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Overall Rating
3.67

Awesome: 29.17%
Worth A Look37.5%
Average: 4.17%
Pretty Bad: 29.17%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 12 user ratings


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Electric Dreams
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by Jay Seaver

"Fun at midnight; in the day..."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL: "Electric Dreams" is, even by the standards of being a movie about a dangerous home computer from a time when such consumer machines were just starting to come with more than 64K of memory, communicated with online bulletin boards via 1200 baud modems, and could maybe run a crappy ELIZA program to laughably simulate artificial intelligence, is a pretty stupid movie. Despite that, it's not a bad thing for a theater to throw into its midnight rotation, as it demonstrates just how far you can go on an upbeat soundtrack, a co-star with potential, and a little more effort than attempts to cash in on a trend usually get.

Things start with Miles Harding (Lenny von Dohling), an architect at the bottom of a California firm, always being late and disorganized, so he splurges on one of those new personal computers to help him get his stuff together. He goes all-out, getting an X-10 home control system and everything - and then accidentally spills coffee on the box. Rather than just making it a useless brick with a voided warranty, it makes the system hyper-intelligent, and it not only develops the ability to speak (with the voice of Bud Cort), but soon starts to share Miles's crush on Madeline (Virginia Madsen), the pretty musician who just moved in upstairs.

1984 wasn't completely the stone age for personal computers, but some pretty hard-core suspension of disbelief is necessary to buy into what Edgar (a name that appears on the poster, but isn't awkwardly inserted into the film until the end) is capable of. This doesn't really matter in a certain sense, as it's not as though the filmmakers are actually linking any sort of suspense to a false assumption rather than presenting a then-new variation on the Cyrano de Bergerac story, albeit one where Cyrano is something of an unwanted interloper. Rusty Lemonade's script is still kind of silly in how Miles disconnecting Edgar's power or deciding that telling Madeline about his bizarrely sentient computer would help make him seen interesting would solve 90% of his problems right away, but the basic fantasy mostly works, and the filmmakers do get some points for not seeing new technology as an unadulterated evil.

And there are jokes, some not bad, but they are by and large given to Lenny von Dohling, and there a reason why he is the most obscure member of this movie's principal cast today: He's just not a good enough actor to make an impression. He handles physical comedy all right, but he can't really sell the ludicrous as real or add any special charm to what's in the script to make Miles an especially worthy suitor or tormented victim. He just sort of shows up. Admittedly, I might have thought the same about Virginia Madsen had I seen the movie during its initial release (and had I been the sort of nine-year-old who thought that way), so maybe it's the knowing about thirty years of quality performances to come that make me see some actual curiosity or concern when Madeline is asking what's up with Miles or making some sort of comment to herself instead of blankness. Still, neither of them seem to be just diving in the way Bud Cort is. He gives Edgar a voice that goes all over the place, from robotic to innocent to that of a petulant child, but even if the shift in delivery between lines can often be jarring, there's something quite appropriate about the brattiness, and it's always just strange enough that we never really start thinking of Edgar as human.

Director Steve Barron puts it all together reasonably well; he can't really cover for when things don't make much sense or the weird tone shifts, but there are only a few times when the audience is likely to feel booted, impatient, or frustrated enough to start getting grumpy. There's actually kind of a lesson in it, too; while one of the things that really keeps the movie going is the poppy, upbeat 1980s soundtrack (I half-suspect that Virgin Pictures made the movie so that they could put out an album which featured a bunch of Virgin artists), when one of the two theme songs becomes a part of the movie, it seems silly and gimmicky. Reflecting then-current pop culture, even if it's with a goofy Pac-Man bit, comes across better than trying to drive it.

In terms of total time spent watching the movie, I think snickering at it comes out just ahead of laughing because of it. It's a lot closer than is often the case, at least, and after midnight when the weird seems both more possible and more peculiar, "Electric Dreams" is more fun than some better movies.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=2566&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/28/14 15:03:06
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2014 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/18/14 PAUL SHORTT SILLY AND BADLY ACTED 2 stars
2/02/07 Charles Tatum Kinda cute 4 stars
2/28/05 Jeff Anderson A very sweet film! The 80's soundtrack is wonderful & Von Dohlen & Madsen are simply great! 5 stars
9/21/04 stuart bates very good film for its time!! 5 stars
12/27/02 Ralph Hofbauer I love this movie. An astute time reference 5 stars
12/21/02 randy sayres one of my favorites 5 stars
4/05/02 Lee Edward McIlmoyle Very sweet, if typically lopsided for an eighties flick. 3 stars
2/12/02 natumbe i want it on dvd 5 stars
2/09/02 SirPhil One of my Favorites 4 stars
10/17/01 chikatilo@inbox.lv Great movie, with a great theme song 5 stars
10/15/01 Johnny C. Technology and love and great 80s synth pop 5 stars
6/14/01 s robidoux excellent 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  02-Aug-1984 (PG)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  02-Nov-1984


Directed by
  Steve Barron

Written by
  Rusty Lemorande

Cast
  Lenny von Dohlen
  Virginia Madsen
  Bud Cort
  Maxwell Caulfield
  Don Fellows



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