The collaboration between American poet-artist Saul Williams and Rwandan actress-playwright Anisia Uzeyman is filled with science fiction ideas and concepts that in the past could have been attributed to writer Philip K. Dick. While dabbling in metaphysics, “Neptune Frost” challenges the viewer to open their mind to an Afrofuturistic story about a group of enslaved Colton miners who escape their captors to join a hacker collective. Executive produced by Lin Manuel Miranda and Stephen Hendel, the musical odyssey inspired by “Sarafina!” features infectious songs composed by Williams that incorporate various styles of traditional and contemporary African music including Gnawa, Inkiranya, and Afrobeat.
Fans of mainstream sci-fi will recognize hints of “The Matrix” and “Total Recall” in the futuristic story that reflects the socio-political climate of the modern world. Russia and China are still nefarious players in the hacking game while the call for free internet remains a global priority. However, there are no dazzling special effects in “Neptune” as in the aforementioned Hollywood blockbusters, instead, the illusion of the world to come is created by the innovative costumes by designer Cedric Mizero who grew up in a small village in the Western Province of Rwanda.
Using computer parts and scrap junk fused with metallic materials (I was hit with flashbacks of the 90s rave scene), Mizero balances the flashy costumes with muted colors seen in other dystopian thrillers such as “Mad Max: Fury Road” which earned Jenny Beavan the second of her three Oscars for Best Costume Design. Like Beavan, the bold and exotic designs by Mizero play an integral role in the film’s production. Also noteworthy is the hair and makeup by Tanya Melendez who uses a minimal approach to create a big impact.
The film opens with enslaved Burundi miners harvesting the mineral Coltan which is an essential element in the production of capacitors used in everything from computers to cell phones. Nice touch Mr. Williams. This being a technology-based musical, it’s one of the many references that ground the science fiction film.
When a miner named Tekno is killed by a guard, his brother Matalusa (Kaya Free) flees the authoritarian regime to join a hacker collective living in an e-waste dump. His story takes up half of the narrative which also follows the journey and transformation of Neptune an intersex runaway played by both Elvis Ngabo and Cheryl Isheja. They are the Neo and Trinity of this story; their union is essential in fighting the dictatorial regime known as The Authority. They form the Martyr Loser Kingdom, a peaceful collective that grows in numbers. And while they may not have access to the weapons used by their oppressors, they have technology on their side including the internet which is just as valuable as the spice mined on the planet Arrakis in “Dune.”
At times “Neptune Frost” may be hard to follow with all the technospeak, but no worries, the songs by composer and co-director Saul Williams are the film’s driving force. Incorporating various forms of traditional African music with contemporary rhythms found in Afrobeat and EDM, the film challenges the viewer to stay seated and remain silent. On more than one occasion I found myself chanting along to William’s poetic lyrics while moving in my seat to the contagious groove.
(3 ½ stars)
Now showing at the Texas Theater with showtimes on Saturday and Sunday