V.G. Movies #1: Cloak & Dagger.

Welcome to the first post of the Evolution of Video Game Movies series, where I will hopefully be mixing entertainment with a wee bit of history and education. I'm not an expert, so don't quote me on everything. I just know what I get from my research (if I haven't played the game myself and/or don't know the history myself). So let's get started, shall we?


In the early-to-mid 80s, there was a growing phenomenon going on with movies and their video game tie-ins. Of course you have your truly infamous releases like the E.T. video game. But there are four in particular where video games were central to the plot of the films themselves, and there was a near-simultaneous release of the tie-in games with the release of the films (with the exception of one, wherein the game came a while later). These films were WarGames, Tron, The Last Starfighter, and Cloak & Dagger.

So what sets Cloak & Dagger apart from the other three? It's a popular trend these days, even, to release a video game tie-in to a popular film soon after the movie's release. But what sets Cloak & Dagger apart is that the video game actually came out first. As the film was being produced, the early video game company "Atari" was producing a game entitled Agent X. The two productions heard of one other and joined forces. Agent X became Cloak & Dagger and was released in March 1984 in arcade form.

The film version was released as a double-billing with The Last Starfighter in July of 1984, and later alone the following month. Now, as I said earlier, the game itself is central to the plot of the story... but while the game footage shown is from the arcade version, the actual cartridge shown within the film is for the Atari 5200 system. Now, apparently this version was planned to happen, but then something tragic occurred, and the home version could never be made.

From 1983-1985, there was a major video game crash in North America that nearly brought the industry crumbling into non-existence. It was due to a mixture of reasons, including but not limited to an excess of consoles and competition (including the ColecoVision, which put out, among other things, the video game adaptation of WarGames), as well as a slew of poor titles for said consoles. One such title was the aforementioned video game adaptation of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, which was so bad it almost single-handedly tainted the reputation of the industry. In fact, all extra copies of the game were henceforth buried (yes, buried) and Atari had to be sold. We'll get a little more into the effects of this next time... but for now, back to Cloak & Dagger.


I mentioned the ColecoVision earlier, having released the WarGames game, but it was also the primary competition for the Atari 5200. Curious that one of the co-stars of WarGames was none other than co-star of Cloak & Dagger, Dabney Coleman. It's also funny that the E.T. game was monumental in the downfall of Atari and the fact that Cloak & Dagger could not be released on the Atari 5200, as shown in the actual movie. Why, you ask? Because the star of the film Cloak & Dagger... is none other than Elliot himself, Henry Thomas.

Synergy, baby.


This is one messed up kid's movie. Seriously. I would have liked to have been in the board meeting when they came up with the idea for this movie.

"OK, for our main character, let's have two little kid main protagonists (Henry Thomas and Christina Nigra) who hang out with a middle-aged hacker/store owner (William Forsythe). The main boy's mom has recently died, leaving him and his father (Dabney Coleman) in a grieving state. Due to this, he speaks to a fictional character (also Dabney Coleman) who only he can see so that everybody else thinks he's insane. Of course, said fictional character also talks him into doing insane, dangerous, and illegal things. He then gets his hand on a microchip inside a video game that mobsters are after, so they constantly destroy his things, try to kill him and his friend, and chase him all around the city. To make it even better... not a single person believes him!"

This movie really has some dark stuff. I mean, there's even a scene where Jack Flack (the imaginary guy) forces Henry Thomas into the trunk of the bad guy's car, where he has to lay next to a dead body of a friend for the whole of the drive. There's another scene where they dangle a little girl over the edge of a cliff just to get the game cartridge. And... just a ton of other things I can't even get into due to spoilers (anything within the climax, for instance). But all of it is under the tone of a light, fun kid's movie.

On top of the dark stuff, there's quite a mix of cheesy and illogical. These people never act like normal people would act, for starters. The bad guys are total morons, and I have no idea how they've ever made it this far in life, much less in villainy, with some of the stupid things they do (or are stupid for not doing). Then there's the whole fact that this kid is such a huge fan of the game Cloak & Dagger that he imagines the main character as real... and he just so happens to get mixed up in a conspiracy of some kind that hides government information in a chip within a Cloak & Dagger cartridge? And one of his best friends just so happens to be a middle-aged gamer/hacker? Keep in mind, this kid is like 12 at most, and his female friend is 8.

The acting is absurd, too. Besides the "this is SO not how a person would react" type acting, you're mainly left with cheese. Actually, Henry Thomas does fairly well. But Dabney Coleman is a bit hammy, and every other actor is cheesy or over-the-top. The worst, though, is Christina Nigra as Henry Thomas' friend Kim. Her performance is something else entirely. I can't even explain it.

If you took away the whimsical music and child-friendly tones and gave it to a director like David Fincher, this would be one heck of a psychological thriller (as it is, it's almost like an 80s kids version of Black Swan). But as it stands, this movie is totally screwed up... I mean, it's almost traumatizing how disturbing this movie gets (again, mostly thanks to the tone vs. what's actually happening). If you look past all that, it's actually not that bad of a film. It's entertaining for what it is, and it's never boring. I'm relatively certain it's not a direct adaptation of the game, but rather a film that involves the game itself, its themes, and its main character (actually, it is fun that they mention Jack Flack's previous name was Agent X, which--as previously stated--was the name of the game before they changed it to Cloak & Dagger). If you haven't seen it, it's not incredibly recommended viewing, unless you just really want to see one of the most messed up kids movies I've seen in a while. But it's good enough.


(P.S. I know it's kind of a bad start to basically say "this is the first movie of this series, and I have no idea how to rate it"... but that's how it's gotta be!)


OK, so the real reason I wanted to include this film is because of one scene. There's a moment where Henry Thomas goes to the Alamo (the whole movie takes place in San Antonio, TX), and at the end of the scene, there's a brief moment where he's apprehended and questioned by the Alamo guard. The guard? My (late) grandfather! This was one of the two movies he was in (the other being Terms of Endearment). Yup, he got to talk to/interact with Henry Thomas here, which I think is pretty cool. You can click here to go to a video of the scene (and just skip ahead to about 8:30).


  1. Nick, this post was a lot of fun, especially all the information about the video game. I remember liking Cloak and Dagger when I saw it as a young kid (in the theaters, I think), but I haven't seen it since. I've been meaning to check it out to see how it holds up. It sounds like it might not go so well. I'm looking forward to this series.

  2. Glad you liked the video game info. I had a blast writing this article (and the beginnings of the next one so far). It's just fascinating to me how interconnected the mediums are and some of the strange coincidences therein.

    The film itself really isn't all that bad, it's just really messed up for a kid's movie.

    Glad you're looking forward to the series, as it's one I'm--so far--really enjoying and excited about doing.

  3. I love the comparison to a kid's video game movie to "Black Swan". Great article and review!

  4. Nicely done! I especially like the insinuation that Dabney Coleman and Henry Thomas almost destroyed the video game industry.

    I think I need to revisit this film. I loved it as a kid, but haven't seen it since... well, I was about the age of Henry Thomas' character.


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