Saturday, November 21, 2009

'Arcade' is a fun, if visually dated, kids-oriented sci-fi

Arcade (1993)
Starring: Megan Ward, Peter Billingsley, Norbert Weisser, John de Lancie, Seth Green, A.J. Langer, Sharon Farrell, Brian Dattilo, and Humberto Ortiz
Director: Albert Pyun
Producers: Charles Band and Cathy Gesualdo
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Alex (Ward), a teenager who is still reeling from the suicide of her mother, discovers that the hot new computer game, Arcade, is sucking her friends into its virtual reality world, bodies and souls. As if she didn't already have enough problems in her life, she, along with her computer game wizard friend Nick (Billingsley) are the only ones able to save their friends and stop Arcade before it abducts kids all around the world. Worst of all, the only way Megan can save them is to enter the game herself, battling the evil entity on its terms.

"Arcade" is a fun low-budget fusion of sci-fi and horror that's suitable for Mom and Dad to sit down and watch with the early teenaged fans of the genre, especially the girls. It's nudity-, sex-, and gore-free, with only one or two curse words uttered during the running time. (The film was rated R when it was first released, although I'm not sure why. It's also a rating that must have hurt the flick--although that R would certainly have been magical for the age group this seems to be directed at, even if their parents shouldn't have been thrilled to see if on a film they were watching.)

The film is decently enough acted and the script is okay. The effects have an outdated feel to them in this day-and-age where even my first generation XBox is able to put better computer graphics on my TV screen, but I think anyone who has an affection for the sci-fi and horror genre won't mind.

The film has some significant flaws, however. The worst of these is a botched ending where the filmmakers attempt to get one last scare in, but end up presenting something that even the most generous viewer will consider as lame and stupid. They would have been far better off if they had taken an approach similar to the scene where Alex wakes up to find everything has only been a dream (which quickly turns out to be part of her virtual reality nightmare).

I also would have liked to see more about the company that developed the virtual reality game and the how and why of the very dark and twisted secret hiding at the center of every one manufactured. It's touched upon briefly, but more time really needed to be devoted to it. This is one of those rare films that I wish had been longer than it is.

Actually, this commonly the case with Full Moon pictures... many of them feel halfbaked because no enough time is spent developing themes and characters within their usually brief running-times. Although, there are signs that this film was at one time longer; there is a point where Alex enters a new level of the game, a little scuffed but generally okay. Then, between scenes, she suddenly develops bloody gashes on her body and bloody nose. SOMETHING happened and whatever it was ultimately ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor with Band & Company probably saying, "Eh. They'll never notice!"

Watch the preview, courtesy of Full Moon and YouTube...

"Arcade" is available on DVD in the "Full Moon Classics Vol. 1" set, which contains "Arcade" and four other films from Full Moon's Golden Age from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s. It's a nice set--the only featured stinker is "Netherworld"--and the price is right if you order it from, where it costs $65 as opposed to the $129 price elsewere, particularly if you order it at a discount from