The Eighties got a lot of mileage out of the idea that computers were magic. I mean, the fundamental principle of Weird Science is that Wyatt has, like, a 386 with a 14.4 modem and a scanner, which he can connect to the Pentagon and make a goddamn genie with it. Most Hollywood movies today still let computers be magical, but not to the same degree. And few movies go as full out crazy with the idea as Electric Dreams.
For those not in the know, Electric Dreams is a relatively small, simple movie, in which an architect named Miles (he might be an engineer—something to do with buildings) lives in the downstairs part of a duplex, below gorgeous cellist Virginia Madsen. And he gets himself a computer so he can design an earthquake brick. So far, all normal.
So, he really gets himself a high-level, top of the line ultra-computer, but this is 1984 or so, so we’re talking about little more than a first-gen Macintosh. The first thing the operating system does is ask his name, and he screws up and types “MOLES” because Computers Are Hard, and the computer calls him “Moles” from then on. The computer also comes with remote plug controls, so you can program the coffee maker to turn on at a certain time or something. Actually a neat, useful thing, but I don’t think you could do that in 1984. Certainly didn’t come standard.
Anyhow, for one reason or another, Miles is trying to figure out how to use his computer, and attempts to connect it to the office computers (because big, office computers are SUPER MAGIC) , but then something goes wrong and it starts to smoke, so he pours champagne on it.
And, as we all know from Eighties Science: Computer + Modem Connection + Champagne= Artificial Intelligence. Seriously, this 80s era desktop becomes sentient. Because champagne and Computers Are Magic.
So there’s a period where the computer is “waking up”, and it is responding to sounds and music. Mostly cello music from Virginia. It then starts play music back, so she presumes Miles is a musician, and gets interested in him. And he gets interested in her, because she’s Virginia Madsen.
After a bit, he starts to realize that his computer is sentient, and they start talking. The computer calls him “Moles”, of course, and is like a needy child. Miles copes, partly because it’s fascinating, and partly because of Virginia being interested in the computer’s music. And the computer is actually composing original stuff, so it’s not just sentient, it’s creative.
This brings us to fundamental conflict: a Cyrano-esque love triangle. Miles and the computer both love Virginia. Miles has the advantage of being a person, but the computer is the one doing the thing that actually sparks her interest in the first place. This comes to a head when the computer confesses its love for Virginia, and Miles mocks it. AND THEN IT’S WAR.
The computer does some high-level screw-with-Miles stuff, cancelling his credit cards and getting him declared “armed an dangerous”. You know, magic stuff that computers can do, especially in 1984.
Once Miles gets home, he’s all in for battle against the computer. It’s quite a fight, since the computer can, like, turn on the blender and the vacuum cleaner. Miles eventually hides in the bathroom, where the computer can’t get him, and sneaks out while using an electric razor as a distraction.
Meanwhile Virginia’s cello is destroyed in a freak elevator accident. This really has nothing to do with anything, except giving her an excuse to come back home in the middle of the day and have an emotional scene. It also demonstrates that she and Miles really aren’t a good match, since he doesn’t seem to care that her cello was destroyed. Not that that goes anywhere.
Eventually he takes a baseball bat to the computer, which doesn’t destroy it, but makes it even more sad and emo. Viriginia goes into the apartment and finally realizes where the music is really coming from, but she and the computer don’t talk to each other. He just plays some emo notes and she cries.
Miles goes back in, and he and the computer decide to be nice to each other. And he hugs the computer. And the computer calls him Miles. The computer also reveals his name is “Edgar”, and the movie makes it feel like this should be significant, but I can’t figure out for the life of me why. I’ll note that the posters for this movie told you the computer’s name was Edgar, which makes me feel like something got lost in a rewrite or editing.
Anyway, the computer decides to let Miles have a normal life, and commits a sort-of-roundabout suicide by sending an electric pulse through the phone lines or something. I don’t know. I feel like the movie wanted Miles and Edgar to have a “while Edgar is dying” scene, but the source of Edgar’s death is arbitrary and self-inflicted, so the emotion doesn’t work.
But then the call comes, and Edgar “dies”.
Except he doesn’t, and instead we enter a dystopian nightmare with our benevolent electronic overlord.
I’m not kidding. This is what happens: Miles and Virginia are driving off somewhere, and over the radio we suddenly hear Edgar say, “Hello! This song goes out to the people I love!” And a song plays—ON ALL FREQUENCIES, EVERYWHERE—and Virginia and Miles smile, and there’s a whole montage of people grooving to the song, and the occasional shots of the people in the radio station being all, “WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING?”, but, you know, played for laughs.
Because there’s nothing to be concerned about that an emotionally unstable intelligence has the power to be everywhere and nowhere, and take over the airwaves in the process. Nope, nothing at all.
Despite everything you say, I still love this movie!!
As do I. I did watch it a lot, after all….
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