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8th Wonderland
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by Jay Seaver

"An activist future that may not be too far off."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The "virtual country" has been a favorite device of science fiction authors for a while now. The idea is that an online community would grow large and organized (and, perhaps, wealthy) enough to be more of a player on the world stage than nations defined by geography. "8th Wonderland" transplants the idea to film, and while I don't know that the concept is as viable or inevitable as it's often presented as being, it's an interesting idea to play with.

The film opens on channel-surfing, from a documentary about cockroaches with chips implanted to news coverage of a South American election. There is another election going on, though, in the on-line community "8th Wonderland", directly tied to the real-world one. They end at the same time, and then the movie flashes back a few months. 8th Wonderland was a bit smaller then, and while its activities initially came off as pranks - installing condom dispensers in Catholic churches, for instance - they soon began to acquire more muscle in their attempts to strike blows for justice. Things get complicated in a hurry - American opportunist "John McClane" (Matthew Géczy) claims to have started the community, but those within have never heard of him, and appoint David (Robert William Bradford) as their Ambassador to the world. When they strike against a multinational corporation, the nations of the world start to take them seriously, as terrorists - and even though all activities were approved democratically, some members find themselves agreeing.

8th Wonderland starts out with the more sinister possibilities of this kind of rogue international organization, but without that flash-forward, it would be starting off as a comedy, as many of the initial operations are pretty entertaining, and play off both the idea that nations have a hard time fighting their jesters and how it can be difficult for those jesters to keep the attention of a public with a twenty-first century attention span. Even as they get into more direct intervention, such as Ludmilla (Irina Ninova) interceding as the translator in a meeting between Russian and Iranian Presidents - the film is still, initially, very funny.

Though writer/directors Nicolas Alberny and Jean Mach generally present 8th Wonderland as a positive force for change in the world, they also don't shy away from the idea that power - and perhaps more importantly, success - can corrupt. At some point, the characters in this movie will cross a line that makes the audience uncomfortable, although it may not be the same point for everybody. Robert William Bradford's performance shows David becoming more confident after initially being terrified in the role of ambassador, and in a way that's not always positive. The whole thing becomes something of a primer on radicalization, as we see moderate voices leaving in disgust, leaving the organization more and more in the hands of the radicals.

8th Wonderland is described as having a million members, but Alberny and Mach generally focus on a relatively small group, presumably the inner circle. Their communications are presented to us in visually nifty cyberspace graphics, although, interestingly, we never actually get a look at the 8th Wonderland website beyond the opening screen, and I don't know how what we see would translate to something people actually use. Whether or not it's a realistic depiction of the internet - and scenes when NSA operative/8th Wonderland member Dawson (Dimitri Michelsen) tries to converse vocally despite being in an office full of people looking to track the sie down look pretty darn silly - it's a good visual representation of what's going on.

There's a nice cast of characters, mostly speaking English, and the group remains relatively sympathetic even as their ideas escalate in large part because it's members do. Alain Azerot and Ahlima Mhamdi, in particular, are likable screen presences as members from Senegal and somewhere in the middle east. Sarah Lloyd is often good comic relief as a member who is not the sharpest tool in the shed. Géczy hits just the right smarmy note as McClane, helping to keep the audience guessing as to whether he's meant to be an opportunist or something more sinister.

Even if it often departs from plausibility, "8th Wonderland" at least gives the audience plenty of food for thought on how we're going to define community in the twenty-first century, and what form activism may possibly take when the targets are so vast. That alone makes the movie a success in many ways, but to do that while also being extremely entertaining makes it a real winner.

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originally posted: 07/23/09 02:44:07
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/16/10 David Utterly, utterly dire. 1 stars
10/18/09 Bob Manley Thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking. Absolutely deserving of wider release. 5 stars
7/27/09 John Jackson Awsome, amazing, intelligent and credible despite the fictional intention. 5 stars
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