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Film / Electric Dreams

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Meet Edgar

"is this a story?"
"what type?"

Electric Dreams is a 1984 Romantic Comedy (hovering about halfway between Science Fiction and Fantasy) and the debut feature of prolific 80s music video director Steve Barron, starring Lenny Von Dohlen, Virginia Madsen, Maxwell Caulfield, and Bud Cort as the voice of Edgar; the score, by Giorgio Moroder, incorporated songs by popular artists of the era such as PP Arnold, Culture Club, Heaven 17, Jeff Lynne, and Phil Oakey (of The Human League), which found their way onto an album that proved substantially more popular than the film itself — particularly the concluding song, "Together in Electric Dreams," which became a world-wide hit for Oakey.

Miles Harding (Lenny von Dohlen), an architect working for a large firm in San Francisco, having problems arriving at work on time, buys a computer to arrange his schedule and help him design his "earthquake brick" that will hold buildings together in seismic upheavals. Just moving in to his building is pretty cellist Madeline Robistat (Virginia Madsen), to whom Miles is intensely attracted. In order to facilitate work on his brick, Miles decides to patch his computer into his firm's immensely powerful super-computer; accidentally spilling champagne onto his motherboard, he is astounded when this produces a sentient computer.note  While he is at work, the computer (Bud Cort), hearing Madeline practicing a Bach minuet, engages her in a musical duel — she, naturally, attributes the music to Miles. When Miles realizes this, he decides to use the computer to woo Madeline for him — with phenomenal ill-success, at first, as the computer cannot understand what Love is — until Miles reminds it of how it felt when listening to Madeline's music. Unfortunately, this causes the computer to fall in love with her himself itself, and thus begins an escalating rivalry between man and machine for a woman's heart...

As mentioned above, the film hardly made an impact at the box office. Some critics found it generally disjointed and unbelievable, and disliked the obviously music-video influenced cinematic style. Others found it quirkily charming, recognizing particularly the "chemistry" of the cast, and recommended it as an ideal date movie. Lately, it has been gaining ground among children of The '80s as a typical film of the era and a vehicle for nostalgia.

Not to be confused with the television series Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams.

Tropes Employed In Electric Dreams:

  • Accidental Misnaming: As a result of Miles' having mistyped his name, Edgar refers to him as "Moles" throughout most of the movie.note 
  • Anachronism Stew: Like many movies of The '80s, computers were depicted as being a bit more powerful than they really were at the time. Hi-Resolution, graphics on 1984 monitors. TV shows being able to run on a computer (TV or film had yet to be digitized), instant modem connections, and a world wide web in an era where the internet was a much smaller place, barely accessible from home computers.
  • And I Must Scream: Edgar, who feels love for Madeline, but has no way to physically express it.
    Edgar: I want to touch her!
    Miles: (quietly) Perhaps you already have.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Madeline's response to Miles' "Why me?"
    Madeline: I like the way you look, the way you smile. I like the way you make me smile. I like the way you look at the world, how you care. Your brick, your drawings... Miles, I'm sorry if I can't put it into words. It's not about words, it's about a feeling. Miles, for the first time in my life, I feel like I'm not alone anymore, that you're not just someone living beneath me. You're beside me. Even when you weren't there, it was like you were! And I was all right! Miles, I guess I love you.
  • Artists Are Attractive: Miles falls for Madeline, a classical musician.
  • As Himself:
  • Brain Uploading: Probably Edgar's fate.
  • Call-Back: Madeline's tear affects Edgar in the same way as the champagne did, implying it made him even wiser.
  • Computer Equals Monitor: Semi-averted in that Edgar becomes sentient when force-fed data from another computer and has champagne spilled on his motherboard (which is a whole other Rule of Cool altogether), but when Edgar commits suicide, his monitor explodes.
    • Justified in that the entire computer is going to get hit by 40,000 volts. No CRT could survive that, and the motherboard will definitely be fried.
  • Creator Cameo: Giorgio Moroder appears as the manager of a radio station who cannot understand why Edgar’s song is playing on his wavelength.
  • Credit Card Destruction: Edgar the Computer gets mad at Miles, the man who accidentally made him sentient. Edgar hacks the credit card company, invalidating Miles' card, and getting the store cashier to cut up the card.
  • Credits Gag:
    • After the closing credits have run, a multicolored question mark appears in the lower right corner of the screen with a computer-like sound. After this, the line "ELECTRIC DREAMS FINISHED" appears in green at the upper left corner. The question mark is replaced by the line "no more?" Then the green text is replaced by "TIME TO DISCONNECT". Both then disappear, and multi-colored letters appear near the center of the screen reading "THE NED". The "N" is quickly deleted, the "E" moved over, and the "N" is reinserted properly to spell "THE END". As this disappears, Edgar's voice is heard laughing, and he says "H-hello? Hello? Good-goodbye."
    • Dedicated to the memory of the UNIVAC I.
  • Dark Reprise: A somber version of "Anna Magdalena's Notebook" plays as Madeline deals with the destruction of her cello.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: When Edgar "dreams" about Miles' "earthquake brick," as the Culture Club song "The Dream" plays (probably also qualifying as a Stealth Pun).
  • Disney Death: After Edgar causes himself to explode, Miles and Madeline hear him broadcasting on the radio.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: The concert scene where Miles' beeper starts playing Bach (thanks to Edgar) much to the annoyance of the other patrons. He does not know how to shut it off and has to run to the men's room to flush it down the toilet. It almost foreshadows the annoyance that we currently have with people who would rather show off their fancy ringtones when common sense indicates that they should put their cellphones on vibrate. Not to mention the embarrassment caused when they can't seem to find the off or mute button.note 
  • Duet Bonding: Edgar falls in love with Madeline when he joins her in playing a Bach minuet.
  • Elegant Classical Musician: Madeline
  • Expository Theme Tune: The opening song, "Electric Dreams."
    He was a boy who bought a computer,
    To put him right, wake him up on time —
    What an appliance — a matter of science —
    Taking over was its only crime!
    Electric Dreams! Electric! Ooh, lalala! Ooooooh!
  • Expy:
    • Edgar is a "Pinecone" computer. His branding and appearance, however, make him look a lot like an Apple.
    • That munching yellow box ... creature is a Lawyer-Friendly Cameo by Pac-Man.
  • The Faceless:
    • Edgar. The director, Steve Barron, refused to let the rest of the cast members ever meet Bud Cort during filming, except as a voice coming out of a box, to preserve their sense of interacting with a non-human personality.
    • However, Edgar does use Miles' television to make emoticons - at least 5 years before it became something people did on newsgroups.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Edgar is pondering the Love Triangle near the end, he's created some fairly weird equations.

