29 November 2010

Prime Risk

I love the burning Capitol Building and rocket blasted Washington Monument.

United States – 1984
Director – Michael Farkas
Lightning Video, 1985, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 38 minutes

Prime Risk is yet another movie that is completely at the mercy of history, but what film that hinges around a specific technological marvel isn’t similarly parochial? Without some historical awareness of the profound leaps in computer science that occurred in the 1980’s and 90’s you would be justifiably confused and or bored by this film whose plot relies so completely on magnetic information storage and retrieval methods. You might also have no idea that is quite literally the mold from which 1995’s Hackers was crudely squeezed. While Prime Risk features neither the cool topical pseudonyms like “Crash Override” nor the thrilling and absolutely timeless rollerblading scenes of its successor, it does have a doofus-male/ hot-female whiz kid team-up on the run from the Feds while simultaneously trying to stop a dastardly computerized plot to rule the world.

In the same manner as the atomic monster films of the 50’s, Prime Risk relies on the public’s sketchy knowledge of the subject to orchestrate a cacophony of both fear and intrigue. In this case it is computers, those dastardly machines that are slowly (in the 80's) encroaching on our lives with all their menacing and mysterious bleeps and bloops. Ahhhh, the great fear of new technology; that in embracing it for our convenience or security before we fully understand it, we open the door for all kinds of unpredictable malicious mayhem. This theme is driven home in the opening sequence of Prime Risk when a jamming-signal broadcast by some as-yet-unknown source causes televisions, remote control cars and escalators in a shopping mall to go haywire. See!? If they can threaten our catatonic communal consumption experience, the very fabric of our society is clearly threatened with a fundamental and catastrophic unraveling!

One notable break with its postwar predecessors is the use of a female science-whiz as the protagonist (despite this she still plays second synthesizer to the much less interesting male lead). Julie (Toni Hudson) is still in high school but she is already a brilliant computer engineer. Because she is a woman however, her application for an IT job at the local bank is rejected. Vowing revenge, she uses an oscilloscope to read the magnetic pulses from an ATM computer at the bank, and coverts the electromagnetic cycles into a tone frequency -sound notes- which she uses to determine the PIN numbers for people's bank accounts. Somehow she teams up with a depressed classmate Mike (Lee Montgomery) who needs raw cash because his authoritarian father won’t pay for anything but law school. In the process of manufacturing fake ATM cards and fleecing the bank however, Mike and Julie stumble upon a terrorist organization that is doing the same thing, intending to crash the Federal Reserve computer system and bring the world, and U.S. financial systems to their respective knees.

Just as the shit is hitting the fan, Julie and Mike turn to the Feds whose agents Minsky (Clu Gulager), and Yeoman (Sam Bottoms) don’t believe a word of it because there’s absolutely no way the fate of the totally invulnerable and monolithic U.S. government could be in the hands of a couple of punk kids. But we know better. We know it happens all the time because by the dawn of the Reagan era we’ve become cynical about American omnipotence, (thank you Vietnam!) and because we saw War Games last year.

A Spanish Embassy Home Entertainment VHS insert from someplace. 

French poster from Movie Poster Database

1 comment:

DJ Davy B said...

Catching up here with a well deserved break from hockey....This was one of my favorites back when.... well we WERE scared of computers. Sometimes referred to a a Wargames rip off I liked this for one reason. Toni Hudson. Man did I have the hots for her back in the 80's. Between this and Just One of the Guys I got to enjoy her looks. Sadly I don't have this anymore and it's probably destined to never be released on DVD (imagine that!) much like The Legend of Billie Jean. Oh well thanks for the memories. Maybe I'll grab a copy of ebay and burn it to DVD for long term viewing.