TNB Night Owl–Electric Dreams

Wheel of cheese cut and stacked in front of a stone wall. Photo by Alexander Maasch.

ELECTRIC DREAMS is a cutting-edge yberpunk miniseries developed for Amazon, based on the short stories of Philip K. Dick. The various episodes are insightful, and some chilling and layered.

This is not that ELECTRIC DREAMS.

No, tonight’s Night Owl is about the ELECTRIC DREAMS from 1984. It’s not a chilling science fiction parable but a romantic comedy. And yet it deals with a similar theme, that of technology encroaching on our lives. It just does it in a much cuter way.

Our hero, Miles, is an engineer working on building the ultimate earthquake-proof brick. He’s a workaholic with almost non-existent social skills. Despite his technophobia, Miles decides he needs to get one of those newfangled computers that recently hit the market. He finds one that will make coffee, help with engineering, and even work as an alarm clock. It sounds too good to be true, but he goes for it anyway.

Within the next few days, the computer box gets dropped, blasted with an infodump, and has champagne poured into it. This, of course, leads to the computer being somewhat self-aware. When this happens in movies, one of two things can happen. The movie can go the way of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY with the menacing HAL. This movie does not. Instead, the computer (voiced by the great Bud Cort of HAROLD AND MAUDE fame) becomes endearing, innocently sweet as it tries to discover the intricacies of the human world.

A young cellist (Virginia Madsen in her second feature role) moves into a neighboring apartment. Of course both Miles and his computer fall in love with her, with the computer being the more successful of the two suitors. Through the next hour or so of the movie the computer and Miles learn what it means to be human, and what love truly is.

The problem with basing a movie on the latest technology is how dated it can become. There’s a great humor to seeing this “groundbreaking” computer that has less memory than in the microchip of a Hatchimal. It is fun in a nostalgic way to be reminded of the early days of computers, when most people had no idea what “artificial intelligence” was, and would be shocked to see a desktop computer on someone’s desk.

Dated or not, the love story itself is rather kind and good natured. There is no bad guy; every character is likable in their own faulty, bumbling way. You aren’t looking for any existential angst. The inevitable ending is satisfying and pure-hearted. Even though it sometimes borders on saccharine, the actors give such honest performances that they can get away with the naive sweetness.

ELECTRIC DREAMS was written by Rusty Lemorande who went on to write the screenplay for the Michael Jackson epic CAPTAIN EO. It was the first feature film directed by Steve Barron who was responsible for some of the greatest of the early music videos, including Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science”, Toto’s “Africa” and “Roseanna”, and Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out.” Combined with the Giorgio Moroder synth-pop music and this was a movie almost destined to come out of the mid-80s. Not only does it have the pop music montage scene two thirds of the way in as so many did, but three. Sure, it was blatant filler. But if you love 80s music, they’re fun to sit through.

Ultimately, this is one cheesy movie I have no problem recommending to start the weekend:

Question of the night: what was your first computer?

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