Friday, January 23, 2015


Note: This review was written for the Video Cheese feature of, and has been published here by the very kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.

   "Only daydreamer Gary Coleman can save the planet from atomic war!"

   Gary Coleman has taken a lot of hard knocks. His perpetual physical childhood has made him a choice target for comics, a condition only intensified when the diminutive actor joined the circus-like race for Governor of California against such colorful characters as a buxom porn star and the eventual winner: muscle man turned movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger. Coleman never really got a chance to discuss the issues, despite his being the only campaign really focusing on substance. 

   His stormy and troubled personal life didn't help much, and his career had begun to dry up when age began to show in his face and he could no longer play child roles. He passed away in 2010 at the frightfully young age of 42. Its sometimes easy to forget that the man possessed gargantuan talent.

   As the story goes, Norman Lear discovered Gary and planned to feature him in an updated version of Our Gang. That project never came to be, but Coleman went on to become one of the most famous television child stars of all time. He is most famous, of course, for playing Arnold on Diff'rent Strokes, where the writers were so impressed with his sharpness that they began to feature him more heavily than originally planned. 

   My first exposure to Gary was as the ageless Hieronymous Fox on the super fun first season of the teleseries Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.  His comic abilities had reportedly been praised by the likes of Bob Hope and Lucille Ball! 

   The Fantastic World of D.C. Collins was a telefilm made during the peak of Coleman's fame, being essentially an 80's TV movie version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

   Our story in a nutshell: D.C. is the son of a UN diplomat (Bernie Casey!), and he's a daydreamer who is finding it increasingly difficult to tell the difference between reality and fantasy. When, completely by chance, he ends up in possession of an electronic file containing the launch codes to atomic missiles in both the United States and soviet Russia, he finds himself pursued and questioned by spies and intelligence agents.

   Considering I grew up to be a movie-obsessed writer/artist of comic books, I doubt you'll be much shocked to learn that I in my youth was a daydreamer like young D.C. I never tangled with enemy agents, however.  Still, I could easily get into the picture because of this commonality I shared with our lead character.

   Spurred on by the slightest inspiration, D.C. imagines himself in various fantasy situations/roles. In one scene he imagines himself to be Hawkeye Pierce and the scene could have been shot from an actual M*A*S*H script. He imagines himself to be fearless adventurer Alabama Smith, super secret agent 770, space adventurer Dwight Cloudclimber, and a Western lawman, among other fantasies. 

   The number of such set pieces suffer under the limited budget of a television movie. The M*A*S*H sequence appears to be shot on the same sets Alan Alda would use as his soapbox, and as such it comes off best. Worst might be the Star Wars-inspired dream, which incorporates the reality of the moment into the dream and finds Collins sword-fighting with stormtroopers on a re-dressed rooftop of a large building.

   The most fantastic element of the world of D.C. Collins may be that sensitive information concerning both Cold War superpowers downloaded from a satellite can fit onto a 1984 video game cartridge!

   Once this top secret information has been taken, both sides are on yellow alert and the missiles could start launching at any moment. While most of the culprits are captured, one man manages to escape with the cartridge in hand. He's tracked by one of those male-female field teams that always pop up in family movies for some reason. In this case, it's Daniels and Harris, who manage to shoot a tranquillizer dart into the fleeing suspect. 

   (Unfortunately, he stumbles across Collins and slips the cartridge into the kid's book bag. D.C. has been tossed out of the class' soccer game and wanders off by himself. When he tries to inform his teacher about the spy, and the body is missing because Daniels and Harris have dragged it away, D.C.'s over-active imagination is given the blame.)

   Daniels is played by Fred Dryer, star of both incarnations of Hunter and actor in countless other TV projects.  Harris is played by busy television actress and former runway model Shelley Smith, who had also guested in episodes of Diff'rent Strokes and Hunter. Most everyone here is noted for their television work. The biggest name guest star on hand is George Gobel.

   Rating a special "as Turk" credit is well-known actor Michael Ansara, who has more than made himself known in the 'geek' world. Not only did he essay the role of Klingon Captain Kang in the classic Star Trek episode "Day of the Dove" and became the voice of the animated Mr. Freeze on Batman, the Animated Series and its spin-offs, but lived just about every man's greatest desire and married Barbara Eden. 

   Proving himself no Solomon, he divorced her after a union of sixteen years. (He has subsequently been married to Beverly Kushida -voice of Nancy on The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan and a handful of bit parts- since 1977.) 

   Ansara is wasted thoroughly here, as one of a pair of thugs who chace after D.C. and become guest stars in his fantasies. The part could literally be played by anyone, as he rarely speaks. Why hire someone with such a great voice and then NOT give him a speech or two to make? It's as bad as when Larry Buchanan hired John Agar for Curse of the Swamp Creature and just had him stand in the background and smoke!

   I doubt this was intentional, but the film's plot most strongly resembles the second half of Rescue From Gilligan's Island. In that famous TV ratings topper, the castaways are able to escape the island when Gilligan stumbles onto a piece of metal from an exploded Russian spy satellite. The metallic disk allows the Professor to build a highly sensitive barometer and predict a coming tidal wave. By lashing the huts together, the castaways ride out the storm and find themselves at sea, where they are spotted by the Coast Guard and finally brought home after being marooned for fifteen years. Seeing the coverage on television, the Soviets see Gilligan is wearing the information disk from their satellite around his neck. Two agents are sent to recover this item, and are constantly thwarted by the blissfully unaware Gilligan. During this, Gilligan and the Skipper cross the country to visit the other castaways, providing different set pieces for each character. 

   Overall, this isn't a bad movie. It isn't great or anything, but it's an amusing family picture. The whole affair is very 80's, so take that for what you will (some will be pleased, others appalled, I'm sure).

   In the end, there isn't a whole lot to say about the picture. I've seen worse, and I've seen better.

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