Impressive Looking Cyberpunk With Rich Worldbuilding
I haven’t read the novel upon which this show is based, so I can’t comment on whether or not this is a faithful adaptation; I am, however, a huge fan of the sci-fi subgenre commonly known as “cyberpunk” (in case you’re not familiar with the term, think of films/stories set in an urban, dystopian high-tech future like ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Akira’, ‘Ghost In The Shell’, ‘Strange Days’ or ‘The Matrix’ and you get the idea), and as such I can absolutely testify to the fact that ‘Altered Carbon’ is one impressive looking example of that particular brand of science fiction.
What stands out right from the start is the worldbuilding. Many of the characters have complicated backstories that are crucial to the plot, and the rich history of their world is equally important, but what this series does remarkably well is show rather than tell. Instead of relying on lengthy monologues for exposition which have a tendency to weigh a story down and make the narrative lose momentum, we get the clues we need via flashbacks or just by seeing and learning about this world through the eyes of the protagonists. And what a world it is: the production values are insane, especially considering this is a TV show. There is so much eye candy for a sci-fi nerd like me; nearly every shot is packed with such an abundance of visual information that I had to hit pause several times to take it all in.
But the world of ‘Altered Carbon’ isn’t just “decorated” with visual effects and future tech to make it look cool (though it DOES look very cool); everything we see has a function and is there for a reason. It feels real and has that “lived-in” look that even big-budget Hollywood productions rarely get right. What I should probably also mention is that this is a hard R-rated show (if this were a feature film, it would actually perhaps be closer to a NC-17 than an R) which doesn’t hold back in terms of sex and violence. Also, if you’re not familiar with the genre or used to a more straight forward narrative where everything is explained to you, ‘Altered Carbon’ may initially feel a bit confusing or even overwhelming, because you’re being thrown head first into a strange new world where you – like the protagonist – have to process an overload of information in order to get a sense of orientation. Stick with it though, and things will start to become clearer.
As for the plot itself, I won’t give anything away here; it’s enough to know that it starts with the protagonist being brought back from “retirement” to solve a murder mystery. But unlike the grand daddy of all cyberpunk films, ‘Blade Runner’, this has less of a brooding, “noir” vibe to it; instead it’s an action-heavy, at times pulpy but very densely plotted story with lots of colorful characters and so much going on that it doesn’t drag for a second.
To sum it all up: for sci-fi and cyberpunk fans this show is a must; for all other carbon-based life-forms, well, it may not be an “altering” experience, but if you don’t give up after the first couple of episodes you could be in for a nice surprise. 8 stars out of 10 from me.