Friday, May 29, 2009

Quarter Back: May 1984

Quarter Back is a monthly feature looking back at the movies of 25 years ago. At least one film will be watched for the first time, while others may be revisited.

The idea of a "summer movie season" wasn't even a decade old in 1984.

Of course, films had always been released in the warmer months, but only in 1975 did studios think to release their most big-budget, effects-heavy blockbusters when the kids were out of school. Jaws pretty much started the trend, and director Steven Spielberg would run with the idea, owning many summers to come. So it was no surprise to see his first sequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, land on Memorial Day weekend.

Unlike today's blockbusters, Temple of Doom pretty much had the month to itself. Summer starts much earlier these days.

In May 2009, with the actual solstice still a month away, we've seen five - FIVE! - monster prequel/sequels, not to mention the biggest animation release of the year. Twenty-five years ago, the competition was a relative unknown named John Hughes making his directorial debut, Robert Redford cleating up for a period baseball drama, and a destined-to-last-forever fad getting Hollywood love.

Featured Movies

The Bounty
Release date: May 4, 1984
Actors: Mel Gibson, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier
Director: Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, Cocktail, The Bank Job)
Box office: $8.6 million (#86 in 1984)

Going into The Bounty, I had little knowledge of the William Bligh/Fletcher Christian story beyond name recognition. Immediately after the credits rolled, I spent an hour on Wikipedia learning more about the men, the 1789 Royal Navy mutiny they are famous for, and the extended history and repercussions of the event.

That's a compliment to the film.

Hopkins stars as Bligh, a sea captain sent to transport fruit from Tahiti to Britain (not the sexiest of assignments). However, once his crew experienced the oceanfront paradise, getting them to leave proved more difficult than anticipated. Mel Gibson, at the time known only as Mad Max, provided the foil as leader of the mutineers.

Ok, first - what a cast. Hopkins and Gibson in the leads, then-unknowns Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson in smaller parts. And did I mention the unsupported cast? And yes, I mean UNsupported - because there are more boobs on display here than in the average porno.

I'm not sure what the ratings board was smoking, if they really thought the Tahitian "natives" were straight out of National Geographic and not paid actors, but this is easily the most flesh-baring PG-rated movie in history. The PG-13 rating, which wouldn't arrive for a few more months, is widely credited to Temple of Doom and Gremlins, but I can't help but think this played a part (it would easily garner an R today).

Really, I just can't believe I wasn't clued into this flick as a kid - my parents would have seen the PG rating, and I'd have retired to the back room with a ticket marked "Destination: Boob City."

Oh, yeah - Hopkins, Gibson, Day-Lewis, Neeson. Solid flick. A bit dated (Vangelis soundtrack noted), but solid. Grade: B+

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Release date: May 23, 1984
Actors: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw
Director: Steven Spielberg
Box office: $179.9 million (#3 in 1984)

Of course I'd seen this one before, but this was the first time I've watched it from beginning to end in 20 years. And you know what? Not nearly as disappointing as I remember.

I guess anything looks better after Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but this one could potentially beat Last Crusade as the series' silver medal effort. Of course, that underlines one of the sneaky secrets of Indiana Jones - the infamous character has only appeared in one great film. For such a legendary, world-renowned name - that's it. A single one.

Temple of Doom gets bonus points, though, for a few reasons. First, it's unrelentingly dark. Seriously, I remember being freaked out when I was a kid, but I'm surprised I didn't see Thuggie skulls every time I closed my eyes. Second, speaking of kids, it's the only film I can think of to successfully introduce a child partner for its hero. And lastly, it's the only movie where Indiana Jones actually accomplishes something.

Think about it. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, whether Indy had been there or not, the Nazis would have opened the Ark and exploded/melted amidst the wrath of God. In Last Crusade, the Nazis would have found the Holy Grail and tried to escape with it, once again falling prey to the earthquakes/wrath of God (Indy only helped minimally by - and I've never understood this - disabling some of the booby traps so anybody following could easily pass). And in Crystal Skull, the, uh, what the hell happened at the end again? Something about aliens. Goddamn aliens. That's all I remember. But it would have happened with or without his help.

Anyway, Indy is proactive in this film. Without him, those kids would still be working in that damn mine today. Grade: B+

Other films 25 years old this month (movies I've seen are in bold):

Alphabet City - According to the poster: "At 19, they gave him the streets and everything on them. Tonight they want it all back." So wait, "they" were 19? It was a real estate deal? They're Indian givers? I don't get it. Vincent Spano and Jami Gertz starred.

Breakin' - When I was in elementary school, our P.E. teacher let us bring cardboard to school so we could breakdance on the blacktop. Seriously. Even more embarrassing, I remember liking this film and its 1985 sequel, which were filmed back-to-back. If anything, they introduced the term "Electric Boogaloo" to American vernacular, and for that we should be grateful.

Finders Keepers - Michael O'Keefe was on his way to the A-list after The Great Santini (for which he was Oscar-nominated) and Caddyshack. Four years later, after the back-to-back-to-back bombings of Nate & Hayes, The Slugger's Wife, and this Beverly D'Angelo comedy, he was back to TV. However, bit player Jim Carrey would find his way to stardom a decade later.

Firestarter - At the time of release, I remember being shocked by this movie. Not because I actually saw it, because my parents wouldn't let me, but because I thought it was illegal for children to appear in R-rated films. Dunno where I got that. Barrymore would appear in another Stephen King film a year later (Cat's Eye), but this is certainly the better effort.

Hardbodies - Kids today just don't understand. If we wanted to see boobs in 1984, you'd have to wait for something like Hardbodies to come on cable, and then pray your parents wouldn't walk in. And if that wasn't available, we'd turn to the Playboy Channel, and try to catch an aerola through the squiggly lines. Now, it's just, and BOOM! Nips.

Making the Grade - Judd Nelson and Andrew "Not Yet Dice" Clay star in this high school, or college, or something comedy I've never seen.

The Natural - I saw this Robert Redford baseball drama in theaters, and I'm sure I've seen it since, but memory fails. Of course, the final scene has been much-watched in my house, but there's a big blank where the rest of the film should be.

Sixteen Candles - John Hughes' first foray into the teen genre, which he would damn near perfect over the next two years with The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Those two films are the superior of Sixteen Candles, but it is funny, sweet and damn near decade-defining. Of course, it set me up for immense disappointment later in life, when I realized all Asians didn't talk like Long Duk Dong.


the fiancee said...

This is what you're doing at work? And no, I didn't actually read it.

Josh M. said...

Ah, feel the love. Anyway, I write it at home, it gets posted during the day.

However, I do watch the movies at work. Beats selling insurance, ya know?

Scott Mendelson said...

Glad to see I'm not the only one who complains about Indiana Jones's complete irrelevance to his own adventures in parts 1, 3, and 4. The funny thing was that many a critic or geek complained about this in Crystal Skull as if it was a brand new flaw for this fourth picture.