Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Virtuality - The Crew | A Constantly Racing Mind

I am glad that Fox had the foresight to cancel "Virtuality" from their schedule. As a TV series, "Virtuality" was just too good to make it as a series on Fox. Taking a cue from ABC's cancellation of "Defying Gravity" in 2009, a show more or less on the same premise of "Virtuality," Fox cancelled a thoughtful, possibly deep story, from" Battlestar Galactica" Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore. What was supposed to be a pilot for a show about 12 astronauts in deep space. Fox turned into a two-hour TV show of a 10-year mission to find a new planet for Earth's survivors to colonize. What the show does is leave the viewers wanting more and leaving him with no hope of finding in what direction that Moore and director Peter Berg were taking "Virtuality."

After six months in travelling through space, the 12 astronauts onboard the Phaeton, this spinning mass of metal has reached the planet Neptune. We meet the crew through by following the ships commander around starting with what he does for recreation. Frank Pike, the commander of this five-year mission out to the Epsilon Eridani system in hopes of finding either life or a planet habitable to humans. Not long after the crew left on their mission, weather on Earth becomes erratic and scientists declare that life on Earth will be inhabitable in less than a century. The crew's mission has become more complicated. Commander Frank Pike played by Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau whose credits include "Firewall" (2006) and "Kingdom of Heaven" (2005) is an odd choice for the leader of this crew and this film. As a commander, he goes through his day starting with a Civil War reenactment where he and his cavalry regiment are ambushed. Halting the virtual reality simulation, one character marches out of the scene, a Corporal with revolver in hand, and tells him "You really are not fooling anyone Frank, least of all yourself." and pulls the trigger shooting several bullets into Frank. We meet the ships computer Jean (like HAL from "2001: A Space Odyssey"), however, with a woman's voice who informs Frank of his meetings and job duties for the day, and that Nu-Trac, is their reality show sponsor of the day. Passing thru the ship and stopping to chat with various members of the crew, we meet Rikka, played by "Resident Evil" actor Sienna Guillory (Jill Valentine). Then Pike stops, chats, and throws a pair of panties at botanist, husband and wife team Kenji (Nelson Lee), and Alice (Joy Bryant) who apparently "did it" in the greenhouse the night before, that they need to pick up after themselves. Then Pike heads on to the ship’s galley (kitchen) where the show’s gay couple are on kitchen duty, Manny (Jose Pablo Cantillo) and Val (Gene Farber) and are fighting on how much to salt the food. With security camera footage, reality show interviews, and Frank’s interaction, we meet the rest of the crew. On the flight deck is Sue Parsons (Clea DuVall) and Dr. Jules Braun (Erik Jensen), as the designer and navigator of the Phaeton starship.

Funding the mission is a reality show deal, featuring the ship and the crew in a Big Brother type reality show. The show's producer is their Psych Officer; Dr. Roger Fallon (James D’Arcy), whom we later find is married to Rikka and realizes she is having an affair with members of the crew. Kerry Bishé ("Scrubs") plays Billie Kashmiri, the ships computer expert and Ritchie Coster (The Dark Knight) is Dr. Jimmy Johnson, Jet Propulsion Engineer and second in command of the mission. As viewers of Science Fiction, we know that any starship on long distance travel has a ships doctor, and Dr. Adin Meyer is it and we quickly learn that just before the decision to go or not to go, that Dr. Meyer (Omar Metwally) has just diagnosed himself with Parkinson's disease. At this point, not continuing the mission should be a no-brainer, the ship's doctor has a degenerative disease, and the virtual reality software has a major glitch, an un-programmed character invades the programs and kills the users during their virtual sessions, not physically, which brings up other moral dilemmas. Pike on the other hand based on a replay of his virtual session where he is shot to death by a character masquerading as a Corporal in his Civil War battle; Pike replays it in slow motion and has some sort of epiphany. The viewer doesn't quite “get it” but the show alludes to, and promises much in the way of conspiracy, divinity, and a possibility of greater dramatic television series than "Battlestar Galactica" or "Caprica" combined.

Virtuality - The Ship | A Constantly Racing Mind

The nice thing about "Virtuality" is not only the tension between the crew but also how Peter Berg directs the actors and the scenes, giving subtle hints in a facial clue than in dialog. The camera shots are never too far from being either a security camera shot, or from Billie's "lipstick" handheld camera. Of course, there are shots to set the frame of reference, but Berg does them subtlety so as not to distract the viewer. There is a lot of dialog between the crewmembers and not all is what is at it seems and that is the mystery that later episodes were to solve if the show had been picked up. Another subtle layer that Peter Berg uses is in the musical scoring of "Virtuality." Wendy and Lisa of Prince's Revolution provide an excellent mood-setting layer that haunts, yet propels the scenes. The images differ between the real life aboard the Phaeton spacecraft and the virtual world that we join the crew members as they get away for private R&R. In Billie's case, it as the leader of Japanese Rock and Roll band, who are also as spies, to a virtual affair between Pike and Rikka. The ship’s doctor likes to paint and we see an incredible mountain scene that is all CGI but beautiful to behold. In all cases, the clarity and crispness of the virtual scenes pop out at the viewer signaling that what you are seeing is not real, because it looks too good. The end of this episode and thus the film is a twist and although not having at thirteen more episodes to at least get a sense of direction "Virtuality" was heading the viewer is left unsatisfied but with this gem of film. Watch "Virtuality" for concept and direction and just imagine what good television would have been like.

Movie Data

Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller
Year: 2009
Staring: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Sienna Guillory, James D'Arcy
Director: Peter Berg
Producer(s): Ronald D. Moore
Writer: Michael Taylor, Ronald D. Moore
Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 87 minutes
Release Date: 6/26/2006

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