Tag Archives: 1982

The Summer of ’82: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

Fante’s Inferno revisits the films of the Summer of 1982, considered the greatest movie summer for fantasy and sci-fi fans.

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

Release date: June 11, 1982

Directed by Steven Spielberg; Screenplay by Melissa Mathison

Starring: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Robert McNaughton

See the original trailer here.

How is it Labor Day already?  Seems like just last week I was writing my first post on the Summer of ’82 and screening Conan the Barbarian!

I’ve been putting off writing this post for as long as possible this past week.  Over the last two months I’ve had such a great time revisiting the films of the Summer of ’82, that (like summer vacation) I didn’t want it to end.  This retrospective has brought me back to one of the most memorable summers of my youth, almost as if I’ve been living the summers of 1982 and 2012 in parallel.

Looking back at the lineup of movie releases that summer was mind boggling.  It’s only fitting that I wrap up my personal journey through the films of the Summer of ’82 with that summer’s mega-blockbuster: Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. 

E.T. was one of the only films I had to stand in line halfway down the block for during its opening weekend.  The buzz in the lobby really made it feel like an event, and if I remember correctly our local theater booked E.T. into two of its four screens, a rarity back then.  The crowd was an mix of kids, teenagers and adults, which was a testament to how Steven Spielberg was able to make E.T. accessible across generations.  A couple of posts back I compared Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to the cleanup hitter on a baseball team.  Even though Khan is my favorite film from the Summer of ’82, Spielberg’s record breaking E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial would be the League MVP based on its phenomenal box office  that year ($359 million in North America, $619 million worldwide).

E.T. is one of those movies that had each element hit the right note to create a flawless film.  Screenwriter Melissa Mathison used elements from Spielberg’s unproduced project Night Skies in her screenplay, and wove together the themes of isolation, loneliness and friendship to create a story filled with characters that are more than just caricatures to support the cute little alien.  Spielberg brought out fantastic performances in the young cast led by Henry Thomas as Elliot and supported by Robert MacNaughton and Drew Barrymore as his siblings Michael and Gertie.  And who could forget John Williams’ incredible and inspiring score?

As much as I enjoyed E.T. when it was originally released, I thought that I was a bit too old for it at the time, which is strange when you consider Henry Thomas was also 10 when he played Elliot.  At that young age I was on a steady diet of science fiction films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, and Outland.  I chuckled when I watched the scene of Elliot’s brother and his friends playing a game that looked similar to Dungeons & Dragons at the beginning of the film.  My first thought was “Looks like those guys are playing Basic D&D.  Hmmmph, we play Advanced D&D!”

When E.T. was re-released in theaters in 2002, several of my friends who were also in their 30’s at that time had planned on seeing it as a group after work one night.  I thought about joining them, but at the time I had a feeling that I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the film with the same enthusiasm at age 30.  Even though I now disagree with that original sentiment, I’m glad I didn’t watch E.T. ten years ago because it may have tainted my opinion of it during this retrospective on the Summer of ’82.  And so at age 40 I watched E.T. in the spirit of my ten year old self and enjoyed it even more.

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The Summer of ’82: Tron

Fante’s Inferno revisits the films of the Summer of 1982, considered the greatest movie summer for fantasy and sci-fi fans.

Tron

Release Date: July 9, 1982

Written and Directed by Steven Lisberger

Starring: Jeff Bridges, David Warner, Bruce Boxleitner, Cindy Morgan

See the trailer here.

During the summer of 1982 I  spent more than a few days at the local movie theater and comic shop, but my favorite hangout in my hometown was the local video arcade.  Prior to the video game boom, the game room at Cook’s restaurant was filled with the sounds of pinball machines, skee ball and air hockey, but by 1982 it was in full swing with video games ranging from the classic Pac Man, Space Invaders and Missile Command to Battle Zone, Punch Out and my game of choice: Galaga.  They were great games and still are.  I don’t even want to attempt to estimate how many quarters I plunked into those machines from 1979 to 1986.  On a recent trip to Cape Cod I was in a restaurant that had Galaga and I couldn’t resist playing a game or two, although nowadays when I see a pinball machine or video game with 50 cents or $1 per play my first reaction is “That is an outrage!”

