Movie Rewatch of Great Nostalgia

Adored with Cheerful Unreason: D.A.R.Y.L.

Happy 2017, Tor.com! And in case, like me, you ain’t finding it all that happy thus far (one word: norovirus), here’s a brand new shiny Movie Rewatch of Great Nostalgia to distract yourself with!

Today’s entry is 1985’s D.A.R.Y.L., a choice which had me and my sisters literally jumping up and down with glee. Because we are giant dorks. (But that’s why you love us!)

Previous entries can be found here. Please note that as with all films covered on the Nostalgia Rewatch, this post will be rife with spoilers for the film.

And now, the post!

I’m not sure if it was post-holiday doldrums or what, but my sisters and I had quite a lot of trouble agreeing on what the next MRGN would be. We ended up yelling at each other discussing our choices calmly for a good hour or more, to no avail, before Liz finally ordered me to troll through the readers’ comments to see if there had been an option suggested that we’d overlooked or forgotten.

I should’ve known I could count on y’all. All it took was the right suggestion:

ME: …and “Arthur” mentioned D.A.R.Y.L., and—

LIZ: GASP!

KATE: Ohmigod!

LIZ: Yes! That’s it that’s it, oh my god do you remember!?

ME: I DO. Let’s do it.

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If you’re not me or my sisters, this probably seems like a strangely overenthusiastic response to what is, honestly, a rather unprepossessing kids’ movie from 1985 that didn’t really do all that well at the box office at the time, and has not really garnered any kind of large cult following since—at least, not that I’m aware of.

But nostalgia, like so many other emotions, is not always (or even often) subject to reason. And like so many other things in our lives we feel strongly about, the greatest factor influencing how we feel about them is rarely the thing’s objective quality, but really most often just its context.

Nostalgia loves a thing not necessarily because of what it is (though that can certainly help), but because of where and when and how we experienced the thing, and who we were at the time, and how much different we are now. In all of the movies we’ve done so far for the MRGN, whether or not I still love them objectively (which, as you’ve seen, some I have and some I have not), I will always and forever love their context.

And in terms of context, D.A.R.Y.L. is one of the most beloved nostalgia movies of our entire childhood. Enough so, in fact, that it may be impossible for me to evaluate it objectively at all.

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Maybe that makes it a little weird, then, that we didn’t remember to consider it until I saw Arthur’s comment, but memory is contrary like that. You forget all about a thing, and then all of a sudden you smell a particular scent or hear a particular sound effect and then bang, it’s all right front and center again, and you’re like, jeez, how could I have forgotten about that? So thanks, commenter Arthur, for reminding us!

I’ve explained before my mother’s penchant for taping movies off the TV for us whenever one of the premium channels had free previews, and also that as a result we tended to be missing bits of the beginnings or endings of a lot of these movies, yes? Well, D.A.R.Y.L. is probably the biggest offender in that regard, in fact—we didn’t know it for many years, but our recording of D.A.R.Y.L. was missing almost twenty minutes of the beginning of the movie. Considering the entire film is only 100 minutes long, that’s quite a chunk to be missing.

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LIZ: Not that we cared.

ME: No. No, we did not.

And we really didn’t, because it is safe to say that as kids we watched the shit out of this movie. I’ve said that about other movies as well, and it’s true, but D.A.R.Y.L. was at the far end of the curve even for us. My mother’s response to learning that this was the movie we were doing next is illustrative: “Oh, God, that one. Y’all NEVER STOPPED WATCHING that movie. EVER.”

She then declined to watch it with us again, on the grounds that no woman needs to see a movie one million and one times, even if the last time was thirty years ago. My mother exaggerates a lot (a trait I have in no way inherited from her, nope, not me, nosireebob), but in this instance she’s probably not actually that far off.

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We watched D.A.R.Y.L. a LOT, you guys.

So what was it about this movie in particular we found so compelling? What was it about this story about a boy who finds a family, and then discovers he’s not a real boy at all, but then discovers he has a family anyway, that we were content to watch over and over and over again?

The negative reviews I found of D.A.R.Y.L. generally seemed to consider the movie to be “bland” or “formulaic”, with a plot that was “preposterous”. And I certainly have to admit that from a scientific point of view, D.A.R.Y.L.’s plot is laughable, but that’s an accusation that can be leveled at just about any science fiction film made in the 80s (and a good many of the ones made more recently than that, and probably all of the ones made before that). If “realism” were my sole criterion for whether I like an SF movie… well, shit, this blog series wouldn’t even exist, and I would have a completely different career.

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So instead of concentrating on the basic extreme implausibility of a scenario in which scientists could grow a kid from a test tube that was organic and human in every way except for his computer brain, I recognize what the filmmakers were doing, which was to handwave the specifics of how a Data Analysing Robot Youth Lifeform might be created, in favor of examining the social and human consequences of such a thing.

