Since a few days, you’re able to watch Electric Dreams on Amazon. The science fiction series was released on Channel 4 in the U.K. in September 2017 first.
Electric Dreams is based on the short stories of the famous science fiction author, Philip K. Dick. If you haven’t heard of him yet, he’s one of the science fiction legends – among the younger generation – along with Iain Banks and William Gibson. He’s branded science fiction to an extended level. In fact, lots of films you may have heard of, are based on his novels. Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and Screamers, just to name a few.
Apparently, Amazon has tried to get its own science fiction series as an alternative to Netflix’s Black Mirror, a series which has released its fourth season last December. Black Mirror was also originally broadcasted on Channel 4. It’s a series about a near possible future, based on the premise of how the technologies we know today could become dangerous tomorrow.
Now, which similarities do both series have? And which one is much worth your time?
Both series are made up of standalone episodes with a length ranging from fifty minutes to one hour and starring a new cast every time. While Black Mirror started with short seasons of three episodes – since season three there are six episodes per season – Electric Dream dived into the competition with ten episodes in its first season already.
Science fiction is the main genre of course, but the similarities don’t go further. While Black Mirror has made an emphasis on the consequences of technologies and an alternative present in the near future, which is undermined by a satirical tone, Electric Dreams does also discuss far future, alternative worlds, and aliens, among other classic science fiction topics.
Black Mirror has arisen from the imagination of Charlie Brooker. It puts to use, what I think is one of the most interesting aspects of science fiction: observing dysfunctions and injustices of contemporary society to extrapolate them and exaggerate them in a possible future. When censors played a bigger role in television and in the cinema back in the days, it was a clever way to discuss grave issues, without being silenced.
Charlie Brooker was apparently inspired by this approach, used in the series The Twilight Zone (1959–64), (1985–89) and (2002–03). He concentrated however on one aspect which is a regular topic in the media: the dependency we’re currently developing to technology.
Electric Dreams hasn’t arisen from the imagination of developers Ronald D. Moore (Outlander, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek) and Michael Dinner, but is based on the work of Philip K. Dick, which isn’t only about the use of technology in a near future. Although technology plays a huge role in Electric Dreams, there isn’t any common main topic through the whole season, except maybe a reflexion on humanity or what it means to be human – episodes 2, 3, 4 and 7 – and what reality is – episode 1 and 6.
Every episode of Electric Dreams has been written by different writers, while Charlie Brooker co-wrote 18 of 19 episode of Black Mirror. That’s absolutely recognizable as the episodes of Black Mirror make a more homogeny impression in the tone of each story.
Despite the fact that the makers of Electric Dreams seem to have put a lot of efforts in their opening credit, the makers of Black Mirrors created an alluring, succinct, smarter and bolder introduction to their episodes. The problem of the introduction of Electric Dreams is that it uses common places of what is apparently modern – among others the picture of a pregnant man – but isn’t. In addition, the animation effects look like a production from the 1990s which does harm the overall picture of the otherwise aesthetic cinematography of the series.
Both series offer a high-quality cinematography, but I do prefer the more homogenous lighting and clear shots, that compose Black Mirror. It underlines easier the sterile atmosphere and the gravity of the topics. The lighting of Electric Dreams looks very different every time and is for my taste not uniform enough, even within the same episode. I was particularly stroke by the extremely low lighting and visual chaos in episode 5. It was certainly intentional as it looks like a typical cyber-punk-setting, but it wasn’t very convincing.
Concerning the set design, Black Mirror is also more accomplished. Because every detail, small devices and the representation of augmented reality – when a digital screen pop out of thin air for example – is more elaborated and cleaner. That’s not an easy thing to do as bad visual effects can really damage a good story. Electric Dreams is well made and very imaginative, but there is not as much attention put into details as in Black Mirror. I noticed it particularly on the extreme long shots (panorama), where the visual effects lacked texture.
As brilliant as the imagination of Philip K. Dick was and as well adapted it has been by the authors of the series Electric Dreams, it has a huge disadvantage compared to Black Mirror: Many science fiction authors and screenwriters have been already inspired by his work and that’s why there isn’t anything extremely surprising within the storytelling for an experienced science fiction audience.
That said, I had a genuinely good experience watching most episodes. The episode I preferred so far was Autofac. Autofac is about a group of war survivors who want to destroy the fabric Autofac (could be a persiflage of Amazon), which is ruled by robots, pollutes the atmosphere and delivers supplies to a population who doesn’t need it. I’m not going to spoil it, but it’s a classic science fiction turnaround with a philosophical ending.
Even if I don’t doubt the fact that Charlie Brooker must whether have watched and read a lot of science fiction and/or is a storytelling genius, before creating Black Mirror, he had an original idea. And that’s a huge factor in the branding of the British series. Charlie Brooker used his knowledge and own imagination, supported by his fellows’ writers, to create something unique. Black Mirror is genially sarcastic, dark, brainy and really holds up a mirror to its audience.
Lots of renown stars were cast for both series.
For Electric Dreams actors like Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Richard Madden (Game of Thrones), Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, Departed, Orphan), Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Reservoir Dogs, 30 Rock, The Sopranos), Sidse Babett Knudsen (who I adore! Borgen, A Hologram for the King, Westworld), and Anna Paquin (True Blood) were convinced to play a role in the series. And that’s only a sip of the amazing cast of the Amazon series.
The feeling is very similar towards the Black Mirror’s cast which is just as brilliant as in Electric Dreams. To name a few, Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Rory Kinnear (Penny Dreadful), Rupert Everett (Prêt-à-Porter, Shakespeare in Love, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), Domhnall Gleeson (About Time, Ex Machina), Oona Chaplin (Game of Thrones) and Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation, The Social Network, I Love You, Man) have participated in the realisation of the series.
I can’t remember bad acting in either Black Mirror or Electric Dreams, probably because the other renown and less known actors of both series have been cast with specific attention.
I wasn’t unpleased by Electric Dreams and don’t regret having subscribed Amazon Prime to be able to watch it, but Black Mirror is worth your time even more. Black Mirror has found its tone from the beginning and managed to maintain a uniform, high-quality, bold and sharp program. On the contrary, the quality of the series Electric Dream is less consistent, because the quality varies from one episode to the other.
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Black Mirror can be watched on Netflix and Electric Dreams on Amazon below:
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