Back in the Summer of ’82 I remember most of my friends going on and on about how cool Tron was.  The special effects made it look like the type of video game we were hoping to see in our arcade sooner rather than later.  You would think that a film like Tron would have had me camping out for the first screening, but looking back I don’t think I saw it in the theater.  I don’t think I saw it more than once on cable TV either.  How the heck did that happen?

I was starting to think I had missed out on a rite of passage and had to make up for lost time.  My 42″ TV is pretty big for my apartment, but watching the first scenes that took place within the mainframe made me wish I had experienced watching Tron on the big screen at my local cinema back in 1982.  The production design is simple even by 1982’s standards, but it reminds me of the vector graphics of several video games I played back in the day, particularly Battle Zone  and the Star Wars arcade gameTron’s beauty is in this simplicity, and it’s accented perfectly by the colors and lighting effects of the costumes designed by none other than the great Jean Giraud (aka Moebius).

Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Iron Man) is always a pleasure to watch on film and David Warner (Time After Time, Time Bandits, Masada) is perfectly cast in Tron as his nemesis Sark.  Warner’s performance, along with his performances as Jack the Ripper in Time After Time, Evil in Time Bandits, and Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Countrymake him in my opinion the consummate movie villain.

I love the concept of Jeff Bridges’ character Kevin Flynn experiencing the world within the mainframe system, but when I watched Tron again this week my one caveat was that even my ten year old self would have felt the circumstances leading to Flynn’s transportation into the inner world of the mainframe might have been a bit too simplistic.  And like a few other films from the Summer of ’82 the pace was a little too slow for me.

Steven Lisberger created an amazing hybrid of fantasy and tech that was said to have been influenced by his first exposure to Pong in the mid-70’s.  It’s funny how Pong, the simplest video game that is now used as a punch line when discussing technological advances, led to one of the boldest cinematic visions of the 80’s.  The video games of the 80’s may not have had the graphics of Tron, but Tron gave video games something to aspire to.  While it was a modest critical and box office success (it only grossed $33 million against its $17 million dollar budget), Lisberger should be praised for pushing the envelope to achieve a look that moviegoers still vividly remember 30 years later.

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The Summer of ’82: Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Fante’s Inferno revisits the Summer of 1982, considered the greatest movie summer for fantasy and sci-fi fans.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Release Date: August 13, 1982

Directed by Amy Heckerling; Screenplay by Cameron Crowe

Starring: Sean Penn, Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forest Whitaker, Judge Reinhold, Brian Backer, Robert Romanus, Ray Walston

How could I have forgotten that Fast Times At Ridgemont High was released thirty years ago this summer?

Since I started this retrospective on the Summer of ’82, I’ve concentrated entirely on fantasy and sci-fi films and completely (and inadvertently) ignored one of the most memorable films of the 80’s.  I’m sure none of you will fault me for including a film that doesn’t fit into the fantasy or sci-fi genre because it’s as enjoyable as any other film during the Summer of ’82.  I was obviously too young to see Fast Times in the theater when it was released, although I’m sure there was a failed attempt or two to sneak in.  However, what I missed in the theater in 1982 I gladly watched many times over on cable TV.  Going into my freshman year of high school in 1986, I had seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High at least ten times.

This is a great film and it was a launching pad for many talented people.  Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli was the poster child for stoner-dom.  Judge Reinhold reminds us of our first job, our first heartbreak, and the car that got us there.  Ray Walston was that one teacher that we couldn’t stand.  Phoebe Cates gave us one of the most iconic shots of 80’s cinema.

Director Amy Heckerling took Cameron Crowe’s script, a young, but very talented cast, and a cool soundtrack and wove Fast Times at Ridgemont High into THE definitive high school film for those of us who grew up in the 80s.  Contemporary high school films don’t have the depth of Fast Times, and they sure as hell don’t have the caliber of actors.  Consider the number of awards earned by nine members of the cast and screenwriter Cameron Crowe over the subsequent course of their careers:

13 Academy Award nominations; 7 wins
18 Golden Globe nominations; 4 wins
13 Emmy Award Nominations; 4 wins
1 Grammy Award

Of all of the films I’ve re-watched from the Summer of ’82, this one made me the most nostalgic.  It came out a few years before I started high school, but it reminded me of the days of hanging out at the video arcade (yes, we actually left the house to play video games), driving around in a friend’s beat up car, and enduring four years that most of us probably wouldn’t want to repeat.  There were quite a few teachers from high school that I wouldn’t want to cross paths with again.  But one thing that surprised me the most when I watched Fast Times at Ridgemont High again this week is the fact that I started to empathize with  Mr. Hand (played perfectly by Ray Walston).  Wow, I must be getting old.

