Child in the Night [Not rated: made for TV] 
Overall movie: **
EJW content: First major role; not bad, but for great acting at the same age see Avalon
Note on availability: After several delays, I received notice from Amazon.com that this video was unavailable and they'd canceled my order. However, it's still listed as a "special order" on their website--but if you order a new copy of Child in the Night from Amazon, be prepared to wait a number of months and then be told they can't get it for you. I finally bought a used copy I found at Amazon. At the time, it was the only copy listed, but more have become available since then.
This is Elijah's earliest major role (he shows up here at the end of the credits, with "Introducing Elijah Wood"), as a child who's the only witness to his father's murder. JoBeth Williams plays the psychologist who tries to help the police by unlocking the memory of the murder that the boy, for mental self-defense, has turned into a story of Peter Pan and Captain Hook. She also becomes romantically involved (of course) with the police detective in charge of solving the case, played by Tom Skerritt. I've seen much better acting from all three of the main cast members.
But, for what it is, this isn't a bad piece of work--what it is, is a 1990 made-for-TV movie-of-the-week. Remember those? For anyone who doesn't, let me just say they were basically two-hour TV shows, with low budgets and short production schedules--much different from today's higher-quality made-for-TV movies and mini-series (even comparing this movie with Oliver Twis
t, made for TV seven years later, shows the change in production values).
It's the lack of production time that hurts this movie the most, IMHO. The plot of the murder mystery is quite well done (and being a mystery fan, I have my standards), but, boy, the dialogue could have used some more work! And the actors could have used more time to get "into" their characters. I never found the relationship between the psychologist and detective at all convincing (and from seeing the two actors in other roles, I know it could have been), and Elijah basically plays a generic eight-year-old boy rather than a specific character. He gets to use some of his acting talent in the scenes in which he fantasizes about being Peter Pan, but other than that he doesn't have much to work with. The feeling I get from this movie is that as soon as the acting was good enough to let the audience follow the basic story--it was good enough. That's common among movies-of-the-week, so I'm not faulting this one in particular. But since this list pits it against theatrical movies, I'm not ranking it very highly.
Another quality of movies-of-the-week is that they were usually topical and geared toward what was making news at the time--which means that years later they can seem dated. I think this shows up in Child in the Night in that much of what's said about grief reactions, in both children and adults, seems almost trite today, but that wouldn't have been nearly so true in 1990. So some people probably did learn a lot from this movie when it was shown on TV.
As a final note, as far as Elijah's acting development, he made this movie the same year as Avalon
, in which he does a magnificent
job, so I don't think it's his age that holds him back in Child in the Night
, but rather the type of production it is.
Not available on DVD. Availability of new VHS is questionable; before ordering, see note
at beginning of this entry. However, the following link will also show you any used
copies available at Amazon, which seem to be a better bet than new ones: