Electric Dreams - DVD reviewI was 14 when Electric Dreams hit the Village Twin at Blacktown and I took myself off to see it largely because a) I saw everything and b) it combined two of my burgeoning interests by featuring a winsome blonde in a plot about DIY home computing. Even though the flick didn’t rate highly in a year whose bumper crop included classics like Gremlins, Beverly Hills Cop, The Karate Kid and Police Academy, I also didn’t mind Electric Dreams’ crappiness, though in the quarter century since I’ve been unable to say exactly why. Though the nostalgia of the experience has never been far away, thanks to Giorgio Moroder and Phil Oakey’s theme song “Together In Electric Dreams” remaining on high FM radio rotation, I’d never seen this hard-to-find film again – until the preview DVD arrived in my mail box this week.
How does it stand up? About as well as it did back in ’84, with the bonus that watching it now is like cracking open a time capsule that tried to predict the future. It’s The Box, just with legwarmers and Heaven 17 on the soundtrack.
The story has it that dweeby architect Miles buys a home computer to get himself organised and to assist in the creation of a brick that’ll help buildings survive earthquakes. But his machine becomes super-intelligent in time-honoured fashion when our zero spills champagne into its circuit boards. The accident also means his glorified VIC-20 becomes romantically minded and thereafter uses its new artificial smartypantsness to mimic neighbouring cellist Madeline’s sweet music. The Cyber-Cyrano touch works to such an extent that she falls in love with Miles, thinking he’s creating the tunes. Computer complications ensue, not least when the horny HAL-9000 clone gets a hard-drive on for Madeline (perhaps because her surname’s Robistat…. Rrrrr!) and sabotages his master in a variety of ways that’d seem impossible in the unwired world.
Electric Dreams is harmless but very silly stuff. What sustains amusement is that some of its fanciful visions of computing power turned out to be roughly right. I’d wager it’s the first film to feature a bit in which an embarrassed dude dressed only in a towel tries to hide a computer from a girl. Though the flick didn’t predict the rise of internet porn it does have the machine – which calls itself Edgar and has Bud Cort’s voice - connected via telephone to all the world’s information sources so he’s able to print off the newspaper, channel TV and access movie production dates. That he creates songs with lyrics like “I love you to bits and I want to see your tits” suggests he might still be working for Ke$ha.
Alas, Electric Dreams’ human star, Lenny von Dohlen wouldn’t go on to much. Probably because this dude with the spooky cornflower-blue eyes is one of the wettest romantic lead in history. He dithers so much that he makes David Schwimmer as Ross in Friends look like Mickey Rourke in 9 ½ Weeks. When Miles and Madeline have a montage evening that includes fireworks, our proto-mangina all but faints, swoonily saying, “I’ve never had a date like this, ever.” The actress who played his amour, Virginia Madsen, comes off much better and at least went on to bigger things – eventually. That year’s Dune wasn’t one of them but she was great in 1993’s cult horror Candyman and it was good to see her back on screens in 2005’s Sideways.
What really endures about Electric Dreams is the music and the style of the movie – MTV lighting and editing – suggests that its executive producer Richard Branson saw it first and foremost as a soundtrack ad. Not that there’s anything wrong with that if it’s a New Wave sampler you’re after. And who isn’t once in a while? As the film progresses the tracks – PP Arnold’s “Electric Dreams” to open, the dreamy “Love Is Love” from Culture Club – are usually accompanied by snazzy video sequences that could well be video clips. But the real payoff comes with the final montage that offers such unadulterated 1980s naffness it can’t help leave you with a smile on your dial. Which I s’pose is why I didn’t mind the movie despite its crappiness back in 1984. And again just the other night.
Out June 9 through Shock.
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