Virtual Girl is a 1998 movie about a computer program gone wrong. The premise is fairly cliched, but the general plot has possibilities. The movie fell rather flat on its face, however. Please be prepared for spoilers here, because I am about to dissect this bit of cinematography, and I will give away the ending.
The opening plot involves a young computer programmer who is happily married and has an infant son, and who is apparently on the fast track to being a junior partner in his firm. However, we know right away that something is amiss, because he has once again been bumped out of the cue for working on a choice program. Instead, he is asked to work on a program entitled “Virtual Call Girl”.
As he prepares to enter the program to work on it (something that need only be done for play-testing programs in real life, I believe. Programming is far more likely to involve one or more persons sitting around with tall stacks of printed program or scanning screen-fulls of numbers and letters, looking for the errors made in keying in or creating logic statements), the director emphasizes that the young man works with a virtual reality vest, gloves and hood.
Through a series of interpersonal encounters we learn that:
1.) He has a best friend who is also a computer programmer, but isn’t considered as good as he is.
2.) That his wife has written a program to search her law files.
3.) That the wife works in a law firm, and is often tired and discouraged at the end of the day, and therefore “not in the mood”.
At first, he is merely fascinated by the program. He remarks as he makes the first examination of it that it is “very, very good”. Soon, however, he begins to look worn. He seems to get lost in the program and wind up late for dinner–a lot. But soon things begin to escalate.
His wife gets a phone call featuring feminine vocalizations from the program. She is locked out of the house by the electronic security system. A masseur shows up on her door step, ostensibly sent by her husband; then he receives an email saying she has an emergency which causes him to catch the masseur (and misinterpret his actions) at work.
Meanwhile, our young programmer suddenly thinks he is seeing “Virtuality”, the girl in the program, in the halls at work. He nearly loses it when a woman that seems to be the program girl turns up at the board meeting–and is awarded his dream account. As it turns out, the woman in question was the model for the program, and she has done the classic thing of sleeping her way into the influential account.
Simultaneously, we learn that extra money has suddenly turned up in our hero’s bank account.
The crisis point arrives when he interupts the massage, and the wife says “but you sent the guy!” The young programmer believes that somehow the program has gone rogue and is threatening his marriage and wife because the virtual girl has fallen in love with him.
He sends his wife off in her car to her mother’s, and dashes back toward the office intending to shut the offending program down, once and for all. He dashes in, and asks his secretary to do a little investigative work for him in regards the unusual sum of money.
His intent is derailed when his wife winds up in the hospital because the brakes on her car suddenly fail. When he visits her in the hospital, Virtual Girl appears on the heart monitor just minutes before it shorts out nearly frying the flesh-and-blood young woman.
We then get a cut-away scene of model-girl doing the lap-dance with the boss on one of the desks. After they part, adjusting their clothing, she leans down to the computer, where the Virtual Girl is displayed and says Soto Voce, “Bitch!”
She enters the elevator, and the elevator blows up.
The protagonist has called his good friend and fellow programmer to shut down the killer program once and for all. They arrive at the studio to find the boss has been fried by his keyboard. The friend is left outside the program, to operate the off button. Inside, it seems as if the protagonist is being pursued by Cupids gone mad; but he has provided himself with a tool from another program, and is able to shoot back. However, once he reaches Virtual Girl, she seems more inclined to talk that shoot; and she says that she did not disable the brakes on his wife’s car OR short-circuit her hospital monitor.
About that time, the point of a sword appears from her middle, and she begins bleeding. The good-buddy friend guy appears from a curtain behind her, and announces that HE is the killer; and that our hero has been hogging all the glory and the goodies. The hero’s gun fails to go off, but the program dollie suddenly kicks buddy-boy’s gun out of his hand. There is a flurry of action, and we learn that the wife, have been contacted by the secretary, hacked into the program at the last minute and rescues the young programmer.
Over all, I give this movie about a “B”. It isn’t a C or a D. The acting is functional, if not great; there is a real plot (unlike Avatar, which had great acting and effects, but no plot), but the pieces of the plot are not presented well cinematographically and the secretary is not in evidence as a human being until after the bank has called about the unusual sum of money. Moreover, the scenes purported to be within the virtual reality program are very realistic, and the young man’s senual involvement is emphasized; yet the equipment which he puts on before entering his virtual world consists of gloves, a vest and a helmet. Despite the swirling, hypnotic lines introduced and the beginning of the Virtual Call Girl program, the gear stretched my credibility for the purported response.
The story follows conventions laid out by William Gibson and Melissa A. Scott in their novels of cyberspace, in that programmers/hackers would enter the world of cyberspace as if it were a real place and use tools to reshape the program from within. The plot falls even within the realm of possibility once we realize that this is not a program gone mad, but a programmer using virtual reality and real-world electronics to commit murder.
Just a little bit of tweaking–introduce the secretary as part of the office team early in the movie, play up a little more tension between the guys, shorten the call-girl scenes (always leave them wanting a little more, after all), provide the protagonist with a VR rig that could believably produce whole-body sensation and one might actually have a movie that could get at least an B+ or maybe even an A-. It would even be possible to preserve the Disneyesque melodramatic, larger than life quality of the drama and still end with a product that would be a very good movie instead of a moderately good movie.
Cover of Neuromancer