80’s Trash of the Week: Electric Dreams

If the movie sounds like it’s dubbed into English when it isn’t, because the acting is that bad, you might be watching trash. I got that feeling a few minutes into Electric Dreams, a movie I had fond memories of as a little computer nerdling in the ’80s. It’s a movie about a PC that goes haywire and falls in love with its owner’s girlfriend, which was ridiculous even back then; no one who played with computers in the early ’80s had a girlfriend!

His computer eventually beats the crap out of him with Pac-Mania.

Like many computer movies of the time, it was both the best commercial for, and the most hilariously contrived warning against the technology onslaught of Apple ][e’s and IBM PC/XT’s in the home. We didn’t care; anything with computer graphics, as primitive as they were, we’d gobble up. And Electric Dreams fed that vibe. It’s too cute to be truly trash, but it’s one of those ridiculous and pandering films that can only come from the ’80s. It’s the rom-com version of Weird Science (full review).
We meet nerdy hero Miles (Lenny von Dohlen, Twin Peaks) as he’s beset by technology at San Francisco Airport. He’s off to a meeting with his boss, where he tells how he’s trying to design an earthquake-proof building. He has trouble with the ticket machine, the ATM, and thinks he’s talking to a woman who’s actually listening to her Walkman. Despite all this, he decides to buy a computer to help him organize his life and design his earthquake-proof brick, and takes home the latest and greatest by Pinecone systems. The computer can run the whole house by connecting to the phone with an acoustic coupler (how i lusted for this primitive modem back then- it looked cooler than faster ones) and special electric plugs.

Earthquake-proof M.C. Escher jigsaw building. Genius!

He mistypes his name during the setup, which makes the computer address him as “Moles.” Soon his PC is making him coffee, running the security system and even running the blender, though I have no idea why you’d want that. Like any of us with a new toy, he wants to play with it; he hooks up a microphone, and connects to his boss’s mainframe at work over the phone line one night. He accidentally spills champagne all over the keyboard, and that’s when the problems start. His new neighbor Madeline (Virginia Madsen) moves in upstairs, and when she plays the cello, the computer starts playing along with her. The dog from next door starts barking, and the computer mimics it.

Madeline tells him he plays really well, but he hasn’t got a clue; when he goes to see her in concert, the computer starts playing to her through his beeper. These oddities lure Madeline to nerdy Miles, and one night they take her powder blue ’65 Mustang to a drive-in to see Casablanca, and Bogey and Ingrid are too much for their raging hormones to take. In the meanwhile, the computer is watching TV and learning English. When Miles gets home, it starts talking to him in his sleep, repeating his words. Like any good nerd, he’s almost more excited about his computer than he is about Madeline.

Yo yo mamasita!

He asks the computer for help, and it writes a song for her. Unfortunately for us, it’s sung by Boy George, but in 1984 that would even get a computer some poontang. From here, the story begins to resemble Cyrano and Frankenstein, as Madeline falls for “Moles,” not knowing that the computer is wooing her with songs. And “Edgar,” the computer, is pissed off at Miles for not introducing them. Miles told him about love, see. Bad move.

The Groucho glasses are ’cause Bud Cort idolizes him and bought his mansion.

Was this the first “cancelled by computer” movie? I’m not sure. Wargames didn’t really do that stuff. But Edgar sure does, cancelling Miles’s credit cards, flagging his checkbook so he’s listed as dangerous, calling the restaurant to rudely cancel reservations. His night out with Madeline thus ruined, he heads home to fight it out with Edgar, who has full control of the house. Much like The Demon Seed (full review), when Miles tries to tear the motherboards out, he get shocked and his whole house turns against him, while the computer screen shows a funky 3-D version of Pac-Man devouring him.

This was pretty sharp for ’84.

Can Miles beat the computer and get the girl? The ending isn’t what you expect. Maybe I should ask if a computer can understand love. In a reverse of 2001, the computer commits suicide because it cannot love, instead of killing because it is forced to lie. And in tribute to the two lovers, it blasts the movie’s theme song, “Together in Electric Dreams” across radios all over the world. I have to say I was a little hard on this movie for the first half; as the opening credits say, it really is a fairy tale for computers, and reminded me of cult classics like Twice Upon a Time and The Wizard of Space and Time in its tone, which makes it difficult to slam.

The best parts of the movie are the computer animated sequences set to music, and the director made many music videos after this. They get more complex as the story unfolds, beginning with colorful dots and patterns, then an animated sequence of girl dancing on a snowflake, and finally a crumbling building as it incorporates Miles’ architectural programs. All set to the music of Heaven 17, UB40, Culture Club, Phil Collins, and Giorgio Moroder, the sought-after soundtrack captures the era perfectly. Most memorable is Edgar’s voice- supplied by none other than Bud Cort, most famous for Harold & Maude. In 1979 he got into a terrible car accident that wrecked his career, and I had no idea it was him. It’s filtered of course, but he manages to give the computer a living voice and jealous, childlike personality.

It’s a light bit of fantasy, and we all tittered when the computer-generated voice said “fuck.” The actors left a bit to be desired, but for a computer nerd the animation sequences were top notch and worth the price of admission. It’s sad that this isn’t on Region 1 DVD, but it is worth tracking down if you like ’80s trash.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today? Apparently yes. Nathan Fillion would be a good lead.
Quotability Rating: does not compute
Cheese Factor: 2.8 velveetahertz!
High Points: soundtrack, computer animation
Low Point: bad acting
Gratuitous Boobies: Not even pixels:

Hello ladies

2 thoughts on “80’s Trash of the Week: Electric Dreams

  1. Never saw that one. It seemed lame even then. It seems terrible that Wargames gets mentioned in the same review, even.

  2. I love the 1980s infatuation with computers. It's interesting, anytime a new technology emerges, Hollywood immediately descends upon it and creates a scenario in which mankind will be destroyed by this technology.

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