The Troubled History of 1983’s Brainstorm #cyberpunk

In 1981, Douglas Trumbull (director of the eco-classic Silent Running and F/X guru on 2001: A Space Odyssey) began work of his second feature film, Brainstorm. Starring Natalie Wood, Christopher Walken, Louise Fletcher, and Cliff Robertson, the film would explore the idea of digital capture and playback of other people’s thoughts and experiences — an idea that would be explored in countless cyberpunk fiction to follow.

The film was also going to be filmed to make use of a new film technology developed by Trumbull, called Showscan. It allowed 70mm film to be recorded and projected at 60 frames per second, 2 1/2 times the standard film speed.

But right from the start, Trumbull was at loggerheads with MGM suits. After one of the film’s stars, Natalie Wood, tragically died during a break from the film, MGM used it as an excuse to pull the plug.

Brainstorm was finally released in the fall of 1983. It was an initial box office disappointment, but would become a popular video rental and purchase.

Time would be kinder to the film. It is now lauded for its forward thinking, the cinematography, and some of the performances. And it forever lives as a cyberpunk-adjacent project during that mid-80s period when the cyberpunk vectors were converging.

The experience of getting the film made and released was so devastating to Trumbull that he has never made a feature film since.

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