This is a movie that I've been wanting to see since I was young, but, although it was made in my time, it wasn't readily available. Alas, Criterion has finally released it, and I was so excited to finally see it!
Basically, it is a TV movie based on the early 1960s sci-fi short story by Daniel Galouye. It's about an engineer who is caught not only in an ethical dilemma on how his machine that mimics reality should be used (for the good of people or for corporate greed), but he debates whether he is in a fabricated reality or a real one. It is more, but I'm not going to ruin it.
The movie itself is an excellent adaptation of the novel MINUS the CGI effects (no flying cars, no futuristic city, no public-opinion polsters). It is made in similar style to Truffaut's "Fahrenheit 451," Godard's "Alphaville," and Barzyk's "The Lathe of Heaven" (or even, dare I say, "A Clockwork Orange"). Many sci-fi fanatics may find this problematic, but I love these movies because it makes them more "down to earth" and more human (for lack of a better word) and less "contrived" and/or reliant on special effects to tell the story.
The Criterion version has restored Fassbinder's movie, with not only an outstanding digital transfer, but "New English subtitles" (as stated on the back). I have only seen 1 scene in my life, and it was from a horrible copy! Fassbinder may not be a name associated with sci-fi, but the movie has all of his traits found in other movies he directed: muscular men of different races, overly made-up women with large, blond hair, and give-and-take dialogue. There's even a "Lili Marleen" bit! Equally masterful is his constant use of mirrors (or any reflective surfaces, such as water) and windows. It's fascinating to watch! It is also somewhat slow-paced (not as much as Angelopoulos), and this may tend to turn casual viewers off (I'm noting this, because reviews by other about slow-paced movies are negative because of pacing, and this is something that many viewers have overcome or need to overcome). I like slow-pace; It's not so slow that you are bored. The story carries well. Great use of music (Strauss, Greek folk, and Jazz/blues) and sound effects (screeches and such that heighten tension). Great use of art direction, colors, editing, cinematography, etc.
I watched this movie AFTER reading the story, and, even without the special effects, the movie is on-target with its adaptation (there is some added and some changed, but it works!). No pollsters, but Fassbinder molds the movie in such a way so that not having them doesn't really matter.
There is some female nudity, and, outside of the US or UK, this is normal for TV movies and foreign cinema - I am only noting this because the film has no rating on the cover!
There are some great features on the Criterion set, including "Making of..." documentary. I'm more of a Herzog fan, but I've been revisiting Fassbinder recently (next on list: "Berlin Alexanderplatz, which is also on Criterion and I have seen before). It is a 2-disc set. It's great to sit through the ending credits and chill to the soundtrack.
To repeat myself, it is probably NOT for the casual movie watcher. This is Fassbinder, and if you don't like slow pacing, early 70s cinema, or made-for-TV movies (it doesn't "feel" like one at all), this movie will probably disappoint. In my opinion, it is for those who study foreign cinema, and, especially, New German Cinema (this definitely fits the NGC German identity crisis philosophy), and, even more so, the cinema of Fassbinder.
Spin around in tandem on swivel chairs with a fellow viewer and enjoy! (It's a scene in the movie) ---- 5 stars for film, transfer, and DVD extras combined.