“What kind of thing could possibly so trouble the binary darkness of your computer’s soul?”
— Master Operator Andrew to The Beast
Opinions vary on this intelligent Canadian television production that, as result of its budgetary constraints, utilizes minimal “futuristic” builds (that remind of the ’70s Saturday morning kids TV sci-fi’ers Ark II, Jason of Star Command, and Space Academy) and instead, relies on preexisting, modernist glass and concrete structures of the Frank Lloyd Wright-variety (like Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville) to convey its futuristic setting.
In 2017, after the world’s ecological and economic collapse, a new Earth rises courtesy of a bureaucratic technocracy comprised of city-states operated by a network of super-intelligent, biological computers uplinked to a common-mainframe on Atlantis, the Earth’s moon base. Since the computers are biological, to communicate with their human makers, the computers work with a telepathic human interface who’s brainwaves are conditioned for computer interaction. The most powerful of these computers, The Beast, is connected with Melody, its human counterpart.
During Operation Ceres, a space project repositioning asteroids just beyond Mars into Earth’s orbit to redirect the Sun’s energy, The Beast receives an ominous alien communication to halt the project. The alien contact and the new, strange behavior of her computer counterpart, puts Melody in a race against time to convince man to halt the project: we’re disputing the “musica universalis,” the ancient, mathematical harmony of the celestial bodies that will unbalance the universe’s natural order. But the Earth’s new world order, believing their computer-based world is without error, says it’s impossible for any connection from outside the system and they dismiss Melody’s computer-induced dreams and visions of impending doom.
The plot sounds intriguing, doesn’t it?
Sadly, while intelligent and well-meaning — and dripping with nostalgia value courtesy of its multiple Friday and Saturday night airings during the USA Network’s Up All Night ’80s weekend programming blocks (check out our “Drive-In Friday: USA’s Night Flight Night” featurette) — Music of the Sphere is an ambitious, low-budget Canadian tax shelter that suffers from its two-year stop-start production schedule. The acting is woefully amateurish, rife with plodding expositional patches and voiceovers to advance the (intriguing) plot, and the Toho Studios spaceship and moon base modeling makes Gerry Anderson’s UFO and Space: 1999 look absolutely Trumbull-Lucasian.
But even while shot in grainy 16mm color and black and white, this feature film debut by writer-director Philip Jackson (of the popular ’90s renter Replikator) is still more engaging than any episode of Glen Larson’s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century plastic-verse. Thus, we’re willing to deal with the muddy sound (subtitled bilingual English and French punctuated by German and Russian), soundtrack distortion issues, and washed-out cinematography; we’re willing to overlook the fact that the “eye” of The Beast, the sentient computer of the film, communicates via a “Mystify”-styled screensaver (from our old After Dark program for Windows 1.0), and video information is still stored on (then groundbreaking) VHS tapes.
Overall, appreciation of Music of the Spheres is about one’s nostalgic perspective. Call them D-Movies if you want. But as with its fellow, low-budget government-funded Canadian tax shelters Terminal City Ricochet, 984: Prisoner of the Future, and CBC-TV’s public television-produced, sentient computer drama Hide and Seek, I appreciate Jackson’s valiant, deep examination of the search for truth, emotions, and logic by an artificial intelligence, and his incorporation of the Greek philosophies of Pythagoras and the complex concepts of Asteroseismology packaged into an easy-to-digest sci-fi format. I appreciate Music of the Spheres in same vein that led to my continued enjoyment of PBS-TV’s production of Ursula K. LeGuin’s A Lathe of Heaven, which explored the state of the human condition with the same level of attention to intellectual detail.
Truth be told: Music of the Spheres is ready for a major studio, big-budget CGI-driven remake (but please: don’t botch it like that awful 2002 A&E Lathe of Heaven remake or HBO’s 2018 reimaging of Fahrenheit 451).
And you can enjoy this “Ancient Future” treat with a very clean, free-with-ads stream on Tubi.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.