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The Summer of ’82: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan

Fante’s Inferno revisits the films of the Summer of 1982, considered the greatest movie summer for fantasy and sci-fi fans.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Release Date: June 4, 1982

See the trailer here.

Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Ricardo Montalban, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig

Directed by: Nicholas Meyer; Screenplay by Jack B. Sower and Nicholas Meyer (uncredited)

Where do I begin with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan?

When I started this retrospective on the Summer of ’82, I found myself revisiting a number of films I haven’t seen in 20 to 30 years.  The Wrath of Khan is one that I own on DVD and have watched many times.  Despite thirty years of technological advances in filmmaking and special effects, some films are just timeless.  The Wrath of Khan falls into that category.  If the films of the Summer of ’82 were the lineup for a baseball team, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan would be batting cleanup.

I remember when Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in 1979 I couldn’t get enough of that film (trailer here).  The marketing campaign included a promotion with McDonalds that placed Star Trek: TMP related toys in Happy Meals, highlighted by a commercial with a Klingon speaking Klingon-ese (I probably ate three or four Happy Meals a week en route to collecting the entire set).  When I watched the film recently, I realized why some folks have nicknamed it Star Trek: The Motionless Picture.  But for someone who had never seen an episode of Star Trek prior to taking on the film, director Nicholas Meyer (Time After Time, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) hit this one out of the park and gave Star Trek fans (and sci-fi fans in general) a film that revitalized the franchise.

Watching Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982 was a real treat (and still is today!).  The battle scenes were heightened by Khan’s lust for vengeance and Kirk’s propensity for trickery.  Kirk’s feelings of guilt and loss resulting from his failed relationship with Carol Marcus (played by Bibi Besch) brought out elements of Kirk’s personality that I was able to appreciate more as an adult.  Watching it again this week, I was impressed with how little dialogue was needed to convey their situation.  One thing that was lost on me at the time was the connection Khan (played by the great Ricardo Montalban) had to the original series.  I must have missed that episode when it aired in reruns, but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the film.  I do remember that WPIX re-ran the episode Space Seed around the time of Wrath of Khan’s release, and ran a crawl to announce it at the bottom of the TV screen during other shows leading up to that airing in order to drum up viewership.

SPOILER ALERT

I remember walking out of The Wrath of Khan feeling an incredible amount of sadness when Spock died.  When I was a kid and my brother and I played Star Trek with the neighborhood kids, I was always Spock.  I even had a Spock style bowl-cut at the time (that was coincidental).  When Spock sacrificed his life to save the crew, as much as I appreciated the scene I couldn’t fathom at the time why they would kill off such an important character.  I wish I could remember the fan response to this at the time.  When you consider how quickly a fan uproar can spread online when even an unsubstantiated rumor of a plot detail deviating one iota from the original canon in a film based on a beloved property, I wondered if Spock’s death had the same impact among fans in 1982.  Apparently his death was to take place earlier in the film, but the negative response led to the change.  Even so, Nimoy and Meyer thought Spock’s death would be permanent.

The scene with Spock’s final monologue still chokes me up to this day.  When I watched it again this week I felt the weight of Kirk’s loss of his true friend more than I had in previous screenings, a feeling that hit close to home having lost a close friend of mine several years back.  Spock’s final words to Kirk about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few always resonated with me, and even seems to pop up in conversations in my day to day life.  There was a moment on the New York City subway a few years back when a rider kept the subway doors open for a bunch of folks to get on the #2 train at the Times Square Station stop.  Despite his noble intentions, he held up the train and started to piss off the rest of us, including the engineer.  The subway engineer opened the door to his compartment, stared the guy down and calmly said “How many people are you going to keep the doors open for?  You’re holding these riders up.  The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

I highly recommend Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer’s autobiography A View From the Bridge for a fantastic account of his work on the Star Trek films as well as on The Seven Percent Solution, Time After Time, and The Day After.  And if you want to see Ricardo Montalban in another great film, watch the classic World War II film Battleground (starring Van Johnson).

