Many years ago I saw this movie on late-night television. Finally, after all this time I stumbled across it on a compilation. It was a pleasure to see this low-budget yet atmospheric film again.
The lighting is well executed, editing is solid, acting is decent, and the robot designs are very cool. Shot selection is great, with lots of up-angle shots to add to the scale of the prison. This film has a great hard sci-fi short story feel to it. It's as if it was ripped from the pages of a science fiction serial from the 50s or from a plot by Harlan Ellison. It's nice to see something that hasn't been watered down by committee.
However, there's more to this short film than just cool robots and ominous labyrinthine prisons.
There are two factions: One is the corporate establishment; the other is a cult-like collectivist group known as The Movement. The main character (Tom984) was very much part of the corporate world. He's taken prisoner by The Movement under orders of their leader (Dr. Fontaine). The warden of the prison repeatedly interrogates 984 in an attempt to get him to confess to crimes against humanity. As it turns out, Tom is innocent and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The warden suspects this, but he still persists with the interrogation since his ideology demands it.
The ideology of The Movement is one of language and words. It isn't enough for them to win a war through actions; they must also hold up a defeated example from the opposition who confesses his crimes. This obsession on the part of The Movement is one of the key points in the story and ultimately drives the warden to insanity. His enforcer illustrates this by eventually resigning, leaving the warden to be alone with his robots and the final remaining prisoner.
Many viewers took exception with this production because they had difficulty following the plot. It was intended as a pilot for a series, so the idea of spoon-feeding the audience all the details was counter to the goal of being able to explain things later during the course of the series. However, the series never happened. Regardless, pretty much everything is in the pilot -- for those who look closely.
Tom worked as an investment adviser for a large corporation. Gradually, a collectivist group (The Movement) started to gain control over the government and also started to infiltrate various corporations. The existing corporate heads were not about to stand for this, and they began plotting a strategy for stopping The Movement. Tom's friend invited him to a meeting with the corporate heads in which they revealed their plan to place tactical nuclear weapons in strategic locations and use them as leverage against The Movement. They wanted Tom to help advise them as to the best locations to place said weapons. Tom was shocked by this plan and decided to not get involved in it. In order to persuade Tom to 'play ball', they cooked-up material with which to blackmail him.
Flash forward to Tom's initial capture by The Movement. He's seen with a number of other high-level corporate figures. One of them mentions something about 'what they (the corporations) have done' as being no worse than what The Movement would do. This suggests that perhaps the first strike by the corporate conglomerate had recently been carried out. Based on Tom's demeanor, it doesn't look like he was aware of it.
Another scene shows Tom being reprogrammed using electroshock and images. During his reprogramming and memory-wiping session, a nuclear bombardment takes place. The bunker that he's in withstands the attack from the corporate conglomerate. This was referred to as a retaliation -- suggesting that The Movement had already retaliated against the initial strike. Later in the film, the warden's enforcer reminds the warden that they (The Movement) won. This suggests that there was a fourth round of nukes. This final round of nuclear detonations was carried out by members of The Movement, and ended the war. But at what cost? The warden's enforcer mentions that they're all that are left and that continuing to waste time interrogating prisoner 984 is pointless. The warden will hear none of it. He insists that they must stick to their principles and continue. For what are they if they don't cling to their ideology and follow through and get that all-important confession. It doesn't matter whether or not Tom is guilty. He's now just a number and simply another member of the opposition -- the last remaining representative of the corporate structure of the past.
And it's here where the thesis of the film hits its mark. The dangers of the type of ideology that The Movement represents is highlighted. Their blind obsession with assimilating the enemy and the use of language to beat the enemy's mind into submission. The double-standard that their ideology displays with the higher-ranking officials receiving added perks (like the wide assortment of liquor that the warden had available to him -- even in a nuclear bunker), and the cult-like tendency to rattle off brain-neutralizing quotes, memorized from their leader's publications and speeches.
This film isn't just a good example of how to create a solid hard-sci-fi story on a minimal budget; it's also a warning.
Review by J-bot6 from the Internet Movie Database.