Which really, when you think about it, is the core purpose of all science fiction, when you get down to brass tacks.

I’m not sure how exactly I thought of it as a kid (or if I bothered to articulate it at all), but watching it again as an adult, what struck me about D.A.R.Y.L. was how much of the film is devoted to the quiet domesticity of Daryl’s earnest, frequently awkward, but always loving integration into his chance acquisition of a circle of family and friends. Daryl never quite fits in, never quite understands how this whole “being a kid” thing works, but given that there are quite a few of us non-cyborg total humans out there who didn’t quite get it either, the only thing that does is make it easier to identify with him. And, incidentally, make it impossible not to adore that the family and friends who don’t quite get him either, accept and love him anyway.

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There is what I can only describe as a sense of joy to this movie that I still find delightful—the family parts of it, anyway. The rest comes across (to me) as a YA distillation of a much more complicated, if not original, plot; the larger, and darker, implications are there if you want to consider them, or you can simply enjoy the streamlined version the way a kid would.

But I don’t know, maybe it was all trite and pedestrian. I don’t think it was; I thought (and still think) that it was lovely. But then, it’s pretty much impossible for me (or my sisters, it turns out) to evaluate D.A.R.Y.L. objectively. I love it wholeheartedly, warts and all. Even the most glaring plot holes just make me smile fondly. The happy reunion at the end made me tear up, for reals.

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And the reason for that is, probably, because we watched the damn thing so much that it was just… there, an essential and indelible part of our childhood landscape. Every last little thing about it is engraved on our memories, from the particular sounds they used to indicate typing computer noises to the music to the awesomely primitive graphics to Barret Oliver’s every last expression while trying his young child actor best to portray a robot who doesn’t know he isn’t human. It’s not rational, but I don’t think we really care.

Perhaps not incidentally, by the way, my fondness for D.A.R.Y.L. was no doubt immensely helped along by the GIANT crush kid-me had on Barret Oliver at the time. Oliver disappeared from the acting life after 1989—apparently he is now a photographer (with dreads and a full beard, holy moly)—but before then he was in four of my most favorite movies from the 80s. Besides D.A.R.Y.L., he was Bastien in The Neverending Story, Wilford Brimley’s grandson David in Cocoon, and—more obscurely, perhaps—Dickon in the 1987 television movie version of The Secret Garden. It’s possible that no one has seen or remembers that last one besides us, but I thought it was awesome (if not better than the book, natch), and among other things engendered a lifelong love of Chopin’s Nocturnes in me. (Oliver was also in the Cocoon sequel, of course, but, uh, I tend to ignore that one.) In any case, the impact of Oliver’s basic adorableness and charisma as a child actor cannot be underestimated on my younger self.

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And speaking of music, once again there’s no way I can let a post of a fave movie go by without bringing up the score. Which, again, there is no way I can evaluate it impartially, because the score for this film is burned into my brain and I can probably hum the whole thing on command even now, but it transpires that the music for D.A.R.Y.L. has a surprisingly lofty pedigree, in that it was composed by one Marvin Hamlisch, who has the nearly unique distinction of having not only won the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) but also a Pulitzer, a feat only accomplished so far by one other person (Richard Rodgers, as in Rodgers and Hammerstein). Which ain’t too shabby, you know?

So maybe the score’s actually as good as my nostalgia-addled brain thinks it is. I dunno, can’t tell. In addition to the film’s score, Hamlisch also composed the song played over the end credits, “Somewhere I Belong”, which (again) I suspect may be corny to unbiased ears, but which my sisters and I sang along to (and waved imaginary lighters to) with happy abandon. Because even thirty years later we still know every word.

Did I mention we watched this movie a lot as kids?

There’s about a million more details I could bring up, little moments and characters and bits that we loved (and which I will probably catch hell from my sisters for omitting), but I kind of feel like the overall statement stands better on its own: We, the Butler sisters, adored—and adore—D.A.R.Y.L. with great and cheerful unreason, and know not how those who have not basically ironed it into their brains would feel about it. So There.

I would be curious to hear any opinions on that front, but I warn you now, it will effect not the slightest dent in our heartfelt love for this silly little nothing gem of a kid’s flick from the 80s. Done bun can’t be undone, bub.

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And so, we end with the Nostalgia Love to Reality Love 1-10 Scale of Awesomeness…

Nostalgia: 11

Reality: 9.5 (which we argued ourselves down to in spite of ourselves. Secretly, it’s also an 11, sorry not sorry)

…And The Song. Bust out your imaginary lighters, my peeps.


And that the MRGN for the moment, kids! Tell me your thoughts! We don’t know yet what’s coming up next, but whatever it is, it’ll appear right here on Tor.com in two weeks! Come see us then!

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