clothes trap and pretend that I’m seeing something in this movie that really isn’t there. Hologram Man is a tricky case because I don’t think it has much merit on it’s own, but it is also a good example of a specific trend and that trend is worth thinking about. However, if I were to start writing about that trend at some point I would have focus on the other computer-phobic movies over Hologram Man because they have a lot more to say. Once I start to do that I have to ask myself: am I still reviewing this specific movie?
Of course, there’s a shorter path to take – I could just make fun of Hologram Man. And there’s nothing wrong with that; I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. However, I don’t want that to become my automatic response to movies like this, because it doesn’t take long for that sort of unreflective snark to start to feel cheap. It might sound silly in this context, but I really do use these reviews as a way to dig deeper and think harder about what I’m consuming, and I would be doing a disservice to myself if I lobbed soft jokes at something that was sort of laughable instead of using it as a chance to challenge myself. Which means that if I’m going to keep watching movies like Hologram Man I’m going to have to overthink them from time to time.
Which actually gets at why I keep returning to genre movies like this over and over: they are more difficult to write about than more serious films. Generally when I’m watching a movie with a lot on it’s mind I have my pick of entry points, but with something as empty headed as Hologram Man I have to decide if I want to try to talk about it seriously (which risks making me sound pretentious), or to joke about it (at which point I risk sounding condescending), or to be honest about it (which can lead being self indulgent). It’s not always clear what the right path to take is, or if there is a right path to take at all. Every time I try to write about a movie that I have mixed feelings about I find myself overwhelmed with options, and I find that stressful because I really do want to approach my work earnestly even when it’s unclear if earnestness is actually called for. But that stress is good, because the process of working through those options is helping turn me into a better writer.
Still, I suppose I should be grateful - being unsure if you’re doing a good job of running your website is a better class of problem than having your computer spit out a hologram criminal who somehow gets into fistfights with the cops despite the fact that he doesn’t have a body. Even the knuckleheads back in 1995 would have known that.