"We're still at war, Plissken. We need him alive."

"I don't give a fuck about your war... or your president."

D.A.R.Y.L.

June 14, 1985

Like THE GOONIES, D.A.R.Y.L. is a family-friendly movie that opens with a high speed car chase (stunt coordinator: John Moio, who then did THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2). But the Spielberg movie that scene reminds me of most is A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. A scientist (stuntman Richard Hammatt, WILLOW, BATMAN, NIGHTBREED) is driving through winding roads, pursued by a helicopter, with unnaturally calm ten year old boy Daryl (Barret Oliver, KID #2, UNCOMMON VALOR) in the back seat. We know because we know what movie we’re watching that Daryl is a robot, and much like the mom in A.I., Dr. Mulligan sees no way to protect his robot boy except to drop him off in the woods and hope he can make it on his own. (But I think Mom survives – the doctor drives his car off a cliff. R.I.P.)

At various points in the movie Oliver’s performance will remind me of Haley Joel Osment’s in A.I., but it’s a very different approach to the story. Rather than a dark fairy tale journey through a fantastical future world, this is what happens to a character like that trying to pass for human in a normal ‘80s suburb.

He’s first found by an elderly couple, who have no interest in becoming Ma and Pa Kent, so they bring him to an orphanage, and he ends up with foster parents Joyce (Mary Beth Hurt, later a scarier mom in PARENTS) and Andy (Michael McKean the year after THIS IS SPINAL TAP). They’re nervous and excited, having long dreamt of becoming adoptive parents, which maybe explains why there’s a neighborhood kid named Turtle Fox (Danny Corkill, DUNE) who just walks into their house and hangs out with them all the time.

I have to say this is great poster art. I wish the movie was this colorful and stylized.

Turtle is curious why Daryl doesn’t remember who he is but does remember other things. He sort of appoints himself brother or best friend to Daryl and teaches him normal kid things he doesn’t understand. Daryl keeps surprising people with superhuman abilities, like he somehow has the power to be so good at video games that they move on fast speed, and foster dad Andy can’t believe what a flawless hitter he becomes immediately after learning what baseball is.

Turtle is one of those goofy kid characters whose cursing and cynicism are supposed to make him delightfully outrageous and streetwise beyond his years or some shit. He has lines like, “He’s practically raping her except she’s cooperatin’!” and his influence causes Daryl to dismiss little league as “a pecker contest.”

There’s a weird thread about foster mom Joyce seeming to be jealous of Daryl’s talents and angry at him for not requiring more mothering. She finally stops being a weirdo after he realizes he’s overshadowing Turtle and purposely strikes out, almost losing the game.

At one point Andy is having trouble with the ATM machine, so Daryl takes care of it and also somehow hacks it to put $1.4 million in his account. But it’s just a throwaway joke – it’s never addressed whether Andy notices he’s a millionaire now or gets arrested for fraud or what.

The big shift in the movie happens when another couple (Josef Sommer [DIRTY HARRY] and Kathryn Walker [SLAP SHOT]) claim to be Daryl’s real parents. Their behave suspiciously, but obviously the foster parents have to take their word for it. There’s a pretty effective thing about Turtle’s mom (Colleen Camp, GAME OF DEATH, POLICE ACADEMY 2 & 4) trying to convince him to say goodbye to his friend before he leaves, but he can’t do it. He runs off rather than cry in front of people.

The supposedly real parents take Daryl on a private plane, where he’s allowed to visit the cockpit and make it obvious to the audience that he will later know how to fly a plane.

They take him to a Washington DC lab called TASCOM, where all is revealed: they are scientists named Dr. Stewart and Dr. Lamb, he is Data Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform. He was made from a test tube, has a human exterior like a Terminator, but a computerized brain they can connect to a room-filling super computer, look at his memories, communicate with through text. His designers are amazed that he somehow learned to have a favorite flavor of ice cream, but the military (who funded him as a potential super soldier) think that makes him too human, and command them to scrap him.

