Computers are an integral part of our lives now, but back in 1984, the year Apple released their first Macintosh, they were much newer and more exotic, with the average consumer not knowing how they worked or what they would soon be able to do. You have to wonder, then, just what people thought of Electric Dreams – now getting its first Blu-ray outing – upon its release that same year.
Architect Miles (Von Dohlen) invests in one of these newfangled computer things, and soon has it set up to operate all his appliances, schedule his daily life, and even help with his pet project of designing an earthquake-proof brick. But the computer, named Edgar, has an intelligence of its own and, hearing neighbour Madeline (Madsen) playing her cello, joins in on the music. Madeline believes this to be from Miles and falls for him, but Edgar wants to feel loved too, and a strange love triangle begins...
Surprisingly, it’s even madder than it sounds. Some of the subject matter might just scrape by as plausible if rejigged for a modern movie about AI, along the lines of Spike Jonze’s Her, but – and this may be hindsight speaking – it’s downright ludicrous when it’s 1980s technology we’re dealing with. Thankfully, though, the film knows its own silliness, and plays everything with tongue firmly in cheek; Rusty Lemorande’s script is chock-full of gags which play on the daftness of Edgar’s desire for love, not least one very funny scene in which it calls into an agony aunt’s radio show.
But it’s Steve Barron’s direction that really makes Electric Dreams, well, unique. It was Barron’s first feature film, but he’d directed over a hundred music videos, most famously Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. He applies that aesthetic sensibility to the movie, shooting it as, for the most part, a ninety-minute music video; sweeping close-ups of computer parts intercut with shots of Miles looking forlorn and moody, edited to the blaring sounds of ‘80s synthpop. The result is a visually and aurally cluttered film, in an enjoyably cheesy way, but the scenes that develop Miles and Madeline’s relationship are less competently handled; Barron’s stylistic focus means that the characters, like those in a music video, never step out from being 2D archetypes into rounded people we can believe in.
Nevertheless, Electric Dreams is like no other movie you’ve seen; it’s simultaneously the most ‘80s film ever and weirdly ahead of its time. It’s also completely, utterly ridiculous – it must have seemed so at the time, and it seems even more so today. But that’s part of the fun – love or hate Electric Dreams, you’ll never be bored by it.
ELECTRIC DREAMS / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: STEVE BARRON / SCREENPLAY: RUSTY LEMORANDE / STARRING: LENNY VON DOHLEN, VIRGINIA MADSEN, MAXWELL CAULFIED, BUD CORT / RELEASE DATE: JULY 31ST