Electric Dreams Review
It is always interesting looking back at movies made decades ago that were prophesying the future, especially if the date they were forecasting to has either passed or is effectively now present day. Electric Dreams positively screams 1980s at you – day-glo leg warmers, bubble perms and a synth-pop soundtrack produced by Georgio Moroder (de rigeur for any self-respecting mid-eighties mainstream film). While the many electronic devices in the movie may now appear clunky and dated, the screenplay (by Rusty Lemorande) was ahead of its time by accurately predicting how computers would increasingly become part of our everyday lives.
In Electric Dreams Lenny Von Dohlen plays Miles, an ambitious young San Francisco based architect. He has cleverly designed a unique house brick that interlocks like a jigsaw, which he believes would be far more resilient In the event of an earthquake. Miles’ life is just a tad chaotic though and a lack of punctuality is starting to be frowned upon by his bosses. He decides it’s time to get organised, so heads down to the local electrical store to see if there are any newfound gadgets that can help him. The assistant proudly shows off the latest gizmo that every household will desire for the future – a home computer! Not just any old computer either, but a cutting edge model from the preeminent company Pinecone – a cheeky dig by writer Lemorande at a certain other real life manufacturer. Miles need little encouragement to make the purchase and is soon struggling home with an oversized box and eagerly assembling the gargantuan piece of hardware with its chunky monitor in the middle of his modern apartment. An amusing touch in the script sees Miles clumsily mistype his name when logging in for the first time, so the computer forever refers to him as “Moles” thereafter.
At first everything else goes swimmingly, with Miles using his new tech to control various appliances around the home and he even tries to sneakily download the content of his boss’s computer – via a dial-up connection of course. Then disaster strikes when there is a massive overload of data and Miles carelessly manages to douse the hard disk unit with a celebratory bottle of champagne, causing a massive internal short circuit. At this point some suspension of disbelief is required as, instead of destroying the computer, the mishap causes "Edgar" to become sentient. Perhaps this was not such a stretch of the imagination for audiences in the mid-eighties compared to what else they were expected to believe. A computer in the hands of some savvy kids could achieve 'great' things, like practically spark World War III - as demonstrated by a fresh-faced Matthew Broderick in War Games - or those teen geeks in John Hughes’ Weird Science who managed to create their dream woman in the form of Kelly Le Brock.
The intelligence of Mile’s computer rapidly evolves, starting off by mimicking everyday sounds like a barking dog to composing complex songs and, by means of an impromptu duet, manages to impress a young cellist named Madeline (a winning Virginia Madsen) who can be heard practising in the apartment upstairs - although she mistakenly believes that it’s Miles with the enviable musical talent. The computer gradually begins communicating with Miles by means of a whiny synth-voice (provided by Bud Cort), ever eager to develop and truly understand what love means. A simple line face appears on the screen to show feelings, it’s much less expressive than your average modern day Emoji. When love blossoms between Miles and his attractive neighbour Madeline, they don’t count on Edgar developing a jealous streak. It seems there’s nothing worse than a spurned computer as Edgar conspires to cause as much mayhem in Miles’ life as possible for winning over the affections of Madeline, from cancelling his bank cards to taking control of all the electronic household gadgets.
Many of the ideas conveyed in the film were not commonplace at that time. Back in 1984 we were unlikely to be annoying other theatre audience members with a tuneful mobile device –as Miles does in one amusing scene - or remote controlling multiple household appliances as is possible nowadays. We were more likely to be playing Pong at home than surfing the web and even a PC in the workplace was normally just that bulky piece of furniture sat in the corner of the office entrusted to carry only the most menial of tasks. Artificial intelligence in the home was still a long way off, though the concept would surface again nearly 30 years later in Spike Jonze’s Oscar winning Her, where the lead character played by Joaquin Phoenix forms a relationship with his operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).
Electric Dreams was one of only a handful of movies made by Virgin Films, during Richard Branson’s brief venture into feature film production during the eighties. Following the success of Flashdance, the soundtrack had become a critical element of mainstream movies during that period, requiring a plethora of tunes with future hit single potential. In response, this film is choc-full of cool tracks from that era too, including many artists who were conveniently signed to Virgin Records at that time including Jeff Lynne, Heaven 17, Culture Club and the Human League’s Phil Oakey. If at times Electric Dreams feels like a feature length pop promo, that’s because director Steve Barron cut his teeth making innovative music videos during the early days of MTV. It’s clearly evident here with some bright visual flourishes; an animated dream sequence imagining Miles’ brick design coming to fruition is particularly well done.