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The Summer of ’82: The Secret of NIMH

Fante’s Inferno revisits the Summer of 1982, considered to be the greatest movie summer for fantasy and sci-fi fans.

The Secret of NIMH

Release Date: 7/2/82

Directed by Don Bluth; Written by Don Bluth, John Pomeroy, Gary Goldman and Will Finn; based on the novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

Starring: Elizabeth Hartman, Derek Jacobi, Arthur Malet, Dom DeLuise, Peter Strauss, Paul Shenar, Aldo Ray, John Carradine

See the trailer here.

The Secret of NIMH is one of my favorite animated films of all time along with Watership Down, Fire and Ice, and Heavy Metal.  One thing that always concerns me when I revisit an animated feature from the 70’s or 80’s is the possibility of losing the excitement I had for the film when compared to present day animation.  Luckily this didn’t happen when I watched NIMH earlier this week.

As amazing as 3D animation looks, I still have more of an appreciation for the technique of 2D, hand drawn animation.  I still consider The Secret of NIMH to be one of the best examples of traditional animation in the last 50 years, and I say this knowing that many Disney fans will disagree with me.  One thing I forgot over the years was how striking the background paintings were.  Each of them stood on their own as more than just background, they were works of art that set the mood and tone of the film.

One game I like to play when I research a film on iMDb is a “where are they now” of the cast.  Of the films I’ve revisited so far in my Summer of ’82 series of posts, the cast of The Secret of NIMH surprised me the most.  I easily remembered Derek Jacobi as Nicodemus and Dom DeLuise as Jeremy the crow, but I was surprised to find the voice of Mrs. Brisby was Elizabeth Hartman, who earned an Oscar nomination for her performance as Sidney Poitier’s blind love interest in the 1965 film A Patch of Blue.  Other surprises were Shannen Doherty and Wil Wheaton as Mrs. Brisby’s children Teresa and Martin, and Peter Strauss as Justin.  Aldo Ray was the voice of Sullivan.  And how about John Carradine as the Great Owl!  Don Bluth and Gary Goldman pulled out all the stops with this film (their first animated feature after they left Disney) and they definitely invested in a great cast.

I was surprised The Secret of NIMH was given a G rating considering many of the darker elements in the film.  I remembered the scene of the rats going through the tests at NIMH as being too much for a child to be able to handle at a young age, but even scenes such as Mrs. Brisby’s meeting with the Great Owl and her first encounter with the rat Brutus might scare the bejeezus out of out of a young child.

Thirty years later, The Secret of NIMH doesn’t only hold up, it reminds me of why I love animation.  The story, characters and especially the animation drew me back in and brought me back to my local theater back in 1982.  All I needed was a large Coke and a 1/2 pound bag of strawberry Twizzlers.

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The Summer of ’82: The Thing

Fante’s Inferno revisits the films of the Summer of 1982, considered to be the greatest movie summer for fantasy and sci-fi fans.

The Thing

Directed by John Carpenter; Screenplay by Bill Lancaster based on the story Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.

Starring: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Donald Moffat, Richard Dysart, T.K. Carter, David Clenn0n, Richard Mazur, Thomas G. Waites, Joel Polis

The trailer can be seen here.

I haven’t seen John Carpenter’s The Thing since the mid 80’s, and I don’t remember it having as big of an impact on me as several of the other films that were released during the Summer of ’82.  Over time I may have dismissed The Thing as an Alien-esque knockoff, but watching it again this weekend I realized how little I remembered about this film and how wrong my initial assessment was.

Back in ’82 I was too young to really appreciate this film as a psychological thriller.  As a ten year old I cared more about the special effects and gore.  This time around I was able to truly appreciate the performances of the entire cast, particularly Wilford Brimley and Donald Moffat.  The scenes of confusion, paranoia, and survival had more of an impact on me as a viewer than the gory sequences.  I thought Kurt Russell was the epitome of badass as Snake Plissken in Escape From New York, and his character of R.J. MacReady in The Thing oozes the same confidence.  Maybe a little too much at times.  Considering the fact that they’re dealing with a shape shifting alien that can easily take over their bodies, he seemed a little too much in control for me to find his character believable today.  Although Keith David did give him strong competition in the badass category when he broke out the flame thrower.

