Screen fantasies

The other new screen fantasies, ''Firefox'' and ''Blade Runner,'' are a lot less friendly than ''Tron.'' In fact, to look at these dark and deadly visions, you'd never guess the agreeable ''Tron'' and ''The Secret of NIMH'' were also on the scene, while the cheery ''E.T.'' continues to burn up the box office. That's how fragmented the movie arena has become.

Firefox shares the cold-war paranoia that has cropped up in some films lately. The hero is a burned-out Vietnam veteran who gets ''volunteered'' for a dangerous mission in the Soviet Union. First he has to sneak into Moscow, disguised for some reason as an American drug dealer. Then he has to steal a Russian plane that's so advanced it could alter the balance of power between East and West.

It's a good thing for the West that Clint Eastwood is available for the job. There's a bit of suspense as he slips past the entire Soviet security system, and a bit more as he skedaddles with the coveted aircraft. But most of the way, this is a very talky film, stretching a slim plot into more than two hours of familiar Hollywood maneuvers.

Most of the interest comes from contemplating the movie's fearsome version of Soviet-American relations, in which the Russians are seen as inept and all-powerful at the same time. What's never explained is how a nation with such boobish leaders (a pompous ''First Secretary'' is portrayed as a sheer clown) came up with the almost supernaturally potent device (its weapons are ''thought-controlled'') that Eastwood so valiantly purloins.

For the rest, it's nothing we haven't seen many times before, complete with special effects that look as if they were filmed off the nearest Atari game cartridge. In his earlier movies as a director, such as ''High Plains Drifter'' and ''The Eiger Sanction,'' Eastwood showed great promise as an imaginative and energetic filmmaker. ''Firefox'' is a big step in the wrong direction.

Ridley Scott film

Blade Runner was directed by Ridley Scott, who seems determined to outdo the violence of his hit ''Alien.'' Actually, only a few scenes are marred by sadistic outbursts, but the movie as a whole is so relentlessly grim that the effect is multiplied. The result has already stirred a new round of complaints about Hollywood excesses. And it certainly makes a fierce contrast to ''Tron,'' with Scott's fearful view of ''artificial intelligence'' as a savage menace rather than a slippery but ultimately convivial phenomenon.

The story is loosely based on a respected Phillip K. Dick novel called ''Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?'' Harrison Ford stars as a 21st-century detective tracking down a group of murderous robots. For the background, filmmaker Scott and his colleagues have created a meticulously realistic setting - a damp, overcrowded, underpoliced Los Angeles - that seems true down to the last detail. On the level of sheer craft, it's a fabulous achievement, bringing to full visual life the kind of futuristic world that, say, author Alfred Bester developed in his early novels.

But the plot is ordinary, and the scenarists have undermined it with a narration that even Ford considers foolish, judging from the way he reads it. Too bad the filmmakers didn't try to recapture the modest virtues of the Dick novel, which (despite many flaws of its own) has a humor and humanity that are nowhere felt in ''Blade Runner.'' Put it all together, and it doesn't add up to much excuse for the vicious violence that breaks out increasingly as the final fade-out nears.

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