by Lee Hazell
Portal is the first scripted drama to be commissioned by the Dailymotion video tube. It’s a strange and daring choice for their debut show given that it’s about the destructive and addictive nature of social network platforms. Technically, this is a category Dailymotion falls into.
The series revolves around Portal, a chemically induced, virtual reality social network that is so compulsive its use has been banned by the government, rendering Portal to be legally classified as a controlled substance. It is a Second Life like virtual world where the user can live out any fantasy, no matter how depraved or bizarre.
The story seems to be going down the route of cautionary tale. The kind of dystopic fiction that warns us of what the world might be like should our vigilance fail and we allow ourselves to slide deeper into the optimised fantasy of digital living. Like how The Terminator warns not to rely on militarised machinery, or how Equilibrium hypothesises what happens when we surrender our civil liberties for security.
Clay Whitter plays John, and John don’t take to none of this portal Business. When everyone else was playing videogames at school, John was outside playing footie in the street. He’s level headed, can look after himself, and is as northern as chips and gravy. Unfortunately, for this gentle northern soul, he still finds himself having to do errands for villainous types, putting himself into dangerous situations. Fortunately, he’s a former prize fighter and, as one character describes him, “mean as fuck,” a description to which John slowly nods his head. The sale of Portal, now having been put into the same class as heroine and meth, is now being facilitated by John’s paymasters, and they need him to start supplying.
Although clearly filmed on a shoestring budget, what Portal’s special effects lack in realism, they make up for in imagination; and in sci-fi imagination is always what counts. There’s a transporter effect that I found especially creative, where the transportee is layered together from the inside out upon reaching his destination. The set design in the portal world is also very delicately put together and the shots are beautifully composed.
Outside, the world has no such sheen to it. It is dark, gritty, and miserable. They don’t skimp on the detail that makes real life as depressing as it sometimes can be. In the second episode, where the series really starts delving into the dangers of escapism, there are some really stomach churning shots of bodily fluids one poor addict finds herself having to clean. It was the stronger episode of the two, the first having introduced the concept and the second doing the much more interest job of developing it.
Portal is an intriguing series that takes our current obsessions to their terrifying conclusions, and doesn’t flinch when it looks deep into that dark future.