A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 584 – Overdrawn at the Memory Bank

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank – October 5th, 2011

I really feel pretty bad about watching this tonight, but Andy suggested it and, well, I don’t really have any better suggestions. Though I do maintain that this is not so much a failing of our collection as it is a sign that we’re getting down to the end of the project and we’ve watched the vast majority of our really good movies. But then again, it’s hard to plan specifically for something like what to watch when someone like Steve Jobs passes away. We’ve burned through pretty much everything else that could be considered remotely appropriate and it was this or Real Genius, which we are saving for either The Worst Day Ever or the end of the project. So we went with this. Sorry, Mr. Jobs. You gave us revolutionary tech and we’re watching a made-for-tv movie featuring Raul Julia and stock footage of baboons. I am so ashamed.

As with pretty much every other movie we own that was featured in MST3K, I take responsibility for this one being in our home. We bought it on VHS when I was in college, more as a novelty than anything else. I mean, can you believe this movie was ever actually available on home video? It is probably up there with the weirdest stuff we own, just considerably cheaper in terms of production values than most of the others. It takes place in a future where everyone’s lives are controlled by an authoritarian government/corporation. One of the key points made is that regular people aren’t allowed to watch movies. They still exist, but they’re locked into a private database only accessible to the head of the corporation. The recreational activity of choice these days is called doppling. It involves having a little bit of tech implanted in your head that allows your consciousness to be stored in a cube and transferred into other things, such as animals. People dopple by spending a weekend riding around in the head of a lion or a horse or whatever. Meanwhile, their bodies are being taken care of at the doppling facility, stored in racks full of cots while bored technicians keep an eye on them.

The main character of the movie, Aram Fingal, is a programmer who’s bored with his job and his life in general. This sort of character is a stock figure in something like this. Obviously the dystopian setting requires that most people be subdued and willing to live with the monotony of lives controlled by the government and whatever basic amusements they’ve been offered. But Fingal isn’t. He wants something else. And he finds it by hacking into the movie database and watching Humphrey Bogart on his work terminal. It’s only a matter of time until he’s caught and reprimanded. And said reprimand? Comes in the form of an enforced doppling. Fingal hasn’t ever doppled before and he’s not terribly enamoured of the concept, but if he wants to keep his job then he’s got to do it. And all he can afford is three days in an old baboon.

Now, that sounds somewhat ridiculous, and it is somewhat ridiculous, albeit with a fairly decent core concept. But if you think for one moment that it’s not hilariously awful to listen to people say “Fingal’s dopple” over and over again? You are wrong and have no sense of humor. Just say it to yourself. Now say it again. Now say it about fifty times in the space of a minute or two. Now run some old National Geographic footage of baboons in the background and keep saying it. Congratulations. You have now made a reasonable facsimile of the first half of this movie, minus the late Raul Julia. To get the rest you need a somewhat modern looking office building and a seedy bar in which to re-enact portions of Casablanca. Also, a chroma key editing deck would help really set the mood. Give it that made-in-high-school feel.

No. I’m not joking. This is actually what this movie involves. The doppling facility loses Fingal’s body for a little while and the tech who was monitoring his dopple session has to talk him through the situation, keeping track of him while his consciousness is in the computer banks because they couldn’t keep it in the cube it was in while he was hanging out with the baboon. So Fingal starts making his own reality in the computer – very pre-Matrix, but lacking anything that made that movie cool. I’m sure some people would argue that the whole Bogart thing is cool, but no. No it’s not. It’s not remotely cool. I am so sorry, Raul Julia, but your Bogart impression kind of stunk.

Obviously since Fingal’s a rebel and a hacker and all, and now he’s inside the computers of the government/corporation, he’s going to muck around as much as he can, which worries the people in charge. So they try to get rid of him and he tries to get away from them and they have to find his body but that means inventorying the entire facility because apparently their organization skills suck hard. Seriously though, the reason this happened? Was because a kid on a field trip changed the tags on Fingal and someone else. And no one noticed. The only thing telling these people where each body belongs is a system of colored tags without any other identifying information on them and a kid on a field trip was allowed close enough to mess that up. For such an authoritarian society, they’re pretty sloppy.

There’s some really incredibly obvious foreshadowing early on, involving a vortex you have to avoid getting sucked into or you end up losing your consciousness completely. There’s a burgeoning romance between Fingal and the tech who’s been keeping an eye on him. And then there’s the stock footage and the Bogart impression and lots of cheap special effects and so on and so forth. While watching it I did a little reading up and found that it was one of three sci-fi book-to-tv-movie adaptations done by WNET/PBS in the 1980s. And that’s great! I’m glad someone had the idea of making sci-fi stories into tv movies or PBS at the time. As a kid I thrived on things like Doctor Who on PBS. But oh, oh the budget and the time period are so very obvious. The only remotely big name on the cast list is Raul Julia and let me be frank: This was not the performance of his career. And maybe the story reads better on paper, but on screen it just comes off as goofy, especially with people saying “Fingal’s dopple” over and over. It ends up being less a commentary on authoritarian governments meshing with corporations and controlling people’s lives and more a silly story about a ridiculous future.

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October 5, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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