  • I Had A Name: Edgar. The scene is a true Tearjerker.
  • Instant AI -- Just Add Water: Or, in this case, champagne.
  • iPhony: Edgar is a "Pinecone" computer who just happens to resemble the original MacIntosh. "Pinecone" could also be a take on Acorn, another popular computer brand at the time.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: When Edgar realizes that Madeline loves Miles, he decides to eliminate himself from the picture.
  • Jerkass: Bill, who when he hears that Madeline's beloved cello has been smashed, blandly assures her that he can perform her cello solo, instead.
  • Letting the Air out of the Band: An electronic one at the end of that song.
  • Love Triangle: Madeline for Miles and Edgar (who she thinks is Miles), though she is also attracted to fellow cellist Bill; Miles and Edgar for Madeline.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: It's plainly obvious Edgar is unable to handle his love for Madeline, to the point of lashing out at Miles when he refuses to tell Madeline the truth about the music.
  • Magic Feather: Madeline thinks her specially made cello made her talent better. Miles insists that Madeline was responsible for it, not her cello.
  • Miraculous Malfunction: Miles spills champagne on his PC while it is plugged into his company's megacomputer, causing his computer (of course!) to come to life.
  • Montage: Of Miles and Madeline frolicking at Alcatraz (no, really — and it's actually very romantic).
  • Naked People Are Funny: Madeline catches Miles naked in his apartment, desperately trying to screen both Edgar and his own anatomy from her at one time.
  • Playing Cyrano: Miles tries to use Edgar to compose music for him to present to Madeline.
  • Posters Always Lie: That devil Edgar in the Trope Image appeared in the posters, making it seem like he was a villain. Not so, though Edgar does manage to screw with Miles' life pretty good for a few minutes in the film.
  • Product Placement: Edgar's obscene "love-song" for Madeline is adapted from a "Pepsi" jingle ("Catch That Pepsi Spirit!").
  • Romantic False Lead: Bill. (1984 was a bad year for male classical musicians wooing their female cellist counterparts; that same year Dana Barrett was stolen from one by Dr. Peter Venkman.)
  • Shout-Out:
  • Smart House: Miles wires his house to be run by Edgar; this, of course, backfires spectacularly later.
  • Title Drop: Nearly every song on the soundtrack includes the phrase "Electric Dreams" in its lyrics.
  • Troll: Edgar manages to be one by at first claiming the deadly call is a "wrong number".
  • What Is This Thing You Call "Love"??: Miles has to explain "Love" to Edgar by reminding him how he felt when Madeline's music was playing. Edgar alternatively spells it "Luv".