Tag Archives: Spielberg

Movies We Still Care About – 1982

(For an explanation of this, read the Introduction.  Other posts in this series can be found here.)

Movies We Still Care About

  • E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
  • Star Trek II
  • Tron
  • Blade Runner
  • The Road Warrior

Other Notable Movies

  • Tootsie
  • The Dark Crystal
  • Secret of Nimh
  • Annie
  • Gandhi
  • First Blood
  • Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  • Poltergeist
  • Conan the Barbarian

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Gandhi (Winner)
  • E.T. the Extra Terrestrial
  • Missing
  • Tootsie
  • The Verdict

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. ET
  2. Tootsie
  3. An Officer and a Gentleman
  4. Rocky III
  5. Porky’s
  6. Star Trek II
  7. 48 HRS
  8. Poltergeist
  9. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
  10. Annie

Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies

  1. ET (98%)
  2. Blade Runner (91%)
  3. Star Trek II (90%)

There’s a long list of movies for this year, so I’ll try to keep the write-ups brief.

Movies We Still Care About

E.T. the Extra Terrestrial

This is another one of those movies that have become part of our culture and mythology.  I think the reason this connected so well with audiences, and continues to do so today, is that writer Melissa Mathison and director Steven Spielberg brilliantly took a (literally) alien experience that nobody has had, and used it as a metaphor for a universal experience everyone has.  Sure, we’ve never met an adorable extra-terrestrial who literally touched our heart before returning to his home planet.  But we have had similar experiences, both as children and adults, with a deceased pet or family member, or a close friend that moved away, or a lost love.

Given that Spielberg chose an image from E.T. as the logo for Amblin Entertainment, I think it’s safe to assume that Spielberg felt that E.T. was more important than his other early work, such as Jaws, Close Encounters, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

(WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD)

Before we get to the spoilers, here’s William Shatner yelling “KHAAAAAAN!!!”

This is widely considered the best Star Trek movie.  The Star Trek TV show aired at a time where episodes were independent and not part of an ongoing story, which meant that there couldn’t be any permanent changes to the recurring cast.  In contrast to modern shows like Lost and Game of Thrones which will kill off the stars at the drop of a hat, every episode of Star Trek had to end up with the main characters in exactly the same situation as they started in.  So imagine the shock of the audience of the day when at the end of Wrath of Khan, Spock dies.

Of course they undid this in the next movie, but Star Trek III will most definitely not be making this list.

Tron

Tron is a movie mired in its time.  The effects don’t hold up, the story is shaky, and it established the not-so-great tradition of completely absurd and nonsensical portrayals of computers that might as well be magic.  (Though at least Tron was meant to be fanciful, unlike the countless movies that came after it where the silly magic computers were meant to be a reflection of reality.)

But despite these flaws, it had a truly unique visual style that had never been seen before.  When I say “Tron,” you know exactly what to picture.  And it maintains a sense of fun that is quite rare for films to be able to pull off.  It’s the sort of film inspires enough affection that you look past all the problems.

Blade Runner

Blade Runner ushered in the film genre of bleak gritty (but not post-apocalyptic) sci-fi.  A product of the malaise of late 70s and recession of the early 80s, it posits a future world with amazing technology but where the lives of ordinary people are kind of crummy.  Like E.T., it uses an alien experience to highlight a common aspect of the human experience.  In the feelings among replicants and the way society treats them, we see a mirror of alienation and failure to connect among real humans.

It features a stunning production design and a vision of the future that is the most accurate of any film I can think of.  No, we aren’t likely to self-aware replicants indistinguishable from people in the next five years (the film is set in 2019), but you’d be hard-pressed to tell the cityscape in Blade Runner from modern-day Shanghai or Tokyo.

The Road Warrior

Quick, imagine how people would dress in a post-apocalyptic world.  You probably pictures a bunch of leather, chainmail, and possibly some repurposed football pads.  You know, stuff like this.

But if you really think about it, people in a post apocalyptic world would really be dressed more like modern-day homeless people, or the stereotypical castaway on a deserted island.  But because The Road Warrior has become such a part of our culture, you immediately thought of the imagery that doesn’t actually make any sense.

Other Notable Films

Given the sheer number of memorable films from this year, I’ll have to give short shrift the other notable movies in order to keep this post at a reasonable length.  Please don’t take that as me insulting your favorite movies.  If you love these films, I encourage you to write up your own thoughts about them in the comments.

Tootsie

Tootsie was a feminist movie for the time that would probably be considered mildly offensive today.  It’s based on the idea that a man pretending to be a woman can be better at it than an actual woman.  Plus the hero is trying to lie and manipulate his way into his dream girl’s pants, the dream girl is treated like a prize rather than a person, and while he’s pursuing her he’s also sleeping with/taking advantage of his emotionally vulnerable friend who’s clearly in love with him.  (The idea of lying into the pants of a woman as a prize is still a common trope, but you wouldn’t expect it to show up in a feminist movie.)  On the other hand, audiences of the day really connected with the idea of a man finding out what it’s like to be a woman.  And Dustin Hoffman turned in an excellent performance.

The Dark Crystal / The Secret of NIMH / Annie

I’m lumping these three together as movies that were beloved by children during the 80s.  If you weren’t of the right age to enjoy these when they came out or were frequently re-ran on television, you probably don’t have strong feelings about them.  But if you are of the right age, these were a major part of your childhood and you still have quite a bit of affection for them.

Gandhi

Biopics are a strange genre, because a life is not a story, and it’s hard to portray a life in a way that works on film.  That’s why most biopics end up being about substance abuse, mental illness, or a specific event.  Those are things you can wrap a story around, and get out the details of the person through that mechanism.  Gandhi is a rare biopic that avoids this.  However, when you look at a Biopic of someone who is extremely well-known, over time the legacy of the film gets overshadowed by the legacy of the person.  We remember who Gandhi is and what he did, rather than the movie about him.

First Blood

When you think of Rambo, you think of him killing bad guys by the dozen.  But that was Rambo II.  (Or III, or John Rambo).  First Blood is a drama about a Vietnam veteran who is abused and snaps after being pushed too far, taking an entire town hostage.  It’s a bit weird that this drama was followed up with cheesy hyper-violet action movies, but it was the 80s and everyone was either ten years old or on cocaine.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

This was the forerunner of the “alienated teen” genre that became popular later in the 80s.  And there’s this scene. (Not safe for work)

Poltergeist

“They’re here…”

Conan the Barbarian

“Conan, what is best in life?”

“To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women.”

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Do you disagree with any of these choices, or think that I missed something?  Leave a comment below.

Movies We Still Care About – 1981

(For an explanation of this, read the Introduction.  Other posts in this series can be found here.)

(This post was edited on April 6 to discuss Raiders of the Lost Ark’s role in the development of the fun action movie sub-genre, and to include Stripes in the Other Notable Movies section.)

Movies We Still Care About

  • Raiders of the Lost Ark

Other Notable Movies

  • Superman II
  • Clash of the Titans
  • The Great Muppet Caper
  • The Evil Dead
  • Stripes

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Chariots of Fire (Winner)
  • Atlantic CIty
  • On Golden Pond
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Reds

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  2. On Golden Pond
  3. Superman II
  4. Arthur
  5. Stripes
  6. The Cannonball Run
  7. Chariots of Fire
  8. For Your Eyes Only
  9. The Four Seasons
  10. Time Bandits

Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies

  1. The Evil Dead (98%)
  2. Das Boot (98%)
  3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (95%)
  4. Diva (96%)
  5. An American Werewolf in London (91%)
  6. Blow Out (90%)

In the introductory post to this series, I mentioned that various factors can skew the Rotten Tomatoes rankings, and that seems to have happen here.  If you look at that Rotten Tomatoes list, #1 is a microbudget amateur film that would have been forgotten if it didn’t spawn two popular sequels.  #2 is a foreign film beloved by cinephiles but not known to a widespread American audience.  I’ve never even heard of #4 and have barely heard of #6.  And #5 is a cult film that is unknown to modern mainstream audiences.

Movies We Still Care About

Raiders of the Lost Ark

This is the best action spectacle movie of all time.  Like Star Wars, this is at the highest level of mythology for modern film.  Everyone knows Indiana Jones.  The hat, the whip, the ark, fear of snakes, etc.

It’s a spectacle movie because it isn’t structured like a normal film.  There’s no character development – Indy is exactly the same at the end as he is at the beginning.  And rather than the traditional three acts with rising action, it’s an episodic string of distinct action sequences.  In a lesser film, the audience would be bored and confused, even if they didn’t have enough film theory knowledge to explain why they felt that way.  But Raiders is so awesome that nobody cares about its lack of structure or character growth.

In fact, nobody cares that Indiana Jones is entirely superfluous to his own movie, as explained on The Big Bang Theory:

Raiders of the Lost Ark was a deliberate attempt by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to recall the Saturday morning movie serials that they loved as kids.  Those were in turn based on radio serials.  Which were based on pulp/dime novels.  Which were inspired by the late 19th century adventure novels by authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard.  Haggard’s character Allan Quatermain specifically is considered to be the template for Indiana Jones.  This came full circle in 1985 and 1986 with the Richard Chamberlain movies King Solomon’s Mines and Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold.  These movies are blatant rip-offs of Indiana Jones, even though the character of Allan Quartermain predates Indy by a century.

 Raiders is important for the development of cinema as an art-form, as it established the sub-genre of the Fun Action Movie.  You can generally split action movies into those that are intense, and those that are fun.  These easiest way to see which category a film belongs in is to ask yourself if you would want to be the main character.  Would you want to be Indiana Jones, traveling the world having fantastic adventures and punching Nazis?  Of course you would.  Because the most important thing about Indiana Jones as a character is that even when things go wrong, when he’s captured, beaten up, or exhausted by a string of fights, he still absolutely loves being Indiana Jones,

Look at the bringing a gun to a sword fight scene.  He’s fatigued and exasperated, yet every single person watching the movie can live vicariously through him and would delight in being Indy in that situation.

(Side-note: That scene was ad-libbed.  The script called for Indy to get into an elaborate sword fight. But Harrison Ford was sick that day, and didn’t feel like doing it.  So he used his gun instead, Steven Spielberg realized that was much better, and cinema magic was born.