I have to confess that I never ever saw D.A.R.Y.L when it was released in 1985. In fact, I only watched it last week when I happened to notice it was on Sky Movies. When I was at university several friends had mentioned that they had enjoyed this film as a kid, so I finally took the chance to see what I had been missing.
The film opens with a car being chased by a helicopter through some mountain roads. The car stops whilst out of sight of the helicopter and a young boy gets out and runs into the trees. The car starts off again at high speed, forcing an elderly couple of the road in it’s haste. The elderly couple then come across the boy, who doesn’t know what he is doing there, only that his name is Daryl.
The elderly couple take the boy into town, but since they are unable to look after him, he is sent to a child welfare hostel. From here he is fostered by construction manager Andy and his wife Joyce, a piano instructor. It soon becomes apparent that whilst Daryl may be suffering from memory loss, he is also an extremely fast learner and more than capable of looking after himself. Daryl makes friends with Turtle, the boy from across the road, and also becomes Andy’s secret weapon in the little league baseball team he coaches.
Eventually though, Daryl’s real parents track him down, and they come to collect him. We soon find out however that they are not really his parents, but two scientists from a military research base. They fly Daryl to the base, but after returning from a quick lesson in how to fly a plane from the pilot, he overhears the two scientists, Dr. Stewart and Dr. Lamb, and realises they are not his parents after all.
Daryl is put through some tests, and we discover that he isn’t a normal human boy after all, but instead has an artificial intelligence computer brain. We also find out that Daryl is actually an acronym, standing for Data Analysing Robot Youth Lifeform. Dr. Stewart believes that Daryl has become much more than he ever thought possible, as we watch some of Daryl’s memories on a computer screen showing that he is capable of things such as choosing a favourite flavour of ice cream, the sort of things that he was never programmed to be able to do.
On presenting his findings to his military bosses however, Dr. Stewart is told that the D.A.R.Y.L programme is of no use to the military and is to be terminated. Dr. Stewart is outraged, but pretends to go along with their requests in order to rescue Daryl from the base and return him to Andy and Joyce, who he invites to the base to plan the escape. On the day of the operation to terminate Daryl, Dr. Stewart smuggles him off the base whilst Dr. Lamb covers for him, but Daryl ends up alone after Dr. Stewart is shot and dies whilst trying to get past a police roadblock.
For the final leg of his journey home, Daryl infiltrates an air force base, and steals a stealth plane (a Blackbird) to make his way home. He ejects from the aircraft just before it is blown up by it’s on-board defence system that detonates as soon as the plane leaves US air space, but lands in a lake and drowns. Whilst Andy and Joyce grieve, Turtle realises that Daryl can’t be dead because his computer brain doesn’t need oxygen, and sure enough we then see Dr. Lamb in the hospital room with Daryl, rebooting him.
Daryl is a surprisingly intelligent film, and whilst it may take a few liberties with the science involved it all comes across as being fairly believable. I particularly like it because for once the scientists are caring people who realise they have made mistakes and take action to correct them. Of course the military are still portrayed as gung ho war makers, but then you have to have a villain in kids films, don’t you?