Wednesday, 16 February 2011

80s Movies: D.A.R.Y.L. (1985)

Of all the 80s movies we've covered so far, I'm gonna guess this is the one you're most likely to have never heard of. D.A.R.Y.L. is one of those that somehow slips under the radar, but it fits into the pattern of other classics from the decade, by being basically about family relationships, but with the added bonus that one of the characters is a robot.

Apart from that slightly fantastical premise, it's another heartwarming family film and not an especially predictable storyline, so if you've never seen it - or even heard of it - it's worth looking out for.

Special mention goes to Mary Beth Hurt for being as adorable an 80s movie mum as you could ever hope to find - there was definitely a trend for slightly angular-featured, generally nice-seeming female co-stars back then (think Sarah Jessica Parker in Flight of the Navigator) and to be honest, it's a golden age I miss dearly.

The Plot

Ostensibly the plot of D.A.R.Y.L. is the eponymous Data-Analysing Robot Youth Lifeform, the ten-year-old robotic boy played well by Barret Oliver (who also appeared in both Cocoon films). Foster parents Joyce (Hurt) and Andy Richardson (Michael McKean) face the enviable task of working out why he has certain superhuman characteristics - which, generally speaking, are what you'd expect from an adolescent Superman.

From there it's the classic 80s little-people-versus-the-military storyline as a variety of friends try to prevent D.A.R.Y.L.'s destruction by the Armed Forces, following their conclusion that his ability to defy logic in preference of human-like decisions is an error in his programming. We're into Short Circuit territory here, but it doesn't last for long before we reach a precursor of 1999's Bicentennial Man.

The question of what really makes something 'human' is beyond the scope of this blog, and no mistake, but in terms of D.A.R.Y.L. it's simply a case of whether you can tell the difference. And in a sense, that changes the stakes - it's no longer a need to 'destroy' the boy, just a need to 'kill' him. You can probably guess the resurrection-style conclusion to the film.

The Legacy

I'm gonna come out in defence of D.A.R.Y.L. here, because I can't really recall the last time I met anyone who had ever heard of it. D.A.R.Y.L. fans, if you're out there, please comment below. Let me and the rest of the world know who you are. I'm convinced there are plenty of people whose lives were changed - or at least shaped - by this film. It still gets shown on TV from time to time and it meant quite a lot to me, even though I only saw it once or twice in my formative years.

Sadly the truth is that I'm not sure there really is much of a legacy out there. It physically pains me to say that - and I really hope I'm proved wrong. But here we have the rare example of a perfectly good film, as carefully balanced and well written as many of its 80s counterparts - Short Circuit, Flight of the Navigator are probably the most directly comparable - yet massively, massively underrated.

80s Movies

In February, POPSICULTURE are dedicating the month to a look back at the iconic films of the 1980s - a decade whose films continue to draw massive audiences when they are shown on TV. To follow posts in this series, check the 80s Movies label or sign up to the dedicated RSS feed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I great movie that was one of my favorite ones of the 80s as a kid!

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