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June 2009

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marsgirl101 in collegiategeek

Virtuality Review

Virtuality is the television movie made by Ronald D. Moore and Michael Taylor, which aired on Fox last Friday. This movie is about the crew of the Phaeton, which is on a crucial mission to do something or other around some far away star. Virtuality joins their story as they reach their go/no go point - the point where the commander of the Phaeton must decide whether to go ahead with a ten year mission, or to turn around and go back to Earth. However, this is not a straight up all-or-nothing mission - the crew  is also being filmed, and their journey being broadcast on Earth as a reality tv show, entitled The Edge of Never. Virtual realities - or virt mods, or modules - are available to all of the members of the mission, and these modules allow them to escape the confines of the ship into their own fantasy. Originally intended to be a television series, it was squashed into an 87 minute movie.

And boy, does it show.

I'm not saying that Virtuality is a bad movie, especially if placed within the context of the original intent of the writers: for this story to be a full fledged television series. But for an hour and a half movie, especially a science fiction movie,  Virtuality is just too full of subplots and characters that would have been better serviced by twelve or thirteen full length episodes.When I watched Virtuality, the main problem I had with it was the amount of major characters. The Phaeton has twelve crew members, and none of them are bit players. The creators did attempt to solve this problem by introducing Big Brother style interviews, with little captions with the names and positions of the characters underneath, but I still struggled to remember who everyone was, and what their identifying character trait was.

Our supposed main character is Frank Pike(played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), the commander of  the Phaeton. Pike is actually the character I had the biggest problem with.  Pike is apparently "the one man who can hold everything together," the leader of a very important mission. And yet he lacks a personality, more defined by his wild mood fluctuations than by anything else. I felt little sympathy for him, and he didn't really seem like someone who could lead very well, although there is one rather nice scene where he lifts the spirits of his subordinates.

Out of the whole lot, there are only a few characters who stand out at all. The first of those is Billie Kashmiri (Kerry Bishe), the reality show's host and a computer scientist. Billie's kind of a twitchy, nervous girl who's the second in command of the reality tv show being broadcast from the Phaeton.  She , unlike the others, is almost immediatly likeable because of her somewhat nervous air and outsider status  in an otherwise tightly knit group. The other character that really makes an impression is Dr. Rodger Fallon (James D'Arcy), the ship's psychiatrist and the producer of the reality tv show, whose slavish devotion to the show casts him in an unseemly and questionable light.  All the other members of the Phaeton are just too bland or too quickly characterized for much comment - there's Alice, who wants a baby . . . and that's pretty much it. There's the gay guys, who cook . . . and that's pretty much it. There's the dude with the beard who has a dead son . . . and that's pretty much it. Everyone's likeable enough, they're just not very noticeable.

Another issue I had with Virtuality - and I may be overstepping my bounds here - is the visual effects. In the different virtual realities that the characters inhabit, the background stands out, looks way too artificial. This was most likely intentional, but the look is jarring. Also out of place were the shots of space which, unlike most visualizations of the Great Beyond, were hazy and much graininer and blurrier that any other shots. This, again, could be purposeful, but I was ticked off about it anyway. I live in the suburbs, man, and the only way I get to see stars is when people make cgi effects with them.

As for the story itself, the plot moves at a strange pace and has no clear conclusion, at least for a movie. I can see that the creators really were backed into a corner here. There's really two distinct strata to the plot, 1) whether the Phaeton will continue on its mission past the go/no go point and 2) the increasingly obvious problems with the virtual realities. The first plot dominates the first forty or so minutes of the program, and the second covers the rest, with a twist that's supposed to be surprising, but instead is cryptic and unsatisfying.

I don't want to sound like I didn't enjoy Virtuality, because it certainly had its moments - there's an encounter between Billie and the woman pilot Sue Parsons (played by Clea DuVall) near the end that's fairly poignant, as well as a few truly surprising moments that I won't reveal here. The concept is ultimately a sound one, but not done justice here. If ever a tv show was made for Virtuality, I would certainly tune in, if only to see how the writers managed to play out a long, claustrophobic journey and keep it interesting.

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