80s Odyssey: Cloak & Dagger (1984)

cloak_and_dagger Over the years, I’ve come to realize just how much I love movies about kids dealing with insane situations. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering how much I loved Goonies and E.T. as a kid. I guess the real surprise is how much I still connect to those kinds of movies, even ones that I’ve come to more as an adult like Troll, The Gate, Explorers and Monster Squad. There’s just something so cool about taking pre-teens, putting them in these wild scenarios and seeing what they can do given their not-yet-adult ways of viewing the world.

I recently discovered a movie that perfectly fits this mold on Netflix Instant called Cloak & Dagger starring E.T.‘s Henry Thomas and Dabney Coleman. Thomas plays a geeky kid named Davey who has constructed an imaginary friend based on a secret agent from a table top-turned-video game who looks exactly like his dad (both played by Coleman) in the wake of his mom’s death. In his free time, he hangs out at the local video game store with his friend Kim or creates elaborate spy missions for them to act out in their hometown of San Antonio, Texas. While playing spy, Davey winds up with a copy of a video game called Cloak & Dagger that contains hidden government secrets. Of course, no adults believe him, so he has to go on the run as a series of incredibly serious people try any means necessary, including murder, to get it back. Davey’s imaginary friends appears throughout the film to help him avoid death and figure out his next move until, eventually, he realizes he doesn’t need him anymore.

I’ve got to say, I was surprised by how much intensity went into this Richard Franklin (Psycho II, F/X 2) kids movie. Not only is Davey continually hunted by predatory adults in this movie, but his video game store employee friend gets murdered, he realizes he doesn’t need his imaginary friend anymore and he straight up kills a guy. There’s no way this kid’s going to be okay with all this in the future. And it’s not handled in a wacky, cartoony way, so you get to see Thomas really going through some of this stuff on screen, or actively avoiding it so he can keep moving and live to see another day. I must also admit that it easily played on one of my biggest fears: people not believing you when something terrible’s happening because it sounds crazy. Since he’s just a kid who routintely talked about his made-up exploits, everyone thinks he’s full of it when he tries to tell them this crazy story about video games and spies and whatnot.

I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but you really don’t see movies like this made anymore. These days, when kids encounter craziness, if at all, they’re usually in high school or beyond and a lot of the innocence is taken out of the picture. But, there have been a few films like the Spy Kids movies, Super 8 and even the upcoming Earth To Echo which all seem to take some of their inspiration from the movies of my youth.

If you’re interested in checking out Cloak & Dagger — which I highly recommend — look for it on Netflix Instant. If you’re looking to add it to your DVD collection (far as I can tell, it’s not on Blu-ray), there’s the basic version, a double feature with The Wizard which is another favorite from that era and as part of a 10 movie pack that also includes The Wizard, King Ralph, Matinee and a few others. I’m thinking about grabbing that last one because, of all the options, it’s currently the cheapest at $5 and I love a good deal!

The Chronological Spielberg: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

et I don’t think there’s a person my age who doesn’t have some pretty strong feelings about E.T. I was born the year after this movie came out, so it always existed in my brain. Back in my day movies tended to live on in my mind morso because of regular viewings on cable instead of tape rentals. But, I do have two very distinct memories of watching this movie. The first time, I was pretty young, maybe five or six, possibly seven. It was one of the few childhood Christmases I remember where my aunt, uncle and cousins who lived in Indianapolis all came and stayed at our house. Grandma also came in from Cleveland, so her whole family was in one house. That might have been the Christmas I got my Nintendo, but I know that we all sat down together, dimmed the lights and watched E.T. on VHS. That’s a great memory that still lives on in my mind.

The other important viewing of E.T. came in 2002 when the film was re-released to theaters with some extra scenes and all the guns edited out. I was 18 or 19 at the time and had been dating my future wife since early November of 2001, but since neither of us had a car or much money, we tended to just hang out around campus or maybe go out for some coffee. Eventually we decided that we should probably go out an official date, so we hit up one of the local Mexican places, caught the movie at the local, privately owned movie theater and got coffee at The Mean Bean. It was a wonderful date and I think we both really enjoyed watching the movie again.

