With the flip of the calendar page, Netflix has removed Aeon Flux from its streaming services. Naturally, I had to watch it, despite my better instincts.

The algorithm on the streaming service thought I might like this movie. They said it was 57% like the other stuff I tend to watch. They helpfully colored the “57” green so that I’d know that was a good thing. The DVD-based ranking, on the other hand, says its a 3.4, which all else being equal, I consider right on the edge of watchable. For me, however, they guess that I would rank it a 2.2. Now having viewed it, I’d respond that this was about right.

Aeon Flux is a film version of a string of cartoon shorts airing on MTV (at least, in the United States). I can’t say I’ve ever seen the cartoons. They were a rough contemporary of the Beavis and Butt-Head shows airing (cabling?) on what MTV called Liquid Television. The latter was an attempt to focus on a more adult-oriented content (via animation) to be shown during later hours. Aeon Flux was featured regularly in Liquid Television‘s first season, albeit as “episodes” lasting around two minutes each. The show was abstract and artsy, seemingly referencing, albeit obliquely, deeper and (presumably) meaningful concepts. It developed a faithful following.

The original was created as three seasons, originally shown 1991 through 1995. The third season consisted of traditional, 30-minute (including adverting breaks) episodes. At the end of this run, various official spin-offs (on top of the usual fan generated material) were created and a deal was struck to license the material for a full-length film. This arrangement immediately met with push-back as the rumor was that the film’s story would be a significant departure from the “universe” of the comic.

It would take ten years for the film to be released and, as predicted, it did not do very well in terms of honoring its source material. The series’ creator, Peter Chung, was involved with the film but has said he was disappointed in the script and even more disappointed in the final product – calling it a “travesty.” The writers for the film’s screenplay as well as the director complained that the studio made significant changes in the final edit, resulting in a departure from their artistic vision. Chung, too, acknowledges that the studio edit was also a significant factor in the disappointment he felt in the film vis-à-vis the source cartoon.

And disappointment it was. It was rejected by the critics, shunned by fans, and failed to turn a profit. While a $52.3 million box office take may be nothing to sneeze at, it is estimated that $65 million went into the project.

As I began watching the film, I had no idea what I was looking at. As I said, I was entirely unfamiliar with the source material, so I wasn’t trying to fit what I saw into any preconceived structure. My first impression was that it was an attempt to remake art-house science fiction from the 70s, but with 2005 CGI and post-Matrix martial arts sequences. I then wondered if maybe it wasn’t all supposed to be a fantasy/dream sequence (again, derived from The Matrix). The original cartoon is set in a nearly-inconceivable future some 5,000-6,000 years ahead. The movie is 410 years into the future, a handful of generations past a global catastrophe and rebuilding of society. What this means is that the technology of the film version of the story is a mix of the conceivable, the appropriately science-fiction, and the impossibly futuristic. Perhaps that is forgivable because there doesn’t seem to be any depth to that story. Aeon Flux is mostly action/fighting and in this it exemplifies the worst of its kind. Lots of punching and shooting, largely ineffective against named characters but immediately deadly to the extras and various “red shirts.”

About half way through, I began to discover there was a story line. It was interesting enough to get me watching to the end to “solve” the mystery. It wasn’t interesting enough to be satisfying. In the end, this movie wasn’t worth my watching it but I suppose it actually required my seeing it to know exactly why – especially given its history as an MTV cartoon series.

The old Netflix, DVD algorithm seemed to capture this, although it wouldn’t be capable of groking the details. As you know, I despise the new (streaming) algorithm, but its accuracy is inhibited by the fact that I refuse to give it any input. “Thumbs up” or “thumbs down” can’t possibly capture how I feel about something I’ve just watched, so I never put in neither. Netflix therefore assumes (I assume) that everything I’ve watched, I watched because I liked it. I’m also convinced (without any proof whatsoever) that the new Netflix algorithm is based on its key word matching. It puts the streaming content into Genres and then adds descriptors (e.g. “This film is Mind-Bending, Exciting”). The implication is if I liked one “Exciting” film, I ought to like them all. Actually, I find even the classification system objectionable, independent of how much it is or isn’t used to rate the content.

If nothing else, this exercise seemed to confirm what I already do. I ignore almost any recommendation from Netflix streaming while taking the Netflix DVD ratings as the most accurate system out there.