10 Reasons to watch Netflix's Altered Carbon
PUBLISHED: 10:30 20 February 2018 | UPDATED: 10:30 20 February 2018
Altered Carbon's author Richard K Morgan is from Norfolk which is just one (OK, two) of the 10 reasons we put forward as to why you should watch the Netflix series that everyone is talking about
After 250 years, freedom fighter Takeshi Kovacs awakens – in a new body – and is tasked with solving the murder of a filthy rich, long-lived oligarch with a God complex.
There’s a lot to digest in that sentence, so I feel it’s only right to confuse you further: the murder victim (the aforementioned filthy rich, long-lived oligarch with a God complex, Laurens Bancroft) is alive and well. In fact it’s Bancroft, oozing in arrogance and smarm, who is the one to enlist Takeshi to track down his murderer.
Still with me? Grand. Allow me to introduce you to Altered Carbon, a science-fiction extravaganza now streaming on Netflix, starring Suicide Squad’s Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi and James Purefoy of The Following as Laurens.
Altered Carbon takes us to 2384 and the status quo – unsurprisingly – has changed.
Humans are able to live indefinitely (provided they’re eye-wateringly rich) by downloading their consciousness into a new body. The words of the day are “stacks” and “sleeves”: a stack – essentially a memory stick with a person on it – sits in the back of your neck, storing your consciousness. Therefore, if your sleeve – your body – dies, spontaneously combusts, gets too old, gets hit by a blimp, insert your own personal disaster, you can download yourself into a new sleeve and carry on living. And breathe.
While on the surface, Altered Carbon looks like a simple* whodunnit in a spectacular setting, it is not only a hell of a lot crazier than that, it’s considerably more interesting as well. So, assuming your mind has not been frazzled and your curiosity has been piqued, let us delve into some of the reasons why this sci-fi spectacle is most definitely worth your time.
* I use the term ‘simple’ in the loosest terms.
Ten reasons why you should watch Altered Carbon
1) The author of the book on which Altered Carbon is based moves among us (he lives in East Anglia): Richard K. Morgan’s novel of the same name has taken its own sweet time to come to the screen. In 2002, when I was eight years old and Netflix didn’t exist, the book was optioned for a feature film. Richard didn’t envisage he’d be waiting until 2018 to see Takeshi on screen: “I blithely assumed said feature film would hit the screens in, well – y’know, the next year and a half, say,” he said, “the next two or three years at the very outside – right? I’ve been waiting ever since.” After 16 years, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel happy for Richard seeing his “wildest dreams come true” having waited so long. So, let’s throw in a local link to make things even better. The author lives five miles from where he grew up in Hethersett – returning after spells in Madrid, Istanbul, Ankara, London and Glasgow – with travel to the Americas, Africa and Australia thrown in for good measure. You just can’t beat Norfolk, can you? I feel it’s important to stress that I am by no means a stalker. I have gained all of this information from Richard’s website.
2) The spectacle of it all: Altered Carbon looks fantastic (aka expensive) and delivers an outlandish vision of a futuristic world. From the paradises of the immortal, filthy rich, to the grit and grime of the seedy underground fight clubs, to the hopelessness and isolation facing the impoverished and the diseased, every segment of this world has been mapped out in the finest detail. No expense has been spared: there are spaceships, there are gizmos, there are gadgets, there is gorgeous cinematography, there are crazy visuals, there is nutty action. Altered Carbon has it all. It should be noted that it makes the most of the advantages Netflix streaming has to offer with plenty of nakedness and violence – including a samurai fight which combines both. That ticks a few off several people’s bucket lists.
3) It’s full of fascinating ideas: This is a society where the human body is so devalued, it is pretty much a product. If you break one, you can just get another. This leads to some mindblowing questions that the series sets about exploring - can the rich ever die? How does living indefinitely impact you? Should you bring people back from the dead? What happens if you end up in someone else’s body? How do you connect with yourself? What happens if you come face-to-face with your own body? How would this new state of play impact the human race? Altered Carbon embraces this and proves incredibly fascinating in delivering its vision for the future, from the differences between rich and poor, to the way in which politics and religion has changed, from misogynist power, and especially identity, the series covers every detail, embraces each part and ensures this futuristic premise is worth the endeavour.
4) Edgar Allan Poe: Among all the futuristic weirdness that Altered Carbon has to offer, the highlight comes with an AI smart enough to power, serve and protect an entire hotel. It’s an AI that adopts a physical form through inhabiting the psyche of master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe, a role delightfully played by Chris Conner (American Crime Story).
5) Did I mention the author grew up in Norfolk? HE IS OUR PEOPLE!
6) Those science-fiction influences: I am borderline religious in my adoration of Star Wars, so much so, I may have a problem: but that’s a discussion for another day. It should, therefore, go without saying that I am a sucker for good science-fiction and Altered Carbon is bulging at the seams with different influences, sporting distinct Blade Runner vibes, a dab of the aforementioned intergalactic behemoth and even a fair bit of The Matrix.
7) A sassy grandma inhabits the body of a beardy skinhead with a nose ring: Need I say more?
8) A fabulous cast: You’d have to be living under a rock not to see diversity is a pretty big deal in the world of film and TV at the moment. Altered Carbon steps up to the plate with a varied and diverse cast – presenting the future as diverse as it surely will be – each of whom are thankfully very good at what they do. This is especially handy, considering you may be tasked with playing a woman in a man’s body, a man in a woman’s body, someone in someone else’s body or potentially three different personalities in a lone episode. Joel Kinnaman leads the way with a glowering, growly performance as present day Takeshi, while Will Yun Lee (The Wolverine) adds charm and depth in a series of flashbacks, helping to flesh out an interesting backstory. Three badass ladies – Martha Higareda as Kristin Ortega, a fiery detective, Renee Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton) as Quellcrist Falconer, a rebel leader, and Hayley Law as Lizzie Elliott, someone with an increasingly compelling story – are undoubtedly a highlight, coming close to stealing the show. Then there’s James Purefoy, showing he’s lost none of his Joe Carroll smarm from The Following with a gloriously arrogant performance, while Ato Essandoh is great as an eventually ally of Takeshi’s.
9) The unicorn backpack: Have you ever seen a burly, broad-shouldered, bone-breaking machine – Kinnaman as Takeshi, FYI – doing his bone-breaking thing with a pink, cutesy, unicorn backpack over his shoulder? You will in Altered Carbon. No need to thank me.
10) The things I can’t say: Altered Carbon wades through its early episodes in slow, slightly bumpy fashion at times. This is understandable. There’s a lot to unpack. There’s plenty to set up. However, once it’s done this – something done by around episode four – what was initially a mildly entertaining murder mystery which delved into some pretty neat science-fiction devices suddenly evolves into a multi-layered plot with some compelling conspiracies at its centre. The second-half of the series is great. It’s a wholly satisfying story and becomes a bingeworthy experience. Episodes four to10 show Altered Carbon for all it can be, seamlessly transitioning from different memories, different worlds and different characters. It really begins to find its groove. Not only is a great end to an entertaining first series delivered, but the potential for future instalments really shines through. AND he’s from Norfolk. Did I say?