Ok, so this movie has a sort of cult status because it was made for television, shown once, then ‘lost’ for many decades. But once you get that out of the way… it’s a pretty, comma, bad movie. Oh yes, the low-budget photography has its impressive moments and the sets are tinged with the midcentury weird aesthetic also found in the cult T.V. Show ‘The Prisoner’ but the story drags on and on.
The outline is that Stiller, a computer scientist, is promoted to the head of the SIMULACRON project to create a virtual computer world after the mysterious death of the project’s manager. Soon, he discovers alarming information about what the SIMULACRON project is really about and bizarre events occur which suggest the conspiracy may be unimaginably big.
Possible Influences: Kubrick, Phllip K. Dick, The Prisoner, The book Solaris by Stanislaw Lem and the film by Tarkovsky, Walter Benjamin
Possibly Influenced: Blade Runner, The Matrix, The Lathe of Heaven, Inception
The biggest problem is that the film is nearly *FOUR* hours long but the treatment is probably worth about 55-90 minutes tops. There are long, unmotivated digressions that don’t work because they neither motivate the plot nor improve the characterization. I rarely complain that movies are too long.
The film also takes ages to establish fairly ‘one-and-done’ plot points. For example, early in the movie the character of Lauser vanishes into thin air and nobody except the protagonist, Stiller, remembers he ever existed. Stiller spends a considerable amount of time in multiple scenes which drive home the fact that nobody remembers Lauser well after the point that the audience ‘gets it.’
This is also a major plot hole. Once the reason for Lauser’s evaporation is revealed the fact that Stiller can remember his existence makes no sense at all. It’s a bit hard to discuss this movie because there is a major plot twist just before the end of the first half. Unfortunately, most people will probably have tuned out by now.
This plot point is revealed in the worst possible way—dialogue, delivered by the worst actor in the lot—in the worst possible setting—the cafeteria—with the worst-possible dramatic timing—it’s completely arbitrary and feels forced. To make matters worse, it is totally impossible for this character to know the information revealed. Not “hard” not “surprising” but, in the films ontology, completely non-possible. It’s a major plot hole and it’s not one that occurs to you after a while it’s one that is immediately obvious and offensive to the audience’s intelligence.
More plot logic and pacing problems pile up very quickly. To avoid spoilers let’s just say that the ‘bad guys’ are established as being in possession of a plot apparatus that would enable them to instantaneously annihilate Stiller and remove all evidence of his existence in the same way as Louser. It’s also established that they have twice done this to others for reasons of them learning the information in the ‘plot twist.’ They don’t, however, do this for no discernible reason despite events which clearly establish that they do know that he knows the secret because they do stage several attempts on his life with fake accidents and have one of the other characters warn him ‘forget everything you saw.’
A recurring point through the plot is that Lauser’s vanishment was reported in the press and investigated by the police but that the police and reporter also forgot Lauser ever existed and the newspaper story has been ‘vanished’ as well, replaced by an unrelated piece. The final crowning ‘proof’ that the plot-twist ‘secret’ is correct is revealed when a ‘correct’ copy of the paper is discovered by one of the paper’s foreign bureaux. As with Stiller’s unexplained but plot-convenient ability to remember the disappearance, the existence of this unexpurgated newspaper is completely illogical.
The second half is worse than the first half, it spends most of its time meandering pointlessly except…. it starts to get a lot better about halfway through. The visualization is impressive, but empty due to the vapidity of the script. However, the script, acting and directing dramatically improve late in the game and by the time the final twist-within-a-twist is revealed and the credits role it truly becomes memorable and worthwhile, even thrilling! It’s a pity the rest of the film could not be as vigorous.
Alternative recommendations: Solaris, Tarkovsky A+; Blade Runner, Ridley Scott, B-; The Lathe of Heaven, David Loxton and Fred Barzyk, C+