Dan Staines

DAN STAINES re­mem­bers the bad ones

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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…?

(It was.)

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)

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