Stargames/Star Games (1998)

Stargames (1998)‘Who wishes an audience with the court of the eternal laws of the universe?’

A young alien prince flees a mighty space warlord who threatens to destroy his people. Crashing in a forest location on Earth, he teams up with an unhappy teenager who has become separated from his parents after being chased by a bear near their camp.

Low-budget Science-Fiction space opera from veteran filmmaker Greydon Clark, whose three-decade directing career began in the Blaxploitation arena and ended here. He had hitched his wagon to the stars a couple of times before, most notably in the years of the science-fiction boom triggered by ‘Star Wars’ (1977). The best of these projects was ‘Without Warning’ (1980), which found Oscar-winners Martin Landau and Jack Palance fighting an alien hunter in the woods almost a decade before Arnold Schwarzenegger got acquainted with ‘The Predator’ (1987). Unfortunately, any career momentum he could have gained from this decent entry was sacrificed immediately by ‘The Return’ (1980), a nonsensical riff on ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977).

Here, he’s aiming squarely for the children’s market with this tale of castaway Prince Kirk (Travis Clark, the director’s youngest son), who escapes from a space battle being fought by his grandfather, King Fendel (Oscar nominee Tony Curtis). In the backwoods of Earth, he teams up with pouty teen Brian (Trevor Clark, the director’s other son) who’s lost after a close encounter of the ursine kind. Meanwhile, the authorities have formed a search party, accompanied by Brian’s mother and father (Jacqulin Cole and director Greydon Clark). In case you were wondering, Cole is billed here as Jacqulin Clark because she was the director’s wife and the mother of our two young stars.

Stargames (1998)

‘Where did it all go?’

So, yes, what we have here is 90 minutes spent in the cinematic company of the Clark family! And what have they to offer? Sadly, very little. This is obviously a micro-budgeted adventure, and little more than a vanity project. The film opens with scenes of Curtis walking around inside what is supposed to be a giant spaceship. He makes a lot of sweeping arm movements and delivers some of the worst dialogue this side of ‘The Manitou’ (1978).

Unfortunately, these SFX would have been laughable a quarter of a century earlier. On television. So It’s a relief when we get earth-side so quickly but things really don’t get any better from there. That’s because the film’s main issue isn’t the bargain basement FX or the terrible dialogue, it’s the casting. Neither Trevor or Travis had any previous acting credits (or subsequent ones), and their lack of experience is cruelly exposed when so much of the drama falls on their young shoulders. This is largely because of the severely under-developed script, by Clark Sr and regular collaborator David Reskin, that offers the audience little more than an extended hike in their company.

Stargames (1998)

The force was not strong with this one…

To be fair, all these issues were likely due to the limitations of resources at director Clark’s disposal, but it does make for a seriously dull experience. Travis does have a pet piece of rope(!) and an alien wristwatch that he uses to conjure jerky stop-motion dinosaurs out of thin air, but little else. Handy for dealing with pound-store stormtroopers, though. But the fact that the writers seemed to believe that the only adjective in a teenage boy’s vocabulary was ‘cool’ is not entirely helpful.

This is one of Curtis’ last roles, and it’s interesting to speculate just how he crossed paths with Greydon Clark, and why he agreed to do this. It’s fair to say that he wasn’t really looking after his career by this point (‘The Mummy Lives’ (1983) anyone?) but looking at what’s up on the screen, it’s hard to believe that he would have received significant financial compensation for the brief shift he puts in here. After all, the faceless villain is little more than a silly, disembodied voice, and not much of a final opponent for a man who once defeated ‘The Manitou’ (1978)!

A nice family souvenir for the Clark clan, but not of much interest to anyone else.

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