Thursday, July 9, 2009

Virtuality - Some of the worst science fiction I've ever seen.

Again, I'm throwing bricks in a glass house, but I just can't keep quiet.

It seems everyone is worshiping the ground Ronald D Moore and his cohorts walk on. Sadly, I'm not drinking the kool-aid.

Jonestown references aside, the "two hour movie" Virtuality is really a television pilot. Critics loved it, which surprised me. I couldn't have disliked it more.

The actors are fine, there are several who I've seen before and they're good performers. The performances are par for the most part with some impressive moments scattered throughout, so I have no complaints there. It's just too bad their considerable talents are wasted on this bit.

The technology the crew uses in this "feature" does not surpass what is available right now. I'm not talking about the unimaginative virtual reality trip the characters go on, but the control systems and gadgets that are used on screen. I can order better than what they have from Hong Kong today. I realize this isn't set in some super-future, but even ten years on we'll have better gadgetry than what we see them interacting with in Virtuality. It was unconvincing.

The pacing and flat direction of this snore fest reminded me distinctly of a film called Silent Running, a hit science fiction film that came out before Star Wars (1972). Silent Running is a film from an era of science fiction we generally do not miss because it was typically drawn out, under featured, under funded and bland. For its time Silent Running was a great film and should be considered a pre-George Lucas classic, but no one's rushing to remake it simply because the film's message is one we hear every day and the pacing isn't something that would keep audiences interested.

That brings me to my next point; the interiors. They were flat, bland, had padded panels everywhere which don't make sense since they'd hamper any efforts to make repairs or take quick measures in an emergency. They also looked like they were designed in the 70's, and I'm not talking the outrageously colourful Austin Powers 70's design, but the 'everything is clean, shiny and perfect' boring 70's design. The garden they show during this pilot is nothing short of pathetic. Even the most advanced genetically modified plant life on earth cannot provide any significant amount of food, medicine, oxygen or anything else in the quantity that they display. I've seen bigger planters in public buildings, frankly.

Now we go on to the general concept of the show. Virtuality is about a vessel that is seeking a new home for us earthlings because we've ruined our planet. It's a ten year voyage so they have an artificial intelligence and a virtual reality system to keep them entertained. The artificial intelligence and virtual reality system is damaged or corrupt causing injury and death. I have a few things to say about how they handled these concepts.

First of all, the flat, emotionless artificial intelligence makes HAL look like an Robin Williams by comparison. Secondly, their idea behind virtual reality is nothing new at all, in fact Star Trek has managed to explore most of the ideas that you'll see in this show (if it gets picked up as a regular series), already. Artificial intelligence is also a factor in Caprica, the upcoming Battlestar Galactical Prequel prime time soap opera from Ronald D Moore and it is handled exactly the same. It's like Ronald D Moore just realized that virtual reality is a solid Science Fiction concept and he's "pressing at the boundaries" of the idea. I have news for him; virtual reality has been around for a very, very long time as a concept as has been demonstrated quite well in films such as The Matrix. He does nothing new in Virtuality, in fact his version of virtual reality is pedestrian and boring for the most part.

The most interesting virtual reality scenario included is a direct rip off of several old anime concepts that isn't adequately explored probably because the writers knew they were ripping off countless anime classics based on the idea of a crime fighting rock star / secret agent rock star. Oh, and the music? Fun the first time it was on screen, but irritating when they revisited the band scene.

Virtuality was also predictable and at times even irritating. The whole thing is sort of packaged as a reality TV show like Big Brother. They do a half assed job of it, making it look a little more like a scripted television series rather than creating an atmosphere for the viewer that is similar enough to a reality TV show to draw them in, to make it more immersive. I didn't feel that I was rooting for one character or another, in fact they gave the most interesting characters the least screen time. This is a problem that plagued Star Trek Voyager and Deep Space Nine, two series that Ronald D Moore worked on extensively.

After seriously blundering with the whole last season of Battlestar Galactica it shouldn't surprise me that Ronald D Moore and others from that show have managed to thorougly cock up Virtuality right from the start. Why does this matter? I'll tell you. If this show performs poorly it makes all the network execs think twice about other science fiction shows. If it performs really well and continues to be this bland and terrible, then network execs will actually ask; "is it like Virtuality?" whenever someone else comes along with a good science fiction show pitch.

In all honesty I hope this show turns into something decent when it gets picked up as a regular series. Many space science fiction shows without a big franchise behind them fail, it would be nice to see this show turn around so well that I end up eating my words (that happened with the Sarah Conner Chronicles), but I don't see it happening. I'll watch the show if it gets picked up as a series in hopes that they somehow take this very thin concept and develop it into something worthwhile regardless of the terrible pilot and I suggest any science fiction fan does the same. If anything it's good to support science fiction TV, at least for a few episodes. I guess the biggest reason for my disappointment is because I know Ronald D Moore can do better, much better.

Well, that's my rant, I'm finished throwing stones in this glass house for a little while. Now back to work on Spinward Fringe Rogue Element. I'll try not to pull a Ronald D.


[What did you think of Virtuality? Speak amongst yourselves in the comment section!]


Allan B. said...

I fell asleep half way through.
It's one of those bad sci-fi flicks that actually needs some nudity and random violence just to make it watchable... it had nothing.

Randolph said...

I'm so glad I'm not the only one. There's another science fiction series coming that looks more promising. Still a Space Drama (made by the creators of Grey's Anatomy), it'll at least have realistic emergencies, relationships and better actors - it's called Defying Gravity. Still not looking forward to that as much as I am Stargate Universe though... Wait... I should actually blog about this...