Fortunately they rebel and try to get him back to his loving adoptive parents, so it turns into a fugitive movie with Daryl and Dr. Stewart on the road, hiding from cops, and Daryl ultimately using stuff he learned earlier. I wish that meant hitting a home run with somebody’s head, but no such luck. Obviously playing Pole Position with an Atari controller translates to actual precision driving through traffic, and seeing car stunts on TV means you can do side-wheelies. It’s an early example of the playing-video-games-teaches-you-how-to-do-real-world-stuff cliche. He steals a Stealth-type jet (Lockhead SR-71 Blackbird according to Wikipedia), as one does, and escapes with a DIE HARD 2 style ejection, but falls in a lake and drowns, they bring him to the hospital and can’t revivew him. Later at home Turtle says he can’t die, because he’s a computer, and then all the sudden he shows up alive? I didn’t really get it.

Weirdly the score is by PEGOT-winner Marvin Hamlisch (THE WAY WE WERE, A CHORUS LINE). Maybe he could relate to Daryl because he was a child prodigy. On the end credits there’s a cheesy ballad, “Somewhere I Belong” by Teddy Pendergrass, produced by Nile Rodgers. It’s not even a song I like, but it makes me miss when movies had songs like this on the end credits. As you can see from the cover, the b-side to the single is a non-D.A.R.Y.L. song called “Hot Love,” which begins as follows:

Turn off the lights and light a candle
Tonight I’m in a romantic mood, yeah
Let’s take a shower, shower together, yeah
I’ll wash your body and you’ll wash mine, yeah
Rub me down in some hot oils, baby, yeah
And I’ll do the same thing to you

D.A.R.Y.L. is written by David Ambrose (THE FIFTH MUSKETEER, THE FINAL COUNTDOWN, AMITYVILLE 3-D), Allan Scott (who later wrote THE WITCHES) and Jeffrey Ellis (no other credits).

Director Simon Wincer had worked in Australian TV since the early ‘70s, finally making his movie debut in 1979 with ONE MORE MINUTE a.k.a. SNAPSHOT a.k.a. THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN (the title that made me watch it). D.A.R.Y.L. was his fourth movie, and his American debut. Though obviously science fiction, it’s pretty low on special effects, which is in keeping with the rest of Wincer’s filmography of mostly adventure and animal related movies. Whatever’s there is done by Dream Quest Images (ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, E.T., BLADE RUNNER, GREMLINS, NIGHT OF THE COMET) – I think it’s mostly the jet sequence and little things like hitting baseballs.

D.A.R.Y.L. debuted at #7, well below other newcomer PRIZZI’S HONOR, but above SECRET ADMIRER. RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II was still dominating the box office, but D.A.R.Y.L. couldn’t really get in there as the PG-rated alternative because everybody was still going to see THE GOONIES (which made more than three times as much as this did that week). D.A.R.Y.L. didn’t get great reviews, and didn’t really deserve any. But I thought it was okay. Pleasingly low key. Nothing to be ashamed of.

SUMMER OF 1985 NOTES:

Tie-ins:

There was a novelization for young adults written by Nancy H. Kleinbaum (credited as N.H. Kleinbaum), whose other novelizations include Growing Pains (adapting five episodes of the show!), Dead Poets Society, Cop and a Half, Ghost Story, and five adaptations of Dr. Dolittle stories in ’98 and ’99 but apparently based on Hugh Lofting’s stories and not the Eddie Murphy movie? I’m not sure how that works, but the point is, she had to turn COP AND A HALF into a novel.

Pop culture:

We see a poster that appears to be Johnny Depp (at the time only in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and the recent PRIVATE RESORT), some Duran Duran stickers, a Snoopy doll, and scenes from The Incredible Hulk. For some reason on one of the posters he’s in a dark control room watching The Jetsons on a little screen. It’s only an okay 1985 time capsule, so of course they re-released the DVD in that weird “I love the 80’s [sic]” series.

Summer of 1985 connections:

Although the military is behind all this, I didn’t sense a specific Cold War theme like some of the movies earlier in the summer. This is more like Chuck Norris’s initial attitude toward the robot in CODE OF SILENCE – a growing dread of military projects and government agencies unbound by honor or humanity, becoming dangerous, with only a few brave whistleblowers trying to keep them in check. Kind of a FIRESTARTER vibe, I want to say. Here they want to build a weapon and when they build a living being instead they just want to kill it.

Like FLETCH, there’s a part involving attack dobermans

David Wohl, who was already in GOTCHA! and BREWSTER’S MILLIONS this summer, appears as a teacher.

CODE OF SILENCE had prominent Rubik’s Cube usage – this one has a glimpse of the Pyraminx, which I always thought was called Rubik’s Pyraminx. Turns out it was invented in 1970 but not mass-produced until 1981 after the popularity of the cube.