One thing I loved about The Thing was the pace of the film.  The opening shot of alien’s ship in distress as it entered Earth’s atmosphere was quick and effective.  The sequence of the Norwegians chasing a Siberian Huskie along the frozen landscape of Antarctica in an attempt to kill it adds to the sense of mystery.  The introduction of the staff at the American scientific base quickly and effectively sets up their situation in Antarctica (boredom and isolation) without wasting too much time on exposition.  Alien ship crash lands on Earth, dog chased along the frozen landscape, Norwegian gets shot.  What the heck is this group in for?

The gore and special effects were great for the time, but the autopsy scenes creeped me out more than the alien working its way through the members of the camp.  One thing that really surprised me watching it with today’s sensibilities is that these characters were way too comfortable with exposure to germs and blood (MacReady inspecting what could be contaminated clothing without gloves, and Windows simply wiping the blood off of a scalpel before cutting his own finger with it).  These little things actually got me to cringe more than the gory scenes.

Based on the short story Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr. (who is considered the father of modern science fiction) The Thing was the second adaptation of his story on film (the first was The Thing From Another World in 1951).  John Carpenter had been at his A game for years by 1982, but his storytelling reached a whole new level with The Thing.  In my opinion the heightened sense of isolation, paranoia and distrust among the characters makes it hold up better today than Halloween and The Fog.  Bill Lancaster’s screenplay keeps us guessing as we try to figure out who in the group was the next one to be infected by the thing.  At one point I thought to myself that this story could have also worked as a stage play.  Prior to watching it this weekend, I expected a lot more gore and a lot less psychological drama and was pleasantly surprised when the opposite played out.  Each scene makes you wonder when and how the axe will fall on these guys.  I enjoyed it back then, but watching it again 30 years later turned out to be more enjoyable than I expected.

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The Summer of ’82: Poltergeist

Fante’s Inferno revisits the Summer of 1982, considered the greatest movie summer for fantasy and sci-fi fans.

Poltergeist

Poltergeist
MGM

Release Date: June 4, 1982

Directed by Tobe Hooper; Screenplay by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, Mark Victor

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O’Rourke, Beatrice Straight, Zelda Rubinstein

View the original trailer here.

“The house looks just like the one next to it, and the one next to that, and the one next to that.”

I always remembered that line from the original trailer for Poltergeist.  Watching it again this week made me remember why it worked on so many levels.  Jaws could make people afraid of the water.  Poltergeist could make you afraid of your house (or clowns).

As I’ve pointed out in my previous posts on the films of The Summer of ’82, I have a preference for old school special effects over today’s CGI.  Watching Poltergeist 30 years later, I’m amazed at how little there was in terms of special effects for the first two-thirds of the film.  With the exception of an animated hand poking out of the television, it’s mostly flashing lights and invisible wires moving furniture until the cause of the disturbances make themselves known later in the film.  Funny thing is, these low tech effects still hold up very well.  Heck, for most of the movie TV static is one of main elements of the story line, even a character in the film.  Talk about a cheap special effect!

Tobe Hooper is credited as the director of Poltergeist, but there has been some debate over how much of the film he directed.  Produced by Steven Spielberg (he also has a writing credit), Poltergeist could easily be mistaken for one of his directorial efforts.  The Freeling’s neighborhood in the opening credit sequence of Poltergeist looked more like Elliot’s neighborhood in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and several close ups and the use of flashing lights in the film are reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Watching the film this week I noticed for the first time that A Guy Named Joe with Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne is playing on Steve and Diane’s bedroom TV early in the film.  Spielberg would remake this film into Always in 1989.

Poltergeist spawned two sequels (Poltergeist II: The Other Side) in 1986 and Poltergeist III in 1988).  Sadly, two members of the original cast suffered untimely deaths: Dominique Dunn (Dana Freeling), the daughter of Dominick Dunne, was murdered prior to her 23rd birthday several months after Poltergeist’s premiere, and Heather O’Rourke (Carol Anne Freeling) died due to an illness in 1988 at the age of 12.

