Star Wars Episode V, The Firm, How to Train Your Dragon – best films on TV tonight

Sci-fi buffs, drama lovers and adventurers-at-heart will enjoy one of our top film picks tonight Saturday 31 May

How To Train Your Dragon – 5:10pm, BBC1


Cressida Cowell’s successful children’s book gets an exciting animated adaptation here from co-writers/directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois (Lilo & Stitch). Teenager Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) belongs to a belligerent Viking tribe that sees dragons as their mortal enemy. But Hiccup is a secret dragon-whisperer and when he helps, rather than kills, a wounded Night Fury dragon nicknamed Toothless, he sets a new course for his family and friends.

The film’s constantly amusing script boasts plenty of strong characters (including Hiccup’s father, Stoick, voiced by Gerard Butler), is poignant where it counts – Hiccup and Toothless getting to know each other – and is consistently cute, clever and touching. But where this highly appealing comedy adventure really excels is with awesome visuals that rival Avatar’s. The flying sequences, such as a dazzling trip through the Northern Lights, are stunning and the battles are equally spectacular – although some younger viewers might find them rather too scary.

Star Wars Episode V: the Empire Strikes Back – 7:25pm, ITV2

Director Irvin Kershner’s imaginative supervision of George Lucas’s brainchild gives this second part of the first Star Wars trilogy a truly epic dimension, adding a mature, philosophical aspect to the nonstop barrage of brilliant special effects. Events take place all over the universe – Darth Vader sends Imperial troops to crush the rebels on the ice planet Hoth, while Luke Skywalker searches out Jedi master Yoda for further instruction in the mysterious ways of “the Force” – and the much-loved characters are developed in intriguing ways.

Kershner darkens the imagery of Lucas’s vibrant, futuristic fairy tale and deepens its narrative with provocative plot strands, giving this sequel a cynical, harder edge that lifts it above the serial roots of its predecessor.

The Firm – 10:50pm, C4

After running rings around the US Navy in A Few Good Men, Tom Cruise returned to the courtroom for this big-screen adaptation of John Grisham’s bestseller. The result is a lavish, star-studded legal thriller, which at times seems as if it is going to last as long as the OJ Simpson trial, but is never less than engrossing. Cruise plays a rising young lawyer who gets a dream job with a prestigious law firm only to discover that it offers more than just legal advice to one particularly sinister client.

The ever excellent Gene Hackman is his jaded superior, but, as good as they are, the two stars are outshone by the seemingly never-ending parade of star supporting turns (Holly Hunter, Ed Harris, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook and an unbilled Goodfellas reprise from Paul Sorvino). Director Sydney Pollack is as proficient as usual and just about manages to sustain the suspense throughout, even though the subject matter is fairly dry.


Want more great TV recommendations for tonight from the Radio Times experts? Download our free iPad app