Mr. Beaks Explores ELECTRIC CITY With Tom Hanks!
ELECTRIC CITY is a new animated web series created by Tom Hanks, and it finds the normally genial movie star in a pensive, post-apocalyptic mood. Set in a rebuilt society controlled by a seemingly innocuous knitting circle of old women, Hanks and his collaborators have envisioned a world in which electricity and the flow of information are carefully monitored. The civilization has its steampunk touches (there are dirigibles, Victorian era gadgetry and ham radio-like devices called tap kits), but it's also got flourishes of secret agent espionage and grim, nuclear holocaust horror. It's a disorienting mixture at first, especially since each individual episode runs an average of five minutes; there's a lot of world building and exposition to dispense with (and a sprawling cast of characters), and if you don't pay extremely close attention, It's not going to make a lot of sense. Actually, even if you <em>do</em> pay close attention, it's likely you'll need to consult the character guide positioned at the right of the media player from time to time.
Sounds like work, right? It definitely is at first, but if you stick with the series, it becomes a fascinating, bleakly comedic depiction of a civilization being ruthlessly propped up by those who risked their lives to restore it. The elderly knitters run the show, while "grid operatives" like Cleveland Carr (voiced by Hanks) do their neck-snapping dirty work. Rebellion comes in the form of the unofficial dissemination of information - the old, unruly enemy of any fascist society.
When Hanks banged out the first ELECTRIC CITY story in 2003 (on an Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter, he proudly notes), he wasn't sure what shape the work would ultimately take. He just knew he wanted to do something "deadly serious". As he explained on a conference call with a small group of journalists last week, his first inclination was to take the audio of Michael Corleone executing Sollozzo and McCluskey in THE GODFATHER, and re-stage the scene with marionettes. These are the kinds of experiments Hanks gets to conduct at his production company, Playtone, which he describes as an "idea laboratory"*. Ultimately, ELECTRIC CITY moved in a noir-ish direction, with the dystopian civilization becoming intentionally vague. Meanwhile, the narrative took on a more discursive quality. According to Hanks, "This is not a movie. It's the cultural equivalent of writing a bunch of short stories and putting them out there for people to read."
It's good to know this before you dive into the series. Though bewildering at first, the narrative and thematic threads begin to intertwine after five episodes, at which point I was hooked. There's no predicting where ELECTRIC CITY is headed because Hanks seems indifferent to telling a completely straightforward story. Sure, it gets a little more conventional as it goes along, but the strangeness of it all keeps you off balance. It's smart, surprisingly savage stuff.
As a daring new direction for Hanks as a storyteller, I asked him if he'd been inspired by his collaboration with the Wachowskis on the ambitious, genre-blending CLOUD ATLAS (due out later this year). "Well, we were all done by the time I made CLOUD ATLAS," said Hanks. "But I know exactly what you're talking about. [In developing ELECTRIC CITY] we definitely talked about the intricacies of THE MATRIX, the level-upon-level-upon-level. But I didn't know the Wachowskis at that point, so we were just talking about it as fans. And if you talked about how often we talked about Patrick McGoohan and THE PRISONER? And THE MATRIX series? Even such things as... because of the knitting society and secretive organizations, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE? Those old ladies which they see when they're hypnotized. We went back and drew on all sorts of permutations of what that is, but what we always ended up taking out of it was the fantastical, science-fictiony kind of elements to it. We also talked about the original STAR TREK, and STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION when the Borg got involved. Essentially, you've got three or four geeks sitting around a room talking about the TV shows that they really loved when they were kids. My references to THEN CAME BRONSON might've fallen on deaf ears, but whenever anyone would bring up something like THE MATRIX, everybody knew what we were talking about."
Perhaps the biggest triumph of ELECTRIC CITY is that it resists encapsulation: if reduced to a logline, it wouldn't be much, and if pitched in a traditional studio setting, it would surely befuddle the execs. When I asked Hanks what he was trying to accomplish thematically with the show (particularly within the parameters of traditional science-fiction), he broke it down like this:
"The elusive power that everybody is trying to possess and control is information. The place that radio plays in our story is not a technological one. It's not about 'There's this technology out there that is dangerous.' It's what the technology allows. In this case, it's information. Who is going to be able to lie to the masses, and have the masses believe it? That is what is at the crux. Science-fiction? I don't know what it would be called..., but the key element that both Mrs. Orwell - and you can take her name at face value - and Cleveland Carr, what they are trying to suppress is the next generation of the control of information. Right now in the Electric City, this hodgepodge of a municipality that has barely been able to eke out its survival, and is now branching out into the only form of mass communication they can muster, which is posted newspapers and the copper wires that run into the speakers inside everybody's houses. That means there are really only two sources of official news outside of gossip and black market. Official news comes to you from two sources, and two sources are relatively easy to control. Now, with the advent of radio, in which you can pick not only music and signals and sounds right out of the air, you can pick out voices, and that means you can pick news right out of the air. And who is going to be telling you that news, and is that news going to be true or not? That is the big power structure that is going to be either toppled or buttressed in the course of how ever many episodes of ELECTRIC CITY that we get to do. You take that battle, and it affects everybody's life, every one of the characters who are involved in the Electric City. So the theme that drives the plot of every episode is 'Who is going to control the information, and are those people going to be benevolent and tell the truth, or are they going to be proactively lying to promote their own agenda?' There's the Electric City in a nutshell."
And once people have that secondary news option, it comes down to deciding which truth you want to believe. If this is the direction ELECTRIC CITY is headed, it could very well end up being a keen commentary on our information-loaded twenty-four-hour news cycle. With such a broad canvas, Hanks has left himself myriad options. And he can keep going as long as he wants.
"There's no money in it," laughed Hanks. "You might be able to make the salaries of the people who help you do it, but it's literally in order to be creative. I guess money is made somewhere up the huge corporate ladder somehow, but it's like self-publishing your own poems: some of them are good, and some of them are bad. But the good ones are pretty cool."
Twenty episodes of ELECTRIC CITY are currently available on Yahoo! Screen. Dig in, and mind the knitting needles.
*And I'm all for puppet recreations of classic 1970s cinema. Seriously. Actually, I just want LAST TANGO IN PARIS. And DON'T LOOK NOW. And maybe LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR, which probably should've been done with puppets in the first place.
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July 24, 2012, 7:55 p.m. CST
I will probably check it out soon.
July 24, 2012, 8 p.m. CST
July 24, 2012, 8:04 p.m. CST
by The StarWolf
When I saw the title, I thought it referred to Electric City. No such luck. It's some computer animated thing which, while it may be quite entertaining, it's not THE Electric City. Akihabara, that is. A.k.a. Electric City/Town, it's a district in Tokyo where, if it's electronic and isn't there, then it doesn't exist. It has to be seen ... no, experienced to be believed, especially at night.
July 24, 2012, 10:45 p.m. CST
by Mullah Omar
I guess he's been doing high-gravitas, crowd-pleasing films for the Greatest Generation for so long that his neo-Jimmy Stewart reputation distracted me. This is actually very interesting. I guess he's old enough that he doesn't give a fuck what people think about what he does with his time. I'm sure his agent did a double-take when Hanks said he was going to focus on something like this - it can't be anywhere near as bankable as his typical work, and this doesn't sound like anything his core audience would really be into seeing. But big props to Hanks for just following his muse.
July 24, 2012, 10:58 p.m. CST
i know that it wouldn't make Harry happy to have a visit from anyone associated with the movie, but i imagine that it meant the world to the fans who didn't get to see it, because they were being shot at god. Bale visits the victims. Harry won't even say a word on his own website about them, because he is still angry at Nolan for not filming Batman the way he wishes it were filmed. my opinion of Bale rises as my opinion of Harry (after visiting his site since Titanic) has plummeted
July 24, 2012, 11 p.m. CST
i'll check it out
July 24, 2012, 11:03 p.m. CST
Harry is an accomplished writer running a state-of-the-art website on the internet visited by dozens of people a year. What has Christian Bale ever done that matters?
July 24, 2012, 11:07 p.m. CST
to be hanging out and Tom Hanks walks in and wants to talk about TNG.
July 24, 2012, 11:22 p.m. CST
not to discredit Bale, but its not really that big of a deal he visited the victims. when has a celebrity not ever shown up to visit with a victim (that somehow involves the celebrity)? bale is a cool dude and all, but this is not really a case of "bale is a great person"...its more like "hey bale, people died. we'll pay you to go to colorado" heres an example: kid who got shot during the "DC Sniper" time visited Tracy McGrady, his favorite bball player now, Im not saying TMac or Bale dont actually care about their fans, but Im also saying theyre in the business to make themselves look good for their fans PS: youre a fuckin idiot for mentioning Harry's review BTW. what does one person's expectations have to do with people dying and not posting dozens of articles for it? PPS: yes, some people did not enjoy the movie for very good reasons...AND I HATE THE FACT THAT I AM ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE... PPPS: ALSO I HATE HOW I AM DEFENDING HARRY. I was one of the first to call bullshit on his review, claiming he was upset he didnt get a set visit...but when I watched the movie, I realized he was completely correct IMO
July 24, 2012, 11:54 p.m. CST
he's the head geek of movie geeks and i can't believe that he has not said a word of support for his fellow geeks in that theater what does his batman review have to do with his lack of decency? he said years ago that he wasn't going to write negative reviews except in extremely exceptional situations. he was so emotional about the batman movie that he wrote a negative review of it. dozens of geeks being shot at and killed trying to watch that movie? doesn't make him emotional enough to say a fucking word. i gave him the benefit of the doubt for the weekend, because of the articles written on the site about it and because i thought that maybe he felt so awful that he couldn't speak about it. but if fucking Christian Bale can go to visit our fellow geeks in the hospital then goddamn it Harry can summon the strength to say someone on his goddamn movie geek website. i like Harry, but i am really dissapointed in him right now.
July 25, 2012, 12:18 a.m. CST
also, youre kinda forcing agendas on him (just like glaad does to the world). sure, the shooting was horrible. does Harry HAVE to mention it? no. does it do any good? no. do we need another article where the same exact sentiment will be echoed? no if you wanted to read more about the tragedy or comment on it or maybe even make a too soon joke, you have the entire internets to find a place dedicated to that this is a movie site, not a news site. although the tragedy took place in a theater, it really doesnt need to be spoken of moreso than it already has ps: you're disappointed in harry? well, me and harry (and others) are disappointed in Nolan. I am a big Nolan fan (I will call you an idiot if you dont like Dark Knight) but I am not that big of a fan that I can let him slide for making such a horribly paced movie
July 25, 2012, 1:04 a.m. CST
remember the outpouring he received from us when we found out about it? remember all of the kind words and the support that he received? remember how even the people who give him shit paused to tell Harry how much he means to us? i don't have an agenda. i have been here on AICN for nearly 15 years. i am a movie geek. i expected something supportive for my fellow movie geeks who died from Harry. something. a comment if not a whole article. something that says that he gives a fuck about not just movies but his fellow movie geeks who have given a damn about him. when Harry passes away some day. i will feel awful. i will grieve. Harry means something to the movie geek community. i just wish that the movie geek community meant something to Harry.
July 25, 2012, 1:10 a.m. CST
Sure it's imperfect, but I love the world Tom's created. Also, as someone who would like to see more ventures of this kind in the future, I feel obligated to support this one. Hope you all join me in expanding the viewership of this most ambitious series.
July 25, 2012, 1:12 a.m. CST
by Balkin Flabgurter
try the lobster..be here all week..
July 25, 2012, 1:24 a.m. CST
I read that Warner Bros. said he went on his own, not representing WB.
July 25, 2012, 2:09 a.m. CST
i really like Harry. he's dissapointing me, but, tomorrow is another day. not going to stop liking him for it.
July 25, 2012, 4:18 a.m. CST
thank you, Tom Hanks for making this!
July 25, 2012, 4:41 a.m. CST
Maybe he just needs time to put his thoughts together?
July 25, 2012, 5:11 a.m. CST
Backgrounds looked lovely, then the character designs appeared. YUK. Will perservere. Re The Shootings and AICN, chill.