In THE GOONIES there’s an exchange after the year 1632 is mentioned: “What is that, a year?” “No, it’s your top score on Pole Position.” Well, in D.A.R.Y.L. there’s a whole scene about Daryl, having never even seen a video game before, getting a high score on Pole Position (he beats the theoretical goonie one by 78,318).

Legacy:

Not much. Wincer later became known for FREE WILLY (1993), but to me he’s always the director of THE PHANTOM (1995). (HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN [1991] is also notable.) Oliver, who was better known for THE NEVERENDING STORY, only acted for about four more years, his last role being in SCENES FROM THE CLASS STRUGGLE IN BEVERLY HILLS (1989), directed by Paul Bartel, who’d played his teacher in the great 1984 Tim Burton short Frankenweenie. Then he retired, disappeared from the public eye for decades, and has never done interviews or conventions or anything. Instead he’s become a photographer, teacher, expert in 19th century printing processes, and author of the book A History of the Woodburytype.

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12 Responses to “D.A.R.Y.L.”

  1. This was a minor childhood favorite of mine. I loved the big fantasy spectacles of the 80s as much as any kid, but I had a special fondness for the more down-to-earth kid-friendly thrillers they used to put out, like this or CLOAK & DAGGER or even GOONIES or MONSTER SWUAD. They had no tits and little gore but they respected kids enough to deliver some real danger and stakes and to not pander to a child’s baser instincts with slapstick and fart jokes. They felt like a good bridge to the kind of adult genre material I really wanted to be watching. To this day, I appreciate a movie that knows kids are tough enough to see their cinematic avatars take a little abuse and keep on ticking. As a kid without a lot of confidence in his survival skills, that was a good message for me to absorb.

  2. This used to be on one of the (then) four main channels in the UK quite a bit in the 90s and 00s, so I always assumed this had been a bigger hit than it was.

    I saw A.I. on one of my two visits to America. I remember in an e-mail I sent to my uncle summarising my holiday I talked about A.I. and described it as being “like that 80s film D.A.R.Y.L. but [something that I thought made me sound like a big time movie critic]”.

    Thing is I’m not sure I ever saw it all the way through, but it left an impression nonetheless.

  3. Oliver also has a bunch of poster prints that show up on Mondo. He does good stuff (just did a First Blood variation) but I hate how that site sells artwork. You never get a chance to buy anything cool.

    I recall this movie being one I rented a whole lot. I was at the right age and this summer had a bunch of kids on adventures, so I was all aboard!

  4. Never saw this but I have a vague memory of NOT QUITE HUMAN, a Disney Channel movie about a scientist who creates a robot “son”. Between all that and the atrocious SMALL WONDER, the odd and uncomfortable trend of robot kids were born.

  5. You had me thinking I missed a huge detail in my research if he does FIRST BLOOD posters, but I think you’re mistaken – the FIRST BLOOD poster Mondo has is from the similarly named Oliver Barrett. Unless that’s a pseudonym, but I don’t think it’s him.

  6. onthewall2983- I did watch NOT QUITE HUMAN, I remember UK Disney Channel hyping up an airing of that as late as 1997. Although I think he was a teenager rather than a young boy? I think the finale involved a school dance, maybe even the prom. It was real 5/10 kinda stuff even to a 10 year old. Sadly I never saw NOT QUITE HUMAN II or the fantastically named STILL NOT QUITE HUMAN so I don’t know if the franchise improved from there.

  7. What was it with the 80s and vicious dobermans? If they weren’t sinking into quicksand or being kidnapped by satanic cults, they were being attacked by dobermans.

  8. I also liked this as a kid but I didn’t remember the rape joke. I also liked Cloak and Dagger, Maj. Cloak probably had a stronger hook with the video games.

    Wasn’t Dabney Coleman in a lot of them?

  9. My bad on that Vern. I got confused. Could’ve sworn I saw a picture of him and some artwork, but I guess it was that book he wrote.

    Last time I smoke and post.

    (That is not true)

  10. Maggie, don’t forget being threatened by ther parents to get send to a military academy.

  11. CJ that’s from all the acting out due to their parents divorce.

  12. I used to catch this on television as a kid, and I only watched it for one reason: the SR-71 footage.

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