The latest in New Economy entertainment, “Quantum Project” is undone by the Old Economy reality that no amount of virtual magic and digital effects can substitute for a script. Touted in its on- and off-line promotions as “the first world premiere entertainment event to be instantly available worldwide … only on the Internet,” short pic is a murky fusion of love story and adventure in quantum mechanics that can be viewed exclusively on computer by downloading from Web site and co-producer SightSound.com.
Sheer novelty of feeling a part of the Friday online launch should elicit megahits from Web heads looking for the Next New Thing, while Hollywood observers will closely monitor pic’s online performance (which can’t be measured by traditional B.O. terms) as a potential harbinger of the new medium’s capabilities.
Unlike many Web shorts that are predominantly indie, and shot to the microbudget standards of digital video, “Quantum Project” was shot on film by a high-end Hollywood crew led by first-time helmer Eugenio Zanetti, taking a detour from his successful film design and opera careers. Glitzy cachet is further enhanced by thesps Stephen Dorff, John Cleese and Fay Masterson, who made heads turn in “Eyes Wide Shut,” and a high-end look that makes this by far the most expensive-looking ‘Net pic to date.
Like a piece of software, film comes in three versions (3.0, 3.5 and 4.0), with reportedly slight differences between them. Reviewed version is 4.0, which surprisingly begins not with a visual bang, but a verbal dud, as Dorff’s physicist Paul Pentcho sums up his job in overloaded voiceovers such as, “I smash through atoms and sift through the debris.”
Paul works 10 days out of every month in a titanic, sprawling underground facility housing the world’s largest particle accelerator, and is shown either dwarfed by the inhumanly gigantic facility or sitting in a chair, plugged in and apparently dropping out into a world where atoms go on a mating dance. This parallel between atomics and amour is haphazardly dramatized in David Aaron Cohen’s script, attempting to put across the twin messages that all work and no play make Paul a dull boy — and that human hearts, like atoms, will bond no matter the obstacle.
Compressed playing time is obviously a must for pic’s downloadable access, but it places impossible pressures on the storytelling, which introduces the kind of concepts and character needs that are better suited to a modest feature-length pic.
After experiencing what he describes as “a psychotic episode” in the accelerator lab, Paul abruptly flies home to L.A., where he can afford a swank, mid-century modern hillside pad yet drives around in a ‘60s-style red VW Bug. Suffering flashbacks from his atom trip (which viewer sees via images formatted in Windows-like toolbar screens and titled “Paul’s Brain”), the scientist crashes into two other identical red Bugs, one containing ex-g.f. Mia (Masterson) and her current beau, Will (Russell Brown).
Mia takes Paul up the coast to Xanadu Castle, where as an art restorer she’s touching up a Michelangelo-like ceiling painting and where, maybe, they can renew their love. Though the moment too closely recalls the church painting scene in “The English Patient,” picture of Paul and Fay hanging by block and tackle below the grand painting is by far pic’s most arresting image, visualizing the big ideas better than they’re played out.
Transitions and cutting are absurdly frantic, however, and soon Paul is signaled by his home computer to visit his dissolute physicist father, Alexander (Cleese), who lives in a mansion that appears conceived by Peter Greenaway. Luscious screen pictures of Alexander’s glorious squalor actually grab attention away from the scene’s point, which is to have dad tell son that he shouldn’t miss out on life like he did.
Wrap-up is ludicrous, with Paul and Mia reuniting in yet another car crash, with closing hint that everything we’ve seen is, in fact, in Paul’s brain.
Desire of underlying story and themes is to convey a greater metaphysical reality, but frenetic, uneven pacing and a mood of general impatience feel decidedly nonmetaphysical. While such antsy pacing may seem apropos to the Internet mindset, a more contemplative pace — allowing viewer to drink in set pieces into which designer-at-heart Zanetti obviously put tender loving care — is truer to the ‘Net experience, where the eye explores a screen for information at a rhythm slower than a kinetic TV ad.
Thesps have barely enough time to register an impression, with Cleese mostly looking tired and wasted, and Masterson mostly looking beautiful. Dorff is frustratingly opaque, never making the arc from workaholic scientist to a man revealing his soul. Perf’s limits, however, are also those of the movie, and what’s sketched here could be the makings of something truly interesting, a kind of William Gibson-ish “Solaris.”
Digital composites are artificial, yet suitably trippy, but certain effect flourishes are too often repeated. Tech work is ultrapro, with exquisite design work sure to be lost on most users’ small monitors.