AICN is a website that revolutionised the film business through its scoops and test screening reviews. This is no longer this site. A pale reflection of past glories AICN is irrelevant in movie circles. It no longer publishes scoops but relies on second hand new from other sites. Just look at Collider's news today. It no longer releases reviews that shake the business. Indeed it has become part of the business. As it embeds journos in productions (Hobbit) or adheres to embargos holding back on news it would have published years ago. The business now plays this site and this site by turning over to show its belly has simple played ball. No longer exciting AICN has lost relevance for a lot of people. Many have left for other sites. Some remain to partake in Talkbacks which are always fun due to us NOT AICN. This shooting was horrendous but as we non Americans see it, not unusual. To blame harry is bollocks. To get emotional over it is bollocks. Be upset but don't take it out on Harry. As for Harry. You aint that savvy are you?
July 25, 2012, 7:17 a.m. CST
You have no right - moral or otherwise - to judge anybody except yourself. You diminish yourself, and those values you claim to be upholding, by forcing them upon others. Please stop.
July 25, 2012, 7:19 a.m. CST
And they wonder why people still pirate shit.
July 25, 2012, 7:24 a.m. CST
well said 'borisdoris'. AICN talkbacks was THE place to yack about geekdom. Sad those days are now over.
by Shaun D Lyons
July 25, 2012, 7:25 a.m. CST
They wouldn't even open up a Talkback for TDKR - which love it or hate it needed to be discussed. Dick move.
by Shaun D Lyons
July 25, 2012, 7:42 a.m. CST
the first Tom Hanks, the one that we had in everything from scratch to Philadelphia (inclusive) was excellent. after that the bad Tom Hanks came in, making dubious choices with covert statements and things like that. i wish he would go away and we can have the good Tom Hanks back. didn't the bad Tom Hanks make a call to get Bill Paxton a part in Twister or something? see what i mean?
July 25, 2012, 10:59 a.m. CST
is he is hurting his own page views. doesn't matter to me since I have ad block anyway, but this dumbass can't even make good business decisions. which is even more odd since he has no ethics at all.
July 25, 2012, 11:54 a.m. CST
So far the best he's got is when somebody accidentally elbowed the popcorn bucket out of his hands during a screening of CANNIBAL THE MUSICAL, but he's hoping he has a more analogous situation in there somewhere.
July 25, 2012, 11:54 a.m. CST
On Rock and Roll! <br> :)
July 25, 2012, 1:57 p.m. CST
by paul burnett
Harry probably has written something about the tragedy, but i imagine Nordling and Beaks have him locked up in a room somewhere with no internet access telling him not only was his thoughts on the shooting well written and received but that his DKR review has gone down extremly well.. Keeping him in some kind of Howard Hughes limbo is probably best for everyone for the time being.
July 25, 2012, 2:10 p.m. CST
Toon Boom all over the place nowadays.:-D Looks very interesting though. Is has that same look as the 2D Star wars webseries. I loved that, too. Loving this allready.
July 25, 2012, 7:18 p.m. CST
Also Bryan Singers H+ looks extremely promising as well. Need more shows like this!!!
July 26, 2012, 2:39 a.m. CST
octaveaeon - harry is a fellow movie geek. he's not above pressure from his peers in the geek community.
he asks us to listen to him talk about his real life and i guess i just expected him to return the favor to us when it counted but, anyway. i still like harry.
July 26, 2012, 8:30 a.m. CST
still don't know what its about. I get a "Fountain" vibe mixed with a bunch of other stuff. Oh, and 164 minutes running time is not a good sign.
July 26, 2012, 11:22 a.m. CST
I knew I had you set as my homepage for a reason.... to keep me plugged in baby... :)
July 27, 2012, 8:16 p.m. CST
by Joel Gonzalez
Our modern Jimmy Stewart, once again makes us proud with this project. Sure, I want to see another WWII mini-series like the next bloke, but this will give me much pleasure.
July 29, 2012, 8:02 p.m. CST
What happened to this guy? He used to make good movies. Now is just drivel. Ah well.. at least he is rich.
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