US movie (1992). 20th Century-Fox/Baltimore Pictures. Pr Mark Johnson, Barry Levinson. Dir Levinson. Spfx Clayton Pinney. Vfx Mat Beck. Screenplay Valerie Curtin, Levinson. Starring Joan Cusack (Alsatia), Michael Gambon (Leland), LL Cool J (Patrick), Arthur Malet (Owens), Robin Williams (Leslie), Robin Wright (Gwen). 121 mins. Colour.
Dying toymaker Kenneth Zevo leaves his empire to his brother, discharged army General Leland Zevo, rather than to unpredictable son Leslie or daughter Alsatia. Leland militarizes the factory, then secretly designs a whole range of deadly new weapons that will be only Toy-size and hence capable of penetrating enemy defences; the acme of his scheme is the employment of scores of children to operate weapons systems in the belief they are merely playing video Games. Discovering this ghastly truth, Alsatia, Leslie, his new girlfriend Gwen, factory supervisor Owens and Leland's son Patrick hit back. Leland turns his lethal toys on the five, and the entire factory becomes a battle zone: Leland's weaponry against a mass of traditional, harmless toys. Finally the main computer is smashed, deactivating all the war-toys except the most lethal, the Water Swine, which shoots Alsatia (who proves to be a robotic toy constructed long ago by Kenneth to keep his son company, and who is thus repairable) and then Leland.
This Technofantasy was not much liked on release, with emphasis on its "too obvious" anti-war message. But that message was not unsophisticated. All the characters are really children: the difference is that Leland's childishness is potentially lethal. In a telling scene, Leland tries to sell his systems to three officials from Washington; we see much of this through the cameras of the X-ray surveillance team, and the crude images of the negotiators become the Four Horsemen. Elsewhere, he visits a video arcade to try out the war-games and gets his kicks out of blasting the UN trucks rather than the enemy. The movie as a whole is couched in fantastic terms: outdoor scenes show an idealized landscape made up of swashes of primary colours; the Zevo mansion is a gigantic pop-up Book; the interior of the factory, spotlessly clean and again in primary colours, is more like a playground than an industrial workplace (like the factory in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory , only more so), and has at its heart a miniaturized Manhattan through which the cast walk like Giants. T is remarkably powerful as both polemic and fantasy. [JG]