The Mind’s Eye [US 1990]

Info: I embedded the full movie below.

THE PLOT

The Mind’s Eye is an experimental short film that consists of various commercial computer-generated short segments that have been assembled to thematically tell a rudimentary story. The animated shorts were mostly produced in the late 1980s and feature landscapes, architecture, animals, and surrealistic figures. While most shorts are only 10-20 seconds long – as many were primarily produced for promotional purposes – they are assembled into longer episodes, e.g. about prehistoric animals or about a futuristic city, each running several minutes.

WHAT I LIKE

Although having a pretty long runtime for an experimental short film (Note: this review discusses the 50-minute RadioShack version), the episodes are often fascinating to watch. When the episode structure works, it creates an intriguingly coherent vision, e.g. the thematically matching shorts “Digicom”, “State of Ohio Development Promo”, “California Electric”, and “NHK News Today”. Here, the smaller shorts create a futuristic urban landscape that looks stunning. It’s also interesting to watch so many computer-generated shorts for nostalgic reasons, making the film feel like a time capsule – even if the featured shorts were not always state-of-the-art in 1990.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

As most shorts were produced during the late 1980s, by 2020 standards, the technical limitations are apparent. Obviously, the computer-generated images are technically outdated, however, some segments have aged worse than others and are cringeworthy (e.g., the figures in “Aloi” or “Previews of Coming Attractions”) and sometimes the assembled scenes feel random and incoherent, especially the “Embryo” and “Lorelei” segments in the latter half. Also, the MIDI soundtrack, very much reminiscent of early 16-bit video games, is borderline tolerable (e.g., “Max Trax”).

WHY IT MATTERS

The short film was the first effort by director Jan Nickman, as he wanted to demonstrate that computer animation can be a form of art. During that time, computer animation and video games were still mostly popular with children and teenagers (e.g., some of the biggest video game releases of 1990 include Super Mario World, Wing Commander, and Sim City) and computer-generated effects were only rarely used in movies (e.g., the blockbuster The Abyss [1989] had the first digital water effects and Terminator 2: Judgment Day [1991] featured the first fully animated character). As the movie was popular on home video, its sequels even featured computer animated scenes of movies, e.g. Johnny Mnemonic [1995] and The Lawnmover Man [1992] – the latter even being influenced by the original The Mind’s Eye. Animation-wise, the assembled shorts mostly weren’t state-of-the-art, especially when considering that Pixar had already produced several shorts, i.e. The Adventures of André & Wally B. [1984], Luxo Jr. [1986], Red’s Dream [1987], the academy award winning Tin Toy [1988], and Knick Knack [1989]. Still, The Mind’s Eye was probably the first attempt to create a completely computer-generated work of art.

THE VERDICT

The Mind’s Eye is an experimental short film featuring several computer-generated episodes, that were mainly produced as promotional or commercial material in the late 1980s. Although some episodes are fascinating to watch and a fun throwback to the rudimentary technical possibilities during those days, the structure is generally not coherent and only rarely elevates the film. In addition, most material used wasn’t even state-of-the-art in 1990 and the range in quality is extremely broad. Still, the short film is a fun reminder of the days in which computer-generated images were still rarely used in movies and not considered a form of art.

Overall 6/10

INTERESTING FACTS

 – The short film was distributed by BMG and by RadioShack. However, the versions differ, as the latter features additional segments and is considered technically superior (e.g., more saturated colors, higher framerate). The BMG home video release only included 46 video segments (+ 8 untitled), whereas the RadioShack extended version featured 70 video segments (+22 untitled), making it about 10 minutes longer.

 – The original short film in a series of art movies that assembled computer generated shorts. The computer animation sequences that appeared in the films were generally not produced specifically for the Mind’s Eye series but rather were work originally created for other purposes, including demo reels, commercials, music videos, and feature films

 – The soundtracks were composed by, among others, Kerry Livgren, guitarist and founding member of the band Kansas.

 – As the movie was popular, it spawned several direct sequels: Beyond the Mind’s Eye [1992], The Gate to the Mind’s Eye [1994], and Odyssey Into The Mind’s Eye [1996]. Additionally, director Nickman created various spin-offs, i.e. Virtual Nature: A Computer Generated Visual Odyssey From the Makers of the Mind’s Eye [1993], The Mind’s Eye Presents Luminous Visions [1998], The Mind’s Eye Presents Ancient Alien [1998], and The Mind’s Eye Presents Little Bytes [2000].

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