Sunday, May 17, 2015

Virtuality (live action movie), on DVD

Virtuality is a science fiction movie that was originally intended to be the pilot of a TV series. However, the TV series was never picked up. This is a very important detail that the DVD case failed to mention, which meant I totally wasn't expecting the ambiguous ending.

Review:

Virtuality takes place on the Phaeton, a starship designed to go on a 10-year journey looking for intelligent life. The Phaeton's mission changed once mission control reported that conditions were deteriorating back on Earth – due to increasingly catastrophic weather conditions, Earth will be inhabitable in about a century. The Phaeton's new mission is to search for a new home for humanity.

The Phaeton's crew includes 12 men and women, each with vital roles on the ship. In a very short time, they'll hit the “go/no go” point, at which time Frank, the commander, will have to decide if they'll continue on or turn back to Earth. In the meantime, each of the crew members blows off steam using recreational virtual reality modules (which seem to be malfunctioning in disturbing ways), and viewers are introduced to everybody and their sometimes complicated relationships. As if “go/no go” wasn't making things tense enough, nearly everything on the ship is being filmed for reality TV viewers back at home.

Keep in mind, I was watching this on the assumption that it was meant to be a standalone movie. From that point of view, everything was going pretty well, right up until near the end. The story was a little slow-moving, but the close quarters, character secrets, and ongoing question of who that creepy man who kept appearing in people's VR sessions was kept me going.

Everyone had secrets, or gripes, or personal issues. One crew member discovered that he was in the early stages of Parkinson's. Another gave up her chance to have children in order to go on this mission but couldn't quite give up that dream – in her VR sessions, she was pregnant and visiting her OB/GYN. A couple people, one single and one married to another crew member, were having an affair via their VR sessions. Another couple was feeling the strain of having to play a part for the reality TV audience. (I should note that one plus of this movie was the diverse cast of characters - not everyone was white and heterosexual.)

It was a lot of stuff, but I didn't mind, because I figured it was all clues. Somewhere in all those details were hints about who the creepy guy was, or who created him. Several people, including the commander, had begun having issues with their VR sessions. Although everything seemed to be going fine, an anomalous character would appear who the ship's AI couldn't recognize, who wasn't bound by the rules of the program, and who couldn't be controlled by the user. That anomalous character would usually kill the crew member.

At least at first, this was just weird and disturbing, because it wasn't like the deaths were permanent. Part of the way through the movie, the commander even found the “glitch” to be energizing. Virtual death reminded him he was alive, I guess. I found the commander's sudden change of mood to be disturbing, and I wasn't the only one. Then things took a turn for the worse when one character was raped in her VR session and wasn't permitted to exit until it was over.

I figured that this was a sign that whoever on the ship was doing this was escalating. This seemed to be confirmed when one character was then killed. The only problem? The death happened maybe 10 minutes before the end of the movie. How can a murder mystery be resolved in only 10 minutes? The answer: it can't.

The ending was completely ambiguous. One reality TV-style snippet of an interview with the person who was killed indicated that he didn't think anything that happened in a VR session was real. So did that mean he raped the one crew member, and she realized it somehow and arranged for him to die? Except the anomalous character killed him in a VR session, too, and he didn't seem to know who or what it was. And what about the weird moment at the end, when the dead guy appeared within his own VR module?

The bottom line: this should not have been sold as a standalone movie. And it was. Nowhere on the DVD container does it say that this was a pilot episode of anything. It looks like a standalone movie, and, for that reason, I will judge it as one. As a standalone movie, it had promise, and then it fell flat on its face. Virtuality's very ambiguous ending left me feeling angry because it could have been so much better than it was.

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