DAN STAINES remembers the bad ones
I love bad movies. I love to watch and mock them with friends. Films about VR, particularly ones made in the 90s, make especially good fodder. For every Matrix and Strange Days, there are like five hundred Lawnmower Man 2: Electric Boogaloo’s, and – because I’m a giant dork – I’ve seen at least 499 of 'em. Here are three that I remember being particularly heinous.
The internet tells me that Arcade (1993) was written by David S. Goyer, who you might recognise from his subsequent work on the similarly amazing and not at all ridiculous Superman movie, Man of Steel. The story follows Alex Manning (Megan Ward): a normal suburban teen who, following the death of her mum, becomes sullen and rebellious. One day, Alex and her friends (one played by a teeny-tiny Seth Green) are hanging out at an unusually dank and grimy arcade when a slimy businessman invites them to try out a new VR game he’s testing: Arcade.
But whoops, turns out Arcade was somehow made with the braincells of a dying child (who is also, confusingly, named Arcade) and now the game is sentient and out of for revenge. After one of Alex’s crew is trapped in the game, a Tronish “we’re in the computer now!” rescue attempt commences; but in place of Tron’s timeless gridwork VFX, substitute kids running on the spot in front of what looks like an ugly fantasy version of the Windows “brick maze” screensaver. For a long time I thought The Langoliers (1995) was the worst example of early 90s CGI committed to film. I was mistaken.
Starring Terminator 2’s Edward Furlong and Frank “Richard Nixon” Langella, Brainscan’s (1994) premise is a dark and troubling one: what if a videogame… came to LIFE? And what if when a videogame came to life, it took the form of a leering Shadowrun reject who introduces himself by playing some Primus on your bitchen three-disc stereo? And what if this ugly weirdo told you to kill? What then, hotshot?
Well, if you’re Edward Furlong’s character, you go and murder a bunch of people, including a stranger, your best friend, and the girl next door with whom you’re creepily infatuated. Except you don’t because, as you find out when Detective Frank Langella bursts through the door and shoots you in the chest, none of this really happened, it was all just a game. Or WAS it…?
Denzel Washington reportedly took the lead in Virtuosity (1995) because his son wanted him to, and you can see he’s not exactly committed to the material. Playing the role of a disgraced former cop hired to hunt down a virtual serial killer made real, Washington delivers his lines with such apathy that it borders on sarcasm. Meanwhile, SID 6.7 – a virtual composite of more than 150 of history’s worst criminals – is played with genuine relish by Russell Crowe, making Washington’s “zero shits” approach that much funnier.
Unlike the other films I’ve talked about, Virtuosity was not a B-grade, straight-to-video kind of deal: it was a big budget cinema movie, costing in the vicinity of $40 million USD (about $60 million in today’s money) to produce. Apparently it only made thirty of that back at the box-office. I can’t imagine why.
If you’d like to see some genuinely good movies about VR, consider any of the below: • Tron (only the first one)
• The Martrix (only the first one) • The Cell (debatably)
• Strange Days (a must) • Existenz (a must)