Twelve astronauts use virtual reality devices to escape the crushing confinement of their spaceship as they embark on a ten year mission to what they hope will be another habitable world.
Virtuality is a ninety minute pilot for a series that never came to be; consequently, it’s a little hard to judge. As it stand, I could point out the many unresolved plot points and underdeveloped characters, but these are problems that would have worked themselves out as the series progressed.
I say that with some confidence given the involvement of Ronald D. Moore, of Battlestar Galactica and Caprica fame. He was co-creator and producer along with Caprica writer Michael Taylor. That pedigree is enough to make me miss what might have been, and to look kindly on what there is.
There are a lot of points of comparison between this and Caprica. Both draw heavily on the theme of virtual reality, and how the existence of a perfect fantasy world effects humanity; especially when the fantasy goes wrong.
While Caprica had the ghostly avatar of Zoe Graystone, Virtuality has its own mysterious entity within the program; but this one, played by the fidgety guy from Breakout Kings, is a lot more malicious. It seems (and I’m extrapolating based on one episode) that the virtual reality intruder is trying to drive people out of the simulation, to wake them up. He does this by turning their dreams into nightmares. A few characters in the pilot hint at the idea that the crews’ perception of what is real and what is not, is not entirely accurate. Was their entire voyage just a virtual reality simulation? I guess we’ll never know.
The show had a great cast, which notably included the delightful Clea Duvall, who should be in everything. They’re very believable as the crew of a spaceship; they’re skilled and intelligent, and everyone brings something to the table, which is important if you’re going to be left on your own in a metal box floating through space. A few of them have some good moments in the pilot, especially Billie Kashmiri, the reality show host / computer scientist, but most of them sink into the background.
The series is very quiet in tone. There is no overt source of conflict, except in the virtual realm, but as that is done in a sort of dream-state, there’s a stoic separation between it and the dramatic arc of the rest of the show. This contradiction actually comes up within the story, after Billie is attacked in virtual reality, the crew debates whether or not it actually matters. It’s the kind of thoughtful consideration I expect from Moore.
Virtuality was a great start to a promising series, and it’s a shame we never got more of it. As a stand-alone movie, it’s entertaining, but the knowledge that you’ll never get answers to the mysteries it raises can’t help but color the experience. Still, if you can find it for cheap, it’s worth seeing.