Watching Poltergeist brought me back to the Summer of ’82 more than the other films I’ve revisited.  It was one of my favorite films that year and I’ve lost track of how many times I watched it on cable TV.  Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams were perfect as Steve and Diane Freeling, and their son Robbie Freeling’s room could have easily been my room growing up with all of the Star Wars and NFL merchandise.  Thirty years later Poltergeist is not as dated as I thought it would be.  Two elements of the film that might be considered dated or confusing to a young viewer would be the opening shot of the Star Spangled Banner playing on a television late at night, and a household that doesn’t have cable TV.

One thing that did make me feel old watching Poltergeist is the fact that both Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams were younger than me when they played their roles in this film.  Sigh.

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The Summer of ’82: Blade Runner

Fante’s Inferno is revisiting the Summer of ’82, considered to be the greatest movie summer for fantasy and sci-fi fans.

Blade Runner

Release date: 6/25/82

Original theatrical trailer here.

Directed by Ridley Scott; Screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples (based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick)

Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Brion James, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson

When I’m asked to name my favorite movie of all time, my first response is “There are too many favorites to narrow down to just one. ”  But when pressed to just try to narrow it down to one film, I would have to go with Blade Runner.

I wasn’t able to see Blade Runner in the theater when it was released 30 years ago this week.  I first caught it on cable TV a couple of years later.  At that time it didn’t have the profound effect it would have on me as I got older, but I absolutely enjoyed it.  When I revisited Blade Runner in my twenties I was struck not only by how the film still held up for me, but also by the fact that I enjoyed it much more with each subsequent viewing.  I was beginning to develop an obsession with it.

In the Spring of 1998 I was taking a certificate program in filmmaking at NYU (one of the most enjoyable moments in my life).  Over twelve weeks of intensive shooting and editing, I struck up friendships with two of my classmates.  One of them, cinematographer Mike P., was (and still is) a huge fan of Blade Runner.   Our conversations reintroduced me to the film.  I bought and watched a VHS copy of the 20th anniversary director’s cut (letterboxed of course!) and my obsession began.

For awhile I was on the fence regarding which version I liked better: the director’s cut or the original theatrical version with the happy ending and Decker’s voice overs.  The director’s cut is definitely a tighter edit, and Harrison Ford’s voice overs in the theatrical version are a distraction now.  Maybe it’s nostalgia, or maybe it’s the fact that I want the film to keep going after the elevator doors close in the director’s cut, but now that I have both versions on DVD I tend to lean more towards the theatrical version.  When the Ziegfeld Theater in Manhattan screened Blade Runner: The Final Cut on 2007, I was hoping it would have included the original theatrical ending.  I grumbled walking out of the theater when it didn’t…

In 1998 American Cinematographer had ranked Blade Runner in the top ten most beautifully shot films of all time.  The write up included a frame of Sean Young smoking a cigarette and an excerpt from the original article in American Cinematographer from 1982.  I ended up buying a copy of that 1982 issue on eBay.  I grossly overpaid, but I needed to read about Jordan Cronenweth’s cinematography.  Then I bought a copy of Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner which I highly recommend for both fans of Blade Runner and film in general.

What surprised me the most when I revisited Blade Runner were the negative reviews when the film was released.  The story was compelling, the effects were amazing, and each actor brought his or her character to life.  As I got older, in spite of the ruthlessness of the replicants played by Rutger Hauer, Brion James, and Daryl Hannah, I was able to empathize with their plight.  They just wanted to live longer.

There’s no question regarding whether or not Blade Runner holds up 30 years later.  It’s on a different level from the other movies released during the summer of 1982.  This one falls into the category of timeless.  I give it five out of six replicants.

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The Summer of ’82: Conan the Barbarian

Fante’s Inferno is revisiting the summer of 1982, considered to be the greatest movie summer for fantasy and sci-fi fans.

Conan the Barbarian

Conan the Barbarian
Copyright 1982 – Universal Pictures

Release date: 5/14/82

Directed by John Milius; Screenplay by John Milius and Oliver Stone (Based on the works of Robert E. Howard)

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (Conan), James Earl Jones (Thulsa Doom), Sandahl Bergman (Valeria)

Famous quote:  When asked “What is best in life?”  Conan responds: “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women.”