Even with those two very fond memories, E.T. isn’t the kind of movie I purposefully revisited on a regular basis. I’d see bits and pieces of it on TV and I bought the DVD release of the 20th Anniversary when it came out, but I don’t believe I’ve seen that movie again since that 2002 viewing. The film lives in my brain in a weird, incomplete space where I have pretty solid memories of E.T. appearing, the frog scene and the bike stuff leading up to the end, but not all the doctor and sciencey stuff. I think it bums me out, so I forget it.

Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s the deal with the movie if you’re unfamiliar or don’t remember too much. The film opens with a spaceship landing in the forest. We don’t know why they’re there, but they seem to just be looking around and taking samples. Some folks show up and scare the aliens away, but one of their own gets left behind. That alien, eventually dubbed E.T., finds his way to a house inhabited by Elliot, his older brother Michael, his younger sister Gertie and his recently divorced/separated mother Mary. Elliot and E.T. form a bond as the two become good friends and also form an empathic bond. We soon discover that E.T.’s not doing so great and wants to contact his people, so Elliot, Michael and their friends do what they can to save their new, weird friend.

The beauty of the film is its emotional heart. Every member of Elliot’s family has an emotional center that seems related to the others, but different. Mary loves her children, but also has a broken heart from her husband’s leaving with another woman. Michael is the only one who understands this and wants to protect her. He actually speaks a line that’s kind of the heartstone of the film early on to Elliot when he says something like, “Why don’t you grow up and start thinking of other people for a change,” to Elliot. Gertie does this in a more child-like fashion while Elliot’s entire arc revolves around the idea. That’s really what this film is about: empathy in all forms.

On a quick side note, I just realized something really great about this movie: the older brother isn’t a total jerk. Isn’t that how most of these 80s movies go? There’s always a jerky older brother who gives his brother crap and the two don’t even seen to be related. I don’t have any siblings and I understand that they don’t always get along, but it seems like, especially in movies like these from this time period, that dynamic was never more complicated than “the older brother’s a jerk.” Michael has a lot of depth and it shows in the film. I love the part where he’s so excited to hear about E.T. being okay that he jumps up in excitement and bangs his head on the ceiling. That’s a great bit.

And the movie is jam packed with great bits. I was especially blown away by the first 10 to 15 minutes of this movie which all seemed like a big homage to Spielberg’s previous hits. Of course you start off with a spaceship (Close Encounters Of The Third Kind) that leads into the shadowy introduction of the film’s hero (Raiders Of The Lost Ark) and also something of a chase scene where you don’t really get a good look at the pursuers (Jaws). In fact, I didn’t realize this until I was looking through the film’s IMDb Trivia Page, but you don’t really see an adult’s face aside from Mary’s until the scientists show up. And guess who the villains are? Yup, adults. Spielberg might have stumbled upon the idea of keeping the shark hidden in Jaws because of technical difficulties, but he took that idea and used it in his other films.

Speaking of film connections, E.T. is a really interesting companion piece to Close Encounters because of the similarity of content but looked at from different angles. They’re both about people dealing with the reality of aliens but in very different ways. While Richard Dreyfuss’ Roy practically loses his sanity trying to get to the aliens, which doesn’t happen until the end of the film, Elliot finds his right away and goes from there. Another interesting bit of info I came upon while reading the Trivia page is that E.T. started as more of a horror movie where a family is terrorized by alien creatures. He went the nicer route and wound up using the nefarious elements for Poltergeist which he produced for Tobe Hooper to direct, but the two movies kind of work together as different sides of the same coin. Maybe I’ll give that movie another watch and see how they compare while E.T.‘s still in mind.

Aside from that, I’m going to do my best to get to the next Spielberg film in a more timely fashion. I’m going to watch at least Spielberg’s part of The Twilight Zone movie which I don’t always enjoy watching because I’m constantly comparing every frame to the original episodes in my brain. From there it’s on to my personal favorite Indiana Jones movie, Temple Of Doom. After that, I think I’m going to hit up the two episodes of Amazing Stories that he directed (“Ghost Train” and “The Mission”) before moving on to two movies I’ve never seen: The Color Purple and Empire Of The Sun. Should be a fun ride!