The Movie Machine


The Movie Machine

“I really appreciate your agreeing to do this,” Jenkins said as he led Kyle down the long hallway of the research and development section of Megatech.

“I couldn’t believe what they told me on the phone,” Kyle said.

“It is a pretty remarkable breakthrough, isn’t it? You know, out of 500 randomly selected calls, we had 86 percent willing to participate in our consumer-testing phase. Eighty-six percent—that’s unbelievable. I don’t mind telling you we’re very excited about the possibilities of VI-CAM.”

“Can you tell me again what VI-CAM stands for?”

“Sure, it took me a week to get it right. It stands for Viewer-Interactive Computer-Activated Movies.”

“How does it work?” Kyle asked.

“It’s really quite simple. Have you ever had the experience of coming out of a movie and liking everything about it except for a few parts.”

“Yeah, that happens a lot.”

“I’m sure you’re aware how much computers have improved over the past few years. We can process information faster and store and recall it much easier. So what we do in VI-CAM is take a character in a movie and more or less reduplicate him or her into computer memory. We do that with each character in the movie. With a few additional computer graphics breakthroughs, the system we’ve developed lets you take those characters and actually program the movie you want to see.”

Jenkins led him into a small room with a large-screen TV. “There are refreshments in the refrigerator. Take all the time you want. I’ll set it up to get you started. First thing we do is have you watch the uncut Hollywood version of the movie and then Lorie, the main character in the movie, will come on screen and ask you how you’d like to edit it. You can see it in as many versions as you want and stay as long as you want. We’re open 24 hours a day. Have fun.” And with that Jenkins left.

Kyle watched the Hollywood version first. It was a PG movie called Party SchoolUSA.

After it was over the actress Lorie Summers came on the screen. “Kyle, you still there?”

Kyle didn’t answer.

She smiled. “Kyle, you awake, or what?”

“Sorry. I guess I’m just not in the practice of talking to a TV.”

“I understand. Well, how did you like the movie?”

“It was okay,” he said politely.

“Just okay?”

“There were some things I didn’t care for.”

“No problem. We can change it anyway you want. Did you keep notes while you watched?”

“Yeah.”

“Great. How about if we go through what you wrote down?”

Kyle glanced at his notes. “All the parents and the teachers in the movie seem so messed up. It’s like you’re trying to say adults are no help at all to teenagers.”

“That’s right, Kyle. Adults are incompetent and stupid.”

“I don’t agree with that. My parents aren’t.”

“Do you agree with everything your parents say?”

“No, but even when we disagree, I respect what they tell me.”

“Why?”

“Because they’ve been through it all once before.”

“Adults don’t know what it’s like now for kids growing up,” she said.

“Oh, maybe not the exact things, but a lot of things are the same.”

“So you want the adults to be more … ?”

“Like real adults.”

She smiled faintly. “Well, you’re shooting down about half the plot, but we can fix it up the way you want. Anything else?”

“I really like you in the movie, Lorie, but I was wondering if you could, you know, not swear so much.”

“That’s the way people talk these days.”

“I know, but it still bothers me.”

“All right. We’ll cut out the swearing. What else?”

He cleared his throat. “Well, there’s that one scene where you don’t have, uh, a lot of clothes on.”

“Yeah, so?”

“I didn’t feel comfortable watching that.”

“Kyle, let me ask you a question. Are you normal?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Just wondering. Don’t you like the way I look?”

“Yes, but …”

“But what?”

“Why have that in the movie? It’s got nothing to do with the plot. It’s just thrown in there for no reason at all.”

“It sells tickets.”

“Maybe so, but why did you agree to be shown that way?”

“I’m not ashamed of my body, Kyle.”

“I’m not ashamed of mine either, but I don’t go around showing it to anyone who has the price of a movie ticket.”

“Kyle, let me tell you something. We’ve run this for 100 people today, and you’re only the fifth one who’s requested us to cut that scene. There’s someone a few booths down from you making similar changes, but yours is definitely a minority viewpoint.”

Kyle paused. “Who’s the other one making those kinds of changes?”

“A girl your age from Idaho. She’s in town for a few days. She’s staying with her aunt.”

“From Idaho, huh?”

“Yeah, she’s in Booth 27.”

“How far is that from here?”

Lorie paused. “Straight down the hall for 10 booths.”

“Do you mind if I go down there, and she and I talk to you from the same booth?”

“How do you know she’ll want to meet you?”

“Just a guess.”

“I don’t understand that at all.”

As Kyle walked down the hallway he glanced into each booth to see what others were watching. For some the changes in the movie had turned it into pornography. For others a simple teenage flick had become a horror movie with axes dripping blood. Kyle focused his attention on those who were watching. One man looked like he’d been there for days. His movie had degenerated to the extreme in degradation and horror.

Kyle reached Booth 27 and knocked. A girl his age opened the door. She looked like an outdoorsy kind of person with long dark brown hair and a nice smile.

“Hi, Kyle,” she said. “Lorie told me you were coming. I’m Susan Blair.”

They both stepped inside.

“Are you LDS?” he asked.

“Yeah, sure am.”

“I thought you might be. I am too.”

They sat down together on the couch in front of the TV console. Lorie came on the screen again. “Well, I see you two have met each other. Susan, I haven’t heard all your suggestions yet, have I?”

“Not yet. One thing is that I’m not happy with the way you portray people. In movies like this you always have the science nerd who can’t do anything right when it comes to talking to girls, the athlete who treats everybody like they were the scum of the earth, and the girl who goes through the movie mostly just smiling and looking dumb but beautiful.”

“So?” Lorie said.

“So some people who like science are fun to be with,” Kyle said.

“Yeah, and some athletes are friendly to everybody,” Susan said.

“And some beautiful girls have terrific minds too.”

“Are you two trying to ruin a perfectly good movie?” Lorie said.

“No, not really.”

“All right,” Lorie said. “I’ll see what we can do. Anything else?”

“I don’t like the way the movie ended,” Susan said.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“Well,” Susan said, “for someone who believes in chastity, it’s just not the best ending.”

Lorie was getting red in the face. “They like each other so what they do is okay, all right?”

“It’s not all right unless they’re married,” Kyle said.

“We want it out of the movie,” Susan said.

“You’ve got adults sympathetic to kids, you’ve got a girl who wants to improve her mind, you’ve got everybody fully dressed the entire time, you’ve got athletes who aren’t jerks, and nerds who aren’t nerds, and the two main characters believe in—what did you call it, chastity? What on earth do you call that anyway?”

“We call that life,” Susan said.

The screen went blank.

A minute later the door opened and in walked Lorie Summers.

“She’s not real,” Kyle whispered.

“She looks real,” Susan said.

“I read about it in Omni Magazine. It’s a hologram. It’s done with lasers. Watch my hand. I’ll pass it right through her body.” He moved his hand through the air and touched her on the arm, which was very much real. He gasped.

“What’s wrong?” Susan asked.

“I have no idea how they do that,” he whispered back.

Lorie smiled.

“Are you real?” Kyle asked.

“I’ve been wondering the same thing about you two.

“You are real, aren’t you. You’re a famous movie star,” Kyle said. “What are you doing here?”

“I’ve been interested in this project since it began. Sometimes I come here just to watch what’s going on. There’s a monitor in the control booth where I can see what everyone is watching. The one difference between this and a regular movie is that with VI-CAM what a person sees is exactly what he or she chooses to see. And so it’s a way to find out what monsters lurk in people’s minds. There’s a man in one of the booths—you may have seen him on your way here—he’s been here ten days. He’s living on whatever he can get from the candy machine. Each time he changes the movie it becomes more and more warped. It’s kind of scary.” She paused. “Which brings me to you two. Why are you so different?”

“Well, it’s kind of a long story,” Kyle said.

“No it isn’t,” Susan interrupted. “I don’t know about the others who objected to the same scenes we did, but the reason we’re different is that we’re Mormons who try to live the way we’ve been taught.”

“Yeah, that’s it,” Kyle said.

Lorie sat down. “I’ve got a confession to make. Even though I play a teenager in the movie, I’m actually older than that. I guess I used to believe what I was saying to you through the VI-CAM system. But time has a way of changing things. I’ve been wondering about things for a long time. Now I have a two-year-old daughter and I look at the world through different eyes. Sometimes it really scares me to realize she’s going to grow up in this world. You two seem a little strange to me, but I think you know how to avoid the bad things in the world today. That’s why I wanted to talk to you. How have you managed to escape?”

“Well, that’s kind of hard to explain,” Kyle said.

“Why is it so hard?” Susan said. “I think it’s simple. You escape evil by making good choices.”

A few minutes later the three of them walked down the long corridor together, talking about important things.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes