November 05, 2004

One premise, two movies

Boy. Girl. Jealous computer.

Two movies take this basic storyline on divergent paths: Virtual Girl (1998) and Electric Dreams (1984). What a difference 15 years makes.

Lets start with the sweet stuff first. Almost nobody saw Electric Dreams when it first premiered, which is a shame because this is a charming love story with a SciFi-ish twist. In it, an architect named Miles buys his first PC (in the days before PC's were everywhere), with plans to control his entire home with it. Of course, things get screwed up right from the start, since almost the first thing he has to do at setup is input his name. He mistypes it, and for the rest of the flick the computer calls him "Moles". The PC gradually builds itself a male personna and things seem to be reasonably under control (with amusing exceptions here and there).

Then a new neighbor moves into the apartment downstairs. Madeline hits it off with Moles Miles, and also with Miles' computer without realizing it. The computer becomes jealous over the relationship between Miles and Madeline, and an interesting if improbable love triangle develops. When Miles realizes that the mysterious 'other man' is his own PC, he tries to take control of the situation and all hell breaks loose. I said this was a sweet movie, and there is a happy ending.

Electric Dreams is one of those movies that stuck with me and I'm not sure why. It bills itself as a fairy tale, which is as good a description as any. The soundtrack is pure 80's with a strong European lean, the story is fun and interesting, the special effects are ok (considering their age), and the acting is better than average. If you get a chance, grab a bottle of wine and a blanket big enough for two and cuddle up with your snuggle buddy for this one.

Note: in the end credits, the movie is dedicated to UNIVAC 1, one of the earliest supercomputers of the 1950's.

Virtual Girl is a modern, raunchier movie that's based on the same basic plot elements. I caught it on late-night cable, so the fact that there's plenty of nudity and softcore sex wasn't a surprise. What was a surprise was how much plot there actually was. To be sure, this isn't a good movie, but it's far above the usual late-night skinflick trash that's on.

A hotshot programmer is given the task of debugging a virtual sex simulation. The underlying rationale makes sense, and the scene between him and his boss arguing over it was a nice touch and unexpected in this type of movie.

Where you'd usually see the lead male actor panting in anticipation for every woman in sight, this guy is happily married. They have a baby, and near the beginning there's a brief attempt to show him as a devoted family man. Mostly the baby is used as a prop to advance the storyline when necessary - evil threatens baby! Ratchet up the tension.

Once again, the computer becomes jealous of the man. More correctly, the computer software is the jealous partner this time. Virtuality is her name ("Just call me Virtue"), and she starts to influence reality and cause problems in interesting ways.

The special effects in this one are way beyond what you'll see in Electric Dreams, but still fall short of today's best efforts. The best bits are when Virtue morphs from one girl to another ("What do you want? blonde cheerleader? brunette amazon? Anything you desire."). I have a quirky taste in women, so I'll admit that the lead actress is good looking enough but did absolutely nothing for me.

So there you have it. I recommend Electric Dreams, and if your tastes run in that direction you could do worse than Virtual Girl.

Posted by Ted at November 5, 2004 04:40 AM
Category: Cult Flicks

Who HASN'T seen Electric Dreams?

Posted by: Kyle at November 5, 2004 08:32 AM

I haven't seen either one of those. I'll need to check them out. In a similar vein was Demon Seed, about a computer that takes over the house and the housewife, too (I'm sure you've seen it. If not, it may be worth your unique B-movie-review treatment).

Posted by: JohnL at November 5, 2004 01:56 PM
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