Albert Pyun’s groovy little virtual reality thriller from the early 90s finally gets a UK DVD release from the always-reliable (and current go to guys for retro Full Moon releases) 88 Films. The 90s, especially the earlier part, was awash with virtual reality thrillers (Lawnmower Man, Virtuosity, Expect No Mercy, and er…ahem, Lawnmower Man 2) and Arcade was Full Moons’ jump on the bandwagon. A big time computer game company is about to launch its new VR game, Arcade, and decides to test run it in the dingy video game arcade Dante’s Inferno. This is the local hang out of Alex (Ward), Nick (Billingsley) and their group of friends who are excited to try out this revolutionary new game. However, when Alex’s boyfriend mysteriously disappears while playing the game, Alex and Nick decide to investigate. First taking on the computer game company (and getting nowhere), they soon realise the game has actually developed a mind of its own and that they must venture inside the computer generated world in order to save their friends and possibly the world.
At a swift 80 minutes, Arcade is a fun little cyber thriller that works as a kind of low rent teen version of Tron. Ok, so maybe the budget is sparse and the VR effects are certainly cheap by today’s standards but Pyun and screenwriter David S. Goyer (who would go on to pen the likes of Blade, Batman Begins and Man of Steel) intentions are good. Pyun creates an unsettling eerie atmosphere, with an almost apocalyptic feel to it, as the teens find themselves cut off from the adult world as they try to beat the malevolent Arcade. The young cast are also very good; with Goyer’s script fleshing them out as realistic teenagers rather than annoying stereotypes and the cast (which also includes an early role for Buffy’s Seth Green) share authentic chemistry.
While many will no doubt have a lot to say about the dated virtual reality effects the film certainly gets an A for effort. Apparently there were some issues with getting the effects completed and while they don’t always convince they do have a cool retro feel to them. Even if the CGI has dated the VR world, much like the real world, has an eerie feel to it with winged creatures and sky cycles (!) complete with skull faces making for an odd VR world. The brief sky-cycle chase owes more than a little to Tron but once Alex and Nick venture into the cyber world proceedings do take a rather dark and sometimes nasty turn.
Star Trek The Next Generation’s John de Lancie has a fun appearance as the slimy and smarmy company rep and Pyun regular Norbert Weisser pops up as the paranoid and jittery game designer (though it feels as though some of his scenes may have been cut). Certainly a product of its era, Arcade is still a fun and offbeat computer game-run-amok thriller that is boosted by some tight direction and an assured young cast. Fun stuff.
While it’s presented in standard 4:3, 88 Films’ print is clear and crisp capturing the eerie/shadowy/misty vibe of the film nicely. There is a good assortment of other B-movie and Full Moon trailers but the best extra, as always with the Full Moon releases, is the short but informative behind the scenes Video Zone. Featuring lively interviews with the cast and director Pyun, it shows how they created a VR world on a budget. It also contains a fair amount of deleted/alternative footage and different effects shots that were presumably not used or completely changed for the finished film. Good stuff.
Review by Andrew Skeates