Alex Thomson

Electric Dreams (1984, Steve Barron)

Electric Dreams is a very strange film. And not just because it’s about a computer brought to life by champagne and electric fire. Not even because said computer has the voice of Bud Cort. It’s strange because it has no interest in having a conventional narrative structure, both in terms of the screenplay and the direction.

Lenny von Dohlen plays the lead. He’s a young architect in San Francisco who wants to create an earthquake-proof brick. The whole first act concerns this ambition, along with him meeting his fetching new neighbor. Virginia Madsen plays the neighbor. She’s a young cellist who’s just started with the symphony. Will Electric Dreams have anything to do with her ambitions or von Dohlen’s super-brick?

Nope.

Rusty Lemorande’s script even sets up various opportunities for these plot threads to return or pick up and he just leaves them. Director Barron seems more than comfortable with avoiding them because they don’t figure into what he enjoys doing in the film. He likes having scenes of von Dohlen and Madsen’s sometimes problematic courtship, usually set to music, or scenes with von Dohlen trying to deal with his newly self-aware computer. The computer even has to do with the two subplots–super-brick and symphony success–and Electric Dreams just skips it in favor of a far more audio-visual experience.

Barron’s direction is peculiar without being particularly ambitious. He maintains the awkward narrative tone, filling Electric Dreams not just with interludes between von Dohlen and Madsen, but in its fantastic montage sequences as well. Electric Dreams has spectacular cinematography, just in how Alex Thomson is able to get the camera swinging around the set. Barron loves crane shots and Thomson nails every one of them. Lots of tight focus on close-ups, which Thomson shots perfectly, and Peter Honess edits beautifully. Electric Dreams, even when it’s not trying to be a computer generated imagery spectacular, is always dynamic to watch. Until the end, when Barron’s music video direction instincts go too wild with the last montage.

Except he’s still got Honess’s editing and the fantastic New Wave soundtrack to get it through.

Von Dohlen’s a likable lead; the film doesn’t task him much. There’s an air of unreality to the whole thing–a San Francisco computerized fairy tale–and maybe Madsen weathers it better. Her part is easier; even though she has her own subplot for a while, she’s really just in the girlfriend part. She does get the film’s loveliest sequence though, when she’s playing a duet with the computer.

As the computer, Cort’s fine. Lemorande–and the film–don’t ask many big questions about existence; Cort’s just got to have personality and sympathy. He does both well.

Electric Dreams is a marvelously well-made film. It’s also quite a bit of fun to boot.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Steve Barron; written by Rusty Lemorande; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Peter Honess; music by Giorgio Moroder; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Larry DeWaay and Lemorande; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Lenny von Dohlen (Miles Harding), Virginia Madsen (Madeline Robistat) and Bud Cort (Me).


Labyrinth (1986, Jim Henson)

Every so often, Labyrinth plays like an episode of “Fraggle Rock” with special guest star David Bowie. Oddly, the film starts Bowie heavy but pretty soon he’s just popping in to remind the viewer he’s still around. His performance is terrible; his singing sequences are fine, especially how capably he acts with all the puppets.

It’s important too, because there’s nothing to Labyrinth without the puppets. Henson knows how to direct the puppets and his company knows how to make living creatures with them. It’s a shame none of this attention went into the story, which apes The Wizard of Oz more than a little.

Except Jennifer Connelly’s lead is unlikable for a long, long time. There are all sorts of hints at how her adventure in the magical goblin land relates to her real life, but the metaphors are undercooked. The film’s goal is more about showcasing what Henson and company can do.

And they can do quite a bit. Labyrinth is absolutely gorgeous. While the Alex Thomson photography doesn’t especially impress, John Grover’s editing is amazing.

Connelly is likable enough–eventually–but she doesn’t really have a character to play. Labyrinth doesn’t even spend time making the fantasy world seem real, which becomes clearer and clearer. Henson just needed to slow down and enjoy himself. Or maybe he really didn’t want to do anything with human actors.

Problems aside, there are some truly wondrous creature creations in the film and it goes by fast. Just way too fast.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jim Henson; screenplay by Terry Jones, based on a story by Dennis Lee and Henson; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by John Grover; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, Elliot Scott; produced by Eric Rattray; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring David Bowie (Jareth the Goblin King), Jennifer Connelly (Sarah), Toby Froud (Toby), Shelley Thompson (Stepmother), Christopher Malcolm (Father), Natalie Finland (Fairy), Shari Weiser & Brian Henson (Hoggle), Ron Mueck & Rob Mills (Ludo) and Dave Goelz & David Alan Barclay (Didymus).


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