The film begins with a blacksmith forging a sword…

I always loved that opening sequence.  The art of creating the weapon got me hooked on the story at age 10, and watching it this week at age 40 reminded me why.  At that point in my young life I was feeding myself a steady diet of fantasy books, Dungeons & Dragons, and Frank Frazetta’s artwork.

This isn’t a review, per se.  One thing I can’t bring myself to do with this film, or most others I enjoyed in my youth, is look at them with the jaded snarkiness that most other people would approach the film with in 2012.  I won’t judge the film by the primitive effects by today’s standards, the acting ability of Arnold at that point in his career, or whether or not I outgrew the film/genre as I got older.  For me, it comes down to these points:

1. Does watching it now remind me of why I enjoyed it back then?
2. Does the story still hold up for me?
3. Does the film reinforce what I like about the genre?

And so, how did it hold up for me when I watched it 30 years later?  Much better than I thought.  Although the special effects (or lack of special effects) would come across as dated by today’s standards, I actually enjoyed it more for that reason.  I prefer the old school approach on 35mm over today’s CGI overload.  If done today, the number of Thulsa Doom’s attackers in the opening raid of Conan’s village might ave been multiplied by 100 and the “real” actors might have been filmed against a green screen.  While I appreciate the progress that has been made with CGI (I’m not a luddite), and a filmmaker’s desire to create a landscape with these tools, regardless of how well it’s done it’s still a distraction to me as a viewer (although one CGI film that I thoroughly enjoyed was Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow).  I will always have an appreciation for the lost art of the matte painting.

If there was anything I would criticize about Conan the Barbarian, it would be the slow pace of the film.  Clocking in at 2 hours and 7 minutes, a half an hour could have been cut just by picking up the pace in many of the scenes.

One thing I didn’t realize was how little dialogue Arnold had throughout the film, unless you count the 87 times he said AAAGHaaghAAAGHaaAGH!!!! when tortured or beaten.

Seeing the final shot of an older, wiser, King Conan on his throne at the end of the film and reading the final lines on the screen reminded me of how I couldn’t wait for the sequel back then.  Two years later my childhood friend Kevin and I saw Conan the Destroyer in the theater.  Even at age 12, the fantasy/D&D fan in me didn’t take the story as seriously as Conan the Barbarian.

This film was like an old Dungeons & Dragons campaign on celluloid.  Two swords up.

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The Summer of ’82

With the anniversary upon us, I’ve been seeing quite a few articles proclaiming the summer of ’82 as one of the best summers for movies ever.  This Yahoo slideshow sums it up pretty well.  My first thought regarding the summer of 1982 is usually, “Holy crap, has it been 30 years?”  The second is: “Holy crap, that was a great summer for movies!”

I turned 10 that summer, and in addition to going to the local movie theater, most of that summer was spent reading Marvel comics, playing video games (on the Atari 2600 and at our local arcade) and playing Dungeons & Dragons a couple of times a week.  In short, it was heaven.

I’ll admit, scanning through these 15 films, there are a few that don’t really resonate with me in 2012 (The World According to Garp, An Officer and a Gentleman, and Night Shift), but most of the rest are still favorites of mine and it boggles my mind that they were released over the course of a few months.  Several fall into the category of “when I flip through the channels and it’s on, I watch it to the end.”

My favorites from the list:

Conan the Barbarian (5/14/82)
The Road Warrior (5/21/82)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (6/4/82)
Poltergeist (6/4/82)
E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (6/11/82)
Blade Runner (6/25/82)
The Thing (6/25/82)
The Secret of NIMH (7/2/82)
TRON (7/9/82)
Pink Floyd: The Wall (8/6/82)

One film that surprisingly isn’t on this list is Clint Eastwood’s Firefox (6/18/82).

I’d like to revisit each of these films in blog posts corresponding to the week they were released, but as you can see I’m a bit behind schedule with the first six, but the 30th anniversary of the release of Blade Runner (one of my favorite movies of all time) is coming up, so I’d better get cracking on that one.

On a side note, thank you to everyone that has been reading and following my blog.  The latest stats show visitors from 26 countries.  Please feel free to comment, as well as follow me on Twitter (@Fabrizio_Fante).  Emails are also welcome at fabfante (at) gmail (dot) com.

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