Tag Archives: The Summer of ’82

The Summer of ’84: Star Trek III The Search for Spock

Fante’s Inferno celebrates summer movie going with a look back at the films of the Summer of 1984.

Star Trek III The Search for Spock Poster

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Release Date: June 1, 1984

Directed by Leonard Nimoy, Screenplay by Harve Bennett

Starring William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Leonard Nimoy, Christopher Lloyd, Robin Curtis, Merritt Butrick

One of the absolute pleasures of my retrospective on the Summer of ’82 was revisiting the classic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The film is pretty close to perfect, and watching it again at age forty allowed me to enjoy it on the same level as my younger self and also pick up on elements of the film that had eluded me in my younger years.  Star Trek III: The Search for Spock was high on my list when it was first released in June of 1984, and I went into this review with the same enthusiasm.  As a fan of the original TV series and first two films I was looking forward to the continuing cinematic voyage of Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise, but my main reason for wanting to see Star Trek III during the Summer of ’84 was the title’s promise of the return of my favorite Star Trek character.

Back during the Summer of ’84 I screened Star Trek III: The Search for Spock at the (now closed) Mamaroneck Playhouse as the school year wound down and a carefree summer vacation began.  I remember enjoying the film in the theater and on cable TV back in the 80’s, and I still enjoy it today, but watching it again 30 years later reminded me as to why Wrath of Khan is still revered as the best of the Star Trek films.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock begins where Wrath of Khan left off.  The crew of the Enterprise, still recovering from their epic battle with Khan and the death of Captain Spock, departs planet Genesis and returns home for repairs.  No sooner than they set course for Earth, an alarm signals a security breach in Spock’s sealed quarters.  A rattled Kirk, reeling from the loss of his best friend, personally investigates and finds a frenzied Dr. McCoy speaking incoherently about returning to Vulcan.  Upon the Enterprise’s return to Earth the crew has earned extended leave, but are given two pieces of bad news: they are ordered to maintain secrecy of the Genesis Project, and the starship Enterprise will be decommissioned.

The crew meets at Kirk’s home, but they are interrupted by Spock’s father Sarek, who is disturbed by Kirk’s decision to leave Spock’s body on Genesis when it should have been returned to Vulcan along with his katra (spirit).  Sarek assumed Spock would have implanted his katra in Kirk, but when his mind meld of Kirk finds no trace of it, he accepts that it is lost forever.  Kirk reviews the security footage of Spock’s last moments before his death which shows him transferring his katra to McCoy, leading to McCoy’s descent into madness.  Sarek tells Kirk they must bring Spock’s body and katra (via McCoy) back to Vulcan.  McCoy is one step ahead of them when he tries to book illegal passage to Genesis and is arrested.  Kirk and the crew break McCoy out of his detention, steal the Enterprise and set course for Genesis.

A crew of Klingons led by commander Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) obtain the Genesis code and set course for the planet.  Meanwhile the Federation ship Grissom, with scientists David Marcus (Merrit Butrick) and Lt. Saavik (Robin Curtis), orbit Genesis to record the planet’s climate and progress.  They detect a life form, which should not have been possible under the Genesis project.  Marcus and Saavik beam to the surface of Genesis to investigate and find Spock’s tomb empty and a Vulcan child, presumably Spock.  Marcus admits the development of the Genesis project included unstable protomatter, which caused Spock to be “reborn” and age at a rapid pace but also made the entire planet unstable and on the verge of destroying itself.  Kruge destroys the Grissom, beams to the surface of Genesis, and holds Marcus, Saavik and Spock hostage.

Harve Bennett wrote the script (he was a writer on Wrath of Khan but was not credited), but Nicholas Meyer did not return to direct the third installment (he was in post-production on the 1983 TV movie The Day After), so Leonard Nimoy stepped in for his directorial debut.  Nimoy’s style of directing complements the film well, although the end of the third act drags with a longer than necessary passage of time sequence.  But as the sequel to the classic Wrath of Khan it’s hard not to make comparisons that can lead the viewer to judge Star Trek III for what it is not.  The tone of Search for Spock is noticeably different than The Wrath of Khan, which is a drama set in space with a story carried by themes of revenge, sacrifice and loss.  Search for Spock plays as more of a caper film, which in itself is especially fun with this cast of characters, with an overall tone that is more in line with the TV series.