Madsen and Von Dohlen are both quite charming in the lead roles and carry the film nicely. You could quite easily imagine either Tom Hanks or Steve Guttenberg also playing the role of Miles early in their career, although Von Dohlen does a fine job here with some effective comic timing. I will always remember Bud Cort playing that rather eccentric young guy in Harold and Maude, but here he provides a very distinctive voice to Edgar. Look fast too for cameos from a young Miriam Margoyles (cast simply as “Ticket Girl”) and Big Trak - the must-have eighties toy. For those with an aversion to eighties comedies with a high cheese quotient, this film could prove a step too far. On the other hand, anyone feeling nostalgic towards the sights and sounds of that period will find it a thoroughly engaging 95 minutes.
This movie is so brazenly a product of the 1980s that you half expect even the picture to have some VHS style tracking problems that back in the day would necessitate much dial adjusting on the VCR. Thankfully this brand new BD from Second Sight - a worldwide premiere in hi-def - does not have any such issues, with the image mostly bright and detailed with only a hint of grain. There is just one very brief sequence in the film where the principal characters are walking home at night and where the street appears to be under lit that much of the surrounding detail is lost.
The audio is in the original 2.0 stereo and provides a solid level of depth and clarity throughout with no detectable problems. There are also optional English subtitles.
Second Sight promise that the first 2000 units come in special packaging. This doesn’t mean that the disc case comes wrapped in a retro lime-green leg warmer, but instead is in a premium spot gloss varnish slipcase (not available for review).
Second Sight have utilised the services of Severin’s David Gregory and Carl Daft to produce nearly 80 minutes of brand new interviews especially for this release.
Is This A Story? - Interview with Steve Barron (18 mins) - The Irish director explains his background in the business, starting out directing pop promos for new wave British bands in the late seventies like Adam & The Ants, before becoming responsible for some ground-breaking videos during early days of MTV, when there was suddenly a surge in demand. His impressive early work includes the videos for Dire Straights’ Money for Nothing, A-ha’s Take on Me and Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean among many others. Barron also talks of how he became involved with Electric Dreams – his feature directing debut, as his mother was also in the film industry and had worked with producer Rusty Lemorande on Barbara Streisand’s Yentl. He mentions that while ED was not a big success at the box office, his next film did attract a significantly larger audience – the original big screen version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990).
Electric Dreaming - Interview with Rusty Lemorande (41 mins) - Writer and producer Lemorande talks in depth about the project, mentioning how he conceived the idea of the film as a modern day musical and managed to raise the financing through a deal with MGM. The informative interview includes Lemorande’s relations with Richard Branson, the casting process, achieving the early visual effects without CGI and arranging the all-important soundtrack with music producer Georgio Moroder to include the requisite hit singles. The production was also delighted to get the legendary Jeff Lynne of ELO involved. However, it is Phil Oakey’s track – Together in Electric Dreams - that will probably be best remembered in the UK. The Human League vocalist was already known to director Barron, who had previously directed a video for the band’s no.1 hit Don’t You Want Me.
There’s an amusing account too about Bud Cort’s involvement. Apparently he appeared on the set every day to voice Edgar opposite star Von Dohlen, but didn’t want the cast to see him and spoil the illusion, so was concealed inside a special booth throughout the shoot. Although Lemorande seems pleased with how it turned out, he reveals that MGM were furious when the film under performed on its opening weekend which resulted in the film was then unceremoniously yanked from cinema chains early in the States with the promise of a higher profile re-release that never happened due to management changes. Lemorande voices his disappointment at how the film’s release was handled, believing it could have made more money slowly over time through positive word of mouth.
Miles & Madeline -Interviews with Lenny Von Dohlen & Virginia Madsen (20 mins) - Von Dohlen and Madsen both have very fond memories of working on Electric Dreams. This was one of Madsen’s first starring roles and she enthusiastically recounts some anecdotes about the project. As disclosed in Lemorande’s interview, Madsen wasn’t in fact the producer’s first choice, but is charismatic in the role of Madeline. Von Dohlen on the hand found himself getting the role of Miles following an impressive earlier performance in Tender Mercies opposite Robert Duvall.
For those hankering for the sights and sounds of the eighties, Electric Dreams provides a lightweight and engaging trip back to that era. Second Sight’s BD offers a very respectable presentation in terms of picture and audio, combined with a generous selection of brand new interviews. The Blu-ray is released on 7th August 2017.