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Virtuality (2009)

by on 2013/01/25

Virtuality (2009)

“This makes no sense whatsoever.
And it makes utter, utter sense.”

* * *

For a very long stretch, about twenty years, I carried a torch for Earth 2. It was a show I caught around the tail end of a time when I used to watch television “live”. Nowadays I watch nearly everything on video. It took a while for the series to be released but, eventually, it arrived.

It chronicled a season of its crew escaping from one crumbling world to another. And that’s kind of what I expected from Virtuality, bolstered by the production values of the new Battlestar Galactica.

Almost, but not quite, I’m sorry to say.

To be fair, Virtuality managed about 1/11th of Earth 2’s total airtime. Plus, it brings some original ideas to its audience. It confines its physical action into a crowded 2001 vessel, then expands its scope through an eXistenZ-like cyber world.

It builds on the groundwork laid by Star Trek: The Next Generation’s holodeck, changing a couple of fundamentals. First, it makes the experience portable and, hence, more personal, while allowing the possibility of live-sharing virtual worlds. Second, it takes greater strides in approaching the technology’s issues, especially its psychological repercussions.

How does virtual reality compare to dreaming or imagination? Is it harmful, helpful, or both? Do we control it? Does it change us? These and other topics I found highly thought-provoking . . . until constant bickering got on my nerves, distracting me.

How could anyone really believe this crew could succeed in their mission? All they do is fight amongst themselves. (Is that why they nihilistically elected to call their ship the Phaeton?) Most of the characters were unlikable, guarded, obnoxious, or vague. Hints appear that some have their reasons, but this pilot can’t address them all.

Spending just an hour and a half observing them got exhausting. It’s a pseudo-reality TV soap opera with a dozen bipolar politicos. Certainly character is vitally important, but why should their conflicts prompt stress instead of interest?

Production-wise I was ambivalent. The visual effects were well done, although marred by occasional compositing quirks and a mismatch between the pacing of edits with interior vs “exterior” footage. One particular sequence features a cringe-worthy musical montage which took me nearly right back to the 1990s.

It’s a shame. Clearly Virtuality was setting the stage for something we never will see. It would have been a series I’d try to follow but, here, it’s left unfinished and abandoned. Though the characters irritated me, it did raise some interesting issues, and might have scratched that much-wants-more Earth 2 itch.

* * *

Rated PG (Canada) / not rated (United States) but contains scenes of violence

88 minutes

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