William Gibson’s classic cyberpunk short story ‘New Rose Hotel’ was originally published in Omni Magazine in July of 1984, the same month his genre breaking novel Neuromancer was published, and again in 1986 in the collection Burning Chrome. It took fourteen years for this adaptation, written and directed by Abel Ferrara, to see realisation in 1998.
The story of New Rose Hotel follows X (Willem Dafoe) and Fox (Christopher Walken) in their efforts to get star geneticist Hiroshi Yomiuri to defect from Maas BioLabs GmbH to rival company Hosaka. To entice Hiroshi away from Maas they enlist the aid of the cunningly beautiful Sandii (Asia Argento).
Fox was formerly a pretty hot agent in the corporate defection game. X is an almost was. Both are looking for that one big score to set them up for good and this Yomiuri job seems like their ticket. The problem is Yomirui’s wife; because of her Yomiuri is firmly attached to Maas BioLabs.
That is until the pair find Sandii in a bar. Fox sees Sandii as the tool they need to lure Yomiuri away from his wife and subsequently Maas. X, however, sees Sandii as something much more precious.
In the planning of the defection of Yomiuri, X becomes more and more infatuated with Sandii. Fox warns him not to allow his feeling for Sandii to affect their job, but X cannot help himself. Despite their involvement, Sandii still has a job to do and X knows this.
The defection of Yomiuri goes as planned and he is whisked away to a new lab set up by Hosaka in Marrakech, Fox and X get their fee allowing them to start living the easy life. This is not the end of the story.
New Rose Hotel is a well acted film. Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe play their roles well, each understanding the sort of energy needed to capture the feel this future world has. They bring to life a pair of fast talking, fast dealing, corporate hustlers looking for an Edge with skill. Asia Argento in playing Sandii is equally well suited to play a woman allowing herself to be used for her looks; or so she lets on.
As an adaptation of the original story New Rose Hotel is fairly accurate. In writing the script Ferrara didn’t alter the broad sweep of the plot or the characters. What he did do, though, is alter where the focus should have been placed. Rather than focusing on the plan and execution of the Yomiuri defection, Ferrara places heavy focus on the relationship between X and Sandii. In Gibson’s original story there is a balance between the two threads. In the adaptation the relationship grossly overshadows the defection.
In neglecting the defection part of the story Ferrara misses the mark of what cyberpunk embodies. He has turned what could have been a hard edged look at what Gibson’s vision of the future is into a rather melodramatic and somewhat dull romance film. Despite this shift in focus, New Rose Hotel could have been closer to the mark and more entertaining with a few alterations.
One of the defining elements of cyberpunk are the worlds it inhabits. With some good set decoration and some improved costuming elements New Rose Hotel could have at least looked more cyberpunk. As it is, outside of a few shots, the world of Ferrara’s New Rose Hotel looks like any average city anywhere. The interiors, for the most part, look like Holiday Inn rooms, and the clothing was very off the peg Marks & Spencer’s.
New Rose Hotel should have been one of Gibson’s easier stories to adapt as there is very little mention of technology and no cyberspace hacking at all. There is no great need for flashy special effects at all, but it does require a certain attitude in what is shown and how it is shown. Instead this adaptation is lacking in firm cyberpunk vibe.
If you are a diehard cyberpunk fan like I am then I would say watch New Rose Hotel, once. If you aren’t heavily steeped in cyberpunk fiction and lore give New Rose Hotel a pass. New Rose Hotel is a disappointing experience and not one I would care to repeat.