William Shatner and DeForest Kelley as Kirk and McCoy carry the story, but James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols and George Takei each have their scene stealing moments that move the plot forward in their attempt to steal the Enterprise.  In my opinion, the Klingons make the best villains, and Christopher Lloyd adds an element of psychotic joy to his performance as the Klingon captain Kruge.  But one major area of disappointment for me was the script’s lack of development of Kirk’s relationship with his son Dr. David Marcus.  That plot line in Wrath of Khan added an unexpected emotional weight to the film, but Search for Spock missed an opportunity to expand on it prior to (SPOILER ALERT) David’s death at the hands of the Klingons (though it would be revisited in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country).

While Search for Spock doesn’t come together on the same grand cinematic scale as Wrath of Khan, it does have the story, special effects, action scenes and film score that make a summer blockbuster.  30 years later, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is still an enjoyable film and perfect for a lazy summer Saturday.

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The Films of the Summer of 1984

For the last two years my retrospectives on the films of the Summers of 1982 and 1983 allowed me to revisit some of the best fantasy and sci-fi films of the 80’s and enjoy them on a new level as a 40 something.  In some cases I would approach a film with a sense of trepidation, wondering if you truly can go back and enjoy an old favorite on the same level 30 years later.  At the end of each series, I learned that many of these films withstand the test of time and sometimes you really can go back.

I truly thought each “Summer Of” retrospective would be the last.  After The Summer of ’82 I didn’t think there could be another lineup of summer films that could compare to Blade Runner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Road Warrior, Conan the Barbarian, Poltergeist, The Thing, TRON and E.T.: The Extra-terrestrial.  It was a magical summer for fans of fantasy and sci-fi films and there hasn’t been another like it.  But I had enjoyed writing that retrospective so much that I had gone through withdrawal and for the next year hoped for another opportunity to revisit a summer’s worth of films.  That void was filled with my retrospective on The Summer of ’83 which included a lineup of films that have been personal favorites of mine for over 30 years.  Even as I closed out that series, I didn’t think I would have an opportunity to write another “Summer Of.”

Then I saw the lineup for the films of the Summer of ’84 and realized another retrospective was possible.

The Summer of ’82 was about a lineup of the best fantasy and sci-fi films of the decade (Blade Runner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Conan the Barbarian).  The Summer of ’83 was about a lineup of my personal favorites (WarGames, Fire and Ice).  The Summer of 1984 was still heavy on the adventure and sci-fi films, including some of the most crowd pleasing films of the decade as well as a few cult favorites:

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (5/23/84)
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (6/1/84)
Ghostbusters (6/8/84)
Gremlins (6/8/84)
Conan the Destroyer (6/29/84)
The Last Starfighter (7/13/84)
Red Dawn (8/10/84)

Once I saw this list, I knew I had to revisit them again.

I’m taking these retrospectives year by year, but if the films of the Summer of ’85 etc. bring out the same sense of nostalgia for my original movie-going experiences, I’ll keep them coming.

 

 

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The Films of the Summer of ’83

I had such a great time revisiting the films of the Summer of ’82 last year that I actually experienced withdrawal when I completed the retrospective.  Each week I looked forward to screening an old classic from an amazing summer, allowing me to not only revisit each film with a fresh perspective, but also to relive the excitement of many a weekend spent in the local movie theater with a large coke and a pack of Twizzlers.

I wanted to write another summer movie retrospective but wasn’t sure I would be able to find another lineup of films that could compare to what is considered the greatest movie summer for fantasy and sci-fi fans (I can’t think of another summer that had anything close to the number of fantasy and sci-fi films we were blessed with that year).  I then decided not to approach a new retrospective in comparison to last year’s on the Summer of ’82, but rather as a nostalgic celebration of summer movie going as a whole.

A glance at the films of the summer of ’83 shows a mix of classics and cult favorites in equal parts sci-fi, thriller and comedy.  Unfortunately there were several clunkers in the mix that summer, but overall it’s a lineup of films that I enjoyed in 1983 and continue to enjoy today:

Return of the Jedi (5/22/83)
WarGames (6/3/83)
Trading Places (6/8/83)
Krull (7/29/83)
National Lampoon’s Vacation (7/29/83)
Risky Business (8/5/83)
Rock & Rule (8/12/83)
Strange Brew (8/26/83)
Fire & Ice (8/26/83)

My reviews will focus mainly on the scifi, fantasy and thriller genres.  First up will be the classic 80’s Cold War thriller WarGames!

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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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