Wim Wenders' sprawling cyberpunk noir epic -- shot in no less than nine different countries -- is set in 1999 and stars Solveig Dommartin as Claire, a young Frenchwoman who comes into contact with a large sum of money stolen during a bank heist; in her travels she picks up a mysterious American hitchhiker (William Hurt), who himself steals some of the money before parting from her company.
The hitchhiker is really Sam Farber, the son of an underground scientist (Max Von Sydow), and his mission is to travel the globe in order to acquire the funding necessary to develop the technology which will allow his blind mother (Jeanne Moreau) to see visual recordings of her family members; the second half of the film takes place largely in the Farbers' compound in the Australian Outback, where Sam, Claire and the others take refuge while attempting to bring the sight project to its fruition, in the meantime pondering earth's future in the wake of a nuclear disaster in outer space.
Wenders' most ambitious film to date, budgeted at $23 million, Until the End Of the World is also among his most seriously flawed efforts -- despite a keen sense of cultural perception, a fascinating sci-fi take on life in the near-future and stunning Robby Muller cinematography, the picture never quite gels.
Much of the blame seems to fall upon its distributors -- upon its wide release in 1991, the movie was drastically cut to a running time of 2 1/2 hours, resulting in a disjointed narrative that doesn't shift gears so much as grind them as the action moves from country to country.
Still, while a three-hour version, issued on laserdisc in Japan, comes closer to realizing the full scope of Wenders' epic vision, rumors of a five-hour director's cut -- said to have been screened to thunderous applause at a handful of film festivals -- continue to persist, suggesting that a masterpiece may well exist here after all.