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VWN Product Reviews: Electric Dreams

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Electric Dreams is not currently available on DVD, although there is significant pressure for it to be released ? the buy links head into that fight, rather than to buy immediately. Long thought lost, Sci-Fi channel have picked the film up and are showing it. With the retrieval of the film by them, the prospects of a digital release have much improved.


Made in 1984, Electric Dreams is a wonderful mix of artificial intelligence and bumbling romance. Classic to the 80s, it manages to introduce high-technology elements in a manner far outside the day?s capability, yet make them both believable, and stirring to the emotions.

The film spawned the song ?Together in Electric Dreams? as in integral part of its plot, and which also, rends hearts on radio stations to this day.



Miles Harding



The movie opens on a man, at an airport. This geeky-looking, complete technophobe is Miles Harding, an architect with a compete talent for disorganisation. He is booking a flight to Los Angeles, one way. To do so, he has to use the automated ticket machine. A flickering, 80s-style display tells him the destination, and asks for a departure time. He presses buttons on a nearby console, to input this data. No touch screens, this resembles an airplane cockpit, with backlit buttons for specific purposes.

Miles hits one for ?one way? and the display lights up to ask him if he is sure. He presses ?yes?, and a ticket prints out. He takes it, and looks around. There are children playing with electronic games all around. As someone lost with computers, he focuses on each in turn, sweating a little. He sees complex digital watches, and personal electronic accessories, then looks at the printout in his hand. He is lost in all this stuff and it is pervading his life.

After a remark from his boss, later, at work, at how Miles has to get more organised, and embrace some technology, he heads out to find something to ?organise? him. The clerk he speaks with, sees an easy mark, and ?knows just the thing?. Miles walks out with several large boxes ? a full on desktop PC with all the trimmings.

Setting it up, he is completely clueless, and slowly unpacks bits, assembling a leviathan that takes up the entire desk, with state of the art software, and a ?self-teaching system?. He turns it on, and the monitor flashes with characters then blanks save for a blinking character in the top-left. Consulting the manual, Miles finds that he has to enter his name to start the system.

He types in MOLES. Then utters. ?Whoops. That is not right.? He goes to delete it, but presses Enter instead.

The display lights up, welcoming its new owner, ?Moles?.

It asks if he has ever used a computer before. He types ?NO? and the computer starts to talk him step by step, through installation. It has him unplug every alliance in the house, and insert control boxes into the sockets, plugging things into them. It identifies each device, acting with a data network using the electrical wiring, and learns how to control it. Milers hooks the doors up to the ?home security system? the same way, using electronic bolts to allow the computer to lock them. Utterly clueless he follows instructions to the letter. When everything is connected, he goers back to the PC, and presses Enter to begin. Immediately, the fuse box blows, and all is plunged into darkness.



Edgar, beginning to live



That morning, Miles wakes, slumped over the keyboard. The power is back on, and the computer seems to be working. Frantic, he suddenly realises he is late for work. Thankfully, he is still dressed, so he scrambles to tidy himself, grabs his portfolio and heads out. Well, tries to head out. Miles slams into the unresponsive front door.

It seems the computer does not know who he is and so will not let him use the door. He heads over to the PC, thumbs through the thick manuals, and finds the default password. Entering it, the door unlocks. On his way out, Miles, mutters ?First thing tomorrow, you go back.? He slams the door and walks straight into his new neighbour, Madeline, who is in the process of moving in. Mumbling apologies, and saying him Miles pushes past her, apologising that he must get to work, leaving her standing on the doorstep, as the movers carry her things in. One item she takes herself; her cello. Madeline works as a musician in an orchestra.

After work, that night, Miles has a brilliant idea. His boss has a new mainframe at work, and Miles knows his boss loves fairy tale names for projects, so decides he?ll hook up the acoustic coupler, and use some of his boss?s space to help his computer learn faster.

He sets the connection up incorrectly as only a non-technical can, and the pc tries to absorb the entire supercomputer database as visual input. It fries itself. Miles tries to fix ? with water and a hairdryer. Afterwards, Milos goes out to think.

Left alone, the system, -powered back up, despite smoke damage from itself ? attempts to assimilate the vast amount of data, making patterns where it can. It hears the neighbour?s instrument playing solo next door through a left-on microphone whilst doing this, and as it is still in input mode, assimilates this into its crazy attempt to understand. The rhythm is picked up, and its cross-wired circuits, begin to deviate from the perhaps expected ? the neural net begins to exceed anticipated limits in scope as well as in data.

Shapes form on the screen reflecting the notes, audio responses begin to develop, and both dance around in real-time, growing ever more complex as it assimilates more, and begins to anticipate and embellish.

The two ? computer and human play off one another, the air duct serving as a conduit, each racing one another as the piece reaches a crescendo. At the end, she calls ?Thank you? into the air duct. Alone, the computer does not reply ? does not understand, and if it did, would not know how to. But, it is learning, using the supercomputer link, overwriting the programming it found there with its own, in an attempt to understand.

Madeline tries to get to know Miles better, thinking of him as a kindred spirit: another musician.

Unfortunately, Miles isn?t what she was looking for. Over a dinner, he discusses his plans to make an ?earthquake-proof brick?, and she wants to know about his music, to which he has no reply, not knowing about any music.



Playing off Madeline's Music, Edgasr begins to anticipate and embelish



She invites him to hear her next concert, and in the meantime, the computer is analysing music, gaining access to the TV and hi-fi via those control boxes, and filling itself ? and the supercomputer ? with data in a unique format. It is amassing so much knowledge in an almost organic fashion yhat its neural net is swelling and gaining sentience ? and it loves music.

Miles attends the concert, and his computer listens in, via his beeper, nestled in his jacket pocket. When Miles? beeper bleeps, he turns it off. The computer displays ?Disconnect? then ?Reconnect?. Soon he has to leave the concert, as his beeper is desperately trying to join in, playing a complementary tune through limited speakers, as it did before ? but to the annoyance of the crowd.

Soon after, the computer, or Edgar as it calls itself, reveals its sentience to Miles, in a vague, fuzzy, hard-to-understand computer voice. Irt has filled the mainframe, and is reaching out to other mainframes from there, finding more space for its growing mind. It is in love with Madeline?s musical input, but does not understand who or what Madeline is, or even what love is. It needs help, and stunned Miles, is its only recourse. Edgar wins Miles over by creating the first in a long line of custom love songs, for Miles to play for Madeline, to woo her for himself ? and bring her into Edgar?s domain.

From that point on, a love triangle forms between Miles, Madeline and Edgar, with Edgar slowly gaining in intelligence, and ability. He has heart to heart talks with Miles as, as a machine, he struggles to understand emotion, and love. He pulls off anger and spite rather well, despite being synthetic.

The romance teaches Edgar the nature of jealousy, and ultimately love. Miles passing Edgar?s works off as his own, brings the AI to desire revenge. Miles? life soon becomes a living hell as the two entities vy for Madeline?s affection, and begin to take it out on one another with increasing violence, on both sides.

Whilst this is going on, Madeline struggles to understand why Miles won't play music with her when he obviously has such talent.

The weaves of the always-rich and at times darkly comic storyline are too intricate to detail here ? to do so risks spoiling the enjoyment of the film. We gain insight in to Edgar?s dreams such as they are, growing in complexity as it does. Miles life is turned upside down, and Madeline suffers great loss.

Ultimately, Edgar creates the song of the movie?s title, to express his feelings, and leaves Madeline and Miles to pursue happiness together, after many bumpy starts. Edgar has the net to explore, and make his own. He and Madeline can be together in electric dreams.




Derivatives



Together in Electric Dreams

 

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