Saturday, October 16, 2010

My Cinema Autobiography

The first movie from 1986 that I remember going to see was GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords. I don't remember anything about it, except that some of the animation seemed weirdly perfect; I didn't know it at the time, but it was because of computer animation. I don't think I've ever seen it again; Transformers were much cooler than GoBots, and even though I know I watched both shows and had toys from both lines, I barely remember anything about the GoBots. But I have seen Transformers: The Movie WAAAAAYYY more times.

I also remember going to see The Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation, which visited the origin of the Care Bears, whatever the hell it was. (I thought Noble Heart Horse was neat, alright--he was a purple horse, come on... I can't describe it in any way that makes sense.) You know, as years went on, I came to feel more and more like the Care Bears were pushers, bullying you into caring about peoples' feelings. No wonder it didn't work; you can't force acceptance.

I just get the horrible feeling that someone, somewhere, is trying to develop this as a CGI/live action hybrid movie... probably those same assholes inflicting The Smurfs on us...

It wasn't until 9 May that a movie came out that I could really sink my teeth into: Short Circuit. I know, it's... well, I need to do an 80s Revisited on it, but I have a feeling it doesn't hold up. But when I was 9, I was pretty into it. The plot didn't really matter so much, nor did the humor (although it is the kind of movie a 9 year-old might find hilarious), but just the fact that it was about a robot was enough. And he was such a... roboty robot. With my intense interest in special effects still going full bore, I read a lot about the various puppetry and gadgetry that got Johnny Five to work. I was fascinated by it. I was really fascinated by how special effects could take unhuman things and anthropomorphize them into something a person could care about.

I saw this movie several times. And I saw the actual robot itself, I think the same year. The Museum of Science & Industry had an exhibit about robotics and special effects, so I got to see the robot in action. (I also got to see the shark from Jaws, among other stuff.)

And hey, the DeBarge song gave us Weird Al's Ed McMahon tribute "Here's Johnny," which is also a good thing.

:: Boy, how cynical a kid was I? I remember we were going to go see Top Gun, and I told my Mom I didn't want to go. "I don't want to see some movie where the guys are all drinking and swearing, acting like idiots, and trying to have sex." "You don't know it's going to be like that," my Mom said. "Yes I do," I answered. And it was. And it was a sucky movie. I didn't pick up on the homoeroticism, but hey, I was 9.

I didn't stay for the whole movie, which probably disappointed my Dad. I checked into another theater. I probably saw Short Circuit again.

6 June was the unfortunately-timed release of Space Camp. In January, the Chicago Bears had won the Superbowl, and feelings were high. (That game actually inspired me to play Panther Football in 1986, which I did, and retired after a single, undefeated season.) Soon after, the Challenger exploded during liftoff, and feelings were brought back down. I know this movie was hurt at the box office because of it. But even with the tragedy, I understood it was a mechanical failure and read a lot about it, and still was harboring my dream of being an astronaut. I wanted to go to Space Camp, so you can bet I wanted to see this movie. I actually went to see it a couple of times, too. Getting lost in space with smart kids and Lea Thompson was something I could've handled at that age. I'm sure of it.

:: 13 June was the release of two of my favorite 80s comedies: Back to School and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I didn't see either movie until they were on video, but what a fun weekend that could've been at the cinema...

27 June: Labyrinth. I was excited about that movie long before it came out. I was already reading about the making of the film in Starlog and Muppet Magazine. Again, my fascination with puppetry and special effects led me right to this film, and there were so many people involved in it that were just huge for me--Jim Henson, George Lucas, David Bowie (by this time, I'd almost worn out my Dad's 45 of "Let's Dance"), Maurice Sendak, Brian Froud, and years later I'd discover it was written by Terry Jones; I had yet to be exposed to Monty Python at this point.

I also read an article in the Chicago Tribune about how Brian Henson, who had so blown me away with Jack Pumpkinhead in Return to Oz, was doing the puppetry and voice of Hoggle, the dwarf, and that I had to see.

I LOVED this movie. I still do. It's one of my non-negotiable all time favorites. And I came away with an enormous crush on Jennifer Connelly that didn't die for over 20 years. I even taped the pictures of her from Muppet Magazine on the inside of my fifth grade locker door. Oy, childhood.

The next week saw a new Disney film, The Great Mouse Detective. So I think this is the first thing I ever saw with Vincent Price in it, even though he was doing a voice and not appearing on screen. I enjoyed it, but it seemed to disappear for years after that. I remember that when we went to see it, we were near a kid who wouldn't shut up and the mother who kept having a conversation with it. Even at 9, I knew this was wrong. My Mom had taught me and Jayne to not talk during movies. Tolerance of your kid talking in the movies just encourages rudeness. I'll bet that kid grew up to have profound ego problems of the "You mean the rest of the world doesn't think I'm the center of the universe?" kind.

:: Another Disney movie was released on 1 August: Flight of the Navigator. At 10, I needed to go see a movie about a kid having an adventure in space with a robot and weird animals, all while singing the lyrics to Beach Boys songs incorrectly. I loved it at the time, but I remember seeing it years later and thinking it was terrible and that the kid in the movie was particularly insufferable. But when I went to see these movies as a kid, I just saw myself, not anyone else. I was Joaquin (then Leaf) Phoenix in Space Camp and Henry Thomas in ET and even Luke Skywalker.

A week later: Transformers: The Movie. My Dad and I went to see this at a second-run theater; the Tivoli, I think. I was surprised by it. It was like the TV show, but half the characters from the show, including my beloved Optimus Prime, were slaughtered onscreen. If they'd taken Grimlock, too, I'd have been devastated. Characters swore, new characters were put up in front, and there was a heavy metal soundtrack. I watch that movie now--and sometimes I do; Becca and I just watched it a couple of weeks ago--and I think the filmmakers were under the impression that they were making Heavy Metal.

I had the soundtrack, and listened to it until the tape wore out. I still know all the songs by heart. (And I fucking love "The Touch" unironically, so eat my cock, Topless Robot.) I remember listening to it on my Walkman almost the entire trip to Minnesota the next summer, reading comic books the whole way. That was the summer my love for Marvel's more kid-oriented comics gave way and finally led me to Classic X-Men.

It wasn't until Thanksgiving that we went to the movies again, and that was to see An American Tail. I was excited about it, not just because it had Steven Spileberg's name on it (a much bigger deal to me then), but because I was really becoming a fan of Don Bluth now. The Secret of NIMH had quickly become one of my favorite movies, and even though I was terrible at it, I loved watching other people play Dragon's Lair at the arcade because of the animation.

Looking at the movie now, I see a lot of flaws. But as a kid I was just caught up in the animation and the story. I got sick of "Somewhere Out There" pretty quickly, though. You couldn't escape that thing for what seemed like two years.

Also, Song of the South was re-released this same weekend. I don't think we went to see it, though. But, since they had failed strong-arming theater chains into not carrying The Secret of NIMH, Disney's newest tack--and it would last up through the release of Titan AE in 2000--was to release a film the same day as Bluth's opened. It didn't really hurt this one because of the Spielberg connection, but I wonder now if this shitty business didn't have something to do with Spielberg deciding not to work with Disney and instead reviving Warner Bros' animation department. (Or it could be Spielberg's ego, who knows?)

The next weekend, 28 November, was the release of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. My Mom had finally, and only a few months before, hooked me on Trek. So this wasn't the first movie I saw (I saw the previous three on video), but it was the first I went to see in the theater. I was actually touched that it was dedicated to the Challenger crew. I really enjoyed this movie so much, too. It was just so fun and cute. We went to see it a few times and bought it when it came out on video (it was the only one we owned; now I have every Trek film on DVD except for the recent remake/reboot).

This was at a time, too, when the only Trek to be found was on video, at the bookstore, on local TV reruns, and conventions. I didn't know of any large groups of Trekkers. It was rare that I ever ran into a fellow fan. I went to the library and read books about the making of Star Trek and the Star Trek universe. I also went as Spock for Halloween in 1987. I was pretty deep into it, and of course it was exciting to me when Next Generation started. Then I just kind of fell out of it. Kirk and Spock still mean a great deal to me, but I just sort of moved on to other interests.

:: I think 1986 may have ended with the re-release of Lady and the Tramp, but I'm not sure. I don't really remember going.


Kal said...

I am enjoying this trip back through time. I should seek out a list of 80s movies and when they came out because in those days me and my mates saw EVERYTHING. It would be fun to see what stands out to this day.

Interesting connection to your list - 'Maximum Overdrive' (based on a Steven King story) was one of the only two movies I ever walked out on (and I LOVE killer vehicle movies but that one worked my last nerve) and the movie I instead snuck into see was 'The Great Mouse Detective' and loved it.

Roger Owen Green said...

It must have been Dec of that year, or early January of the next year that I saw Star Trek IV, with MY mother, in Charlotte, NC. She was a bit confused - she hadn't seen the previous films - but she liked it.

Megan said...

I remember taking my little sister to see a few of these. Now that I think about it, 1986 means I had my license AND money from my part-time job, so no wonder.

I hope you keep on with this series, I am enjoying it very much!

tendrilsfor20 said...

You can go to and filter movies by year, if you really want a view of everything you saw and what you thought about it.

Nathan said...

I didn't even realize there was a Go-Bots movie, let alone one that made it to theaters.

As for The Great Mouse Detective, I think it was the school librarian who recommended I check out a series of books about Basil of Baker Street. This was before the movie came out, and when I did see it (at the drive-in, actually), I was proud of already knowing the characters of Basil, Dawson, and Ratigan. No one else seems to even remember the books, though.