''I'm asking if you know fantasy from reality,'' the starship commander demands of one of his officers, and in Virtuality the question is anything but rhetorical. This sci-fi TV movie that Fox hopes to spin off into a series is like an existential Cuisinart, slicing and dicing the real, the virtual and the imaginary into something that's intellectually fascinating if not quite dramatically satisfying.
A sort of cross between 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Matrix, Virtuality is set aboard the Phaeton, a spaceship setting off on a 10-year intergalactic voyage in search of a new planet to replace an ecologically doomed Earth. As a form of recreation, as well as a psychological escape from the close quarters in which they live, the 12 crew members (including three married couples) have been equipped with a cutting-edge virtual-reality program that allows them to simulate anything from fighting a Civil War battle to surfing big waves off Hawaii.
But the virtual world proves destructively seductive. One wife cybercheats on her husband with another crew member; another, whose dreams of children were dashed when she signed on for the long voyage, obsessively indulges her fantasy of pregnancy. An officer uses the program to resurrect his dead family and is quickly embroiled in bitter domestic drama with his ungratefully risen son. Read my full review in Friday's Miami Herald.