That Fox is broadcasting "Virtuality," a film meant to introduce a series it has not scheduled, on a Friday night in June -- one week before the Fourth of July -- carries with it the cruel weight of a live burial.
While it ought to be said that "Virtuality" seems created to alienate any but the pointiest science-fiction fans (civilians might prefer the weekend backup on I-95 just outside New Haven), it is an impressively credentialed and stylish bit of television moviemaking, an exploration not merely of our practical dependence on technology but also of our psychological and nearly eroticized addiction to it.
Through Ronald D. Moore, one of the writers and a chief force behind "Battlestar Galactica," and Peter Berg, the director, the film maximizes its collaboration between Mr. Moore's blunt and distinctly masculine vision of a world careering toward apocalypse and the curvier intimacy of Mr. Berg's camera. His artfully melodramatic close-ups (the trademark of Mr. Berg's series "Friday Night Lights") are intended to remind us of all the fleshy emotion from which we absent ourselves when we choose to conduct our relationships at almost every level on screens.
To buy this argument, you would have had to have never fallen in love over a long epistolary relationship conducted through e-mail or found yourself viscerally excited by someone you had met in a chat room not devoted, let's say, to a discussion of "Bartleby the Scrivener." Real people cry, evade, dissemble, sour, percolate, speak truth to power, and here, Mr. Berg tells us at any rate, are what they look like doing it.
"Virtuality" takes place on Phaeton, a starship appointed as if from an Italian design magazine, which happens to be in the midst of a 10-year voyage through outer space with the mission of saving Earth from environmental degradation that will extinguish the planet in 100 years. (Those of you out there now suddenly shouting for the return of "Lipstick Jungle," I can hear you.) The Phaeton crew is made up of astrobiologists, geologists, computer scientists, all of them fantastically good-looking because just as I've always suspected the revolution won't be televised; it will be aerobocized.
Actually though, the starship is on view, the crew's efforts filmed as a reality-TV series broadcast on Earth to five billion viewers, the ratings serving as the clearest indicator that "Virtuality" isn't trafficking in futurism so much as nostalgia. Tensions among crew members are palpable, but needless to say the producers are demanding more. The only real respite available to those on the ship, the only form of privacy, is access to a radical form of virtual reality that allows them to inhabit the world of gaming quite literally. This all seems to work as a preserver of collective sanity until the gaming itself (in a crude metaphor perhaps too obvious even to qualify by the standards of the International Bureau of Metaphor) becomes life-imperiling (or so it seems).
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