The Sci-Fi Cyberpunk Flop Saved By Black & White

By Brian Myers | Published

Johnny mnemonic

If you’re old enough to remember Hollywood films in the 1990s, you’ll most likely recall the string of movie hits that made Keanu Reeves a household name. But one of the most unsung films of his career, the 1995 sci-fi feature Johnny Mnemonic, is one that has long since swept into the dustbin of cinematic history.

Johnny Mnemonic With Keanu Reeves

Johnny Mnemonic‘s issues were largely due to disappointing results at the box office coupled with another Reeves film released shortly beforehand experiencing an unexpected success.

A new generation of fans are now able to experience what director Robert Longo originally wanted to do with the film before being at odds with the film studio; a black and white version of the movie that totally changes how audiences will perceive it.

The Movie In Black And White

Johnny mnemonic

In the years since Johnny Mnemonic was first released, many who remember seeing it recall it being a mockery.

But Longo was determined to do something for the 25th anniversary of the film, which was why he and the film’s original producer, Don Carmody, got permission from Sony Pictures (the parent company of TriStar) to release the film frame-by-frame in the way that Longo originally envisioned it; in black and white.

Johnny Mnemonic’s Bad Timing

keanu reeves johnny mnemonic

Robert Longo revealed the production squabbles he endured with TriStar Pictures and how he quickly lost a lot of creative control over Johnny Mnemonic.

After he and screenwriter William Gibson (who also penned the 1981 short story of the same name that the film is based upon) came up short trying to get funding for a low-budget version of the movie, Sony Pictures unexpectedly gave the two filmmakers a green light to produce it on a budget of $26 million.

While seeming like a blessing at first, the overnight success of the film’s star, Keanu Reeves, soon erased the joy Gibson and Longo were experiencing.

Speed Resets Expectations For Johnny Mnemonic

keanu reeves speed feature

Prior to filming Johnny Mnemonic, Reeves had starred in the action thriller Speed. Eager to use Reeves to help vault the film to equal success, Longo explained that too many people were making too many decisions, ultimately sacrificing the integrity of what could have been a great contribution to the genre.

Instead, TriStar Pictures was left with a movie that was largely panned by critics and made director Longo somewhat of a pariah in the industry.

Meticulous Work

Johnny mnemonic

Despite Longo’s enthusiasm for the project, the black-and-white version wasn’t ready for the film’s 25th anniversary in 2020.

But the meticulous work that he and colorist Cyrus Stowe put into this version of Johnny Mnemonic wasn’t too far off schedule.

It debuted at the Tribeca and Rockaway Film Festivals in 2021, and a year later this cut of the movie became available on Blu-ray.

A New Generation Of Fans

Johnny mnemonic

Admitting that the original release of Johnny Mnemonic was roughly 50% of what he envisioned for the film, Longo says that he’s happy with his decision to have a do-over with the Keanu Reeves feature in black and white.

Erasing the color from this dystopian science fiction thriller does wonders for it and has resulted in a new generation of fans.

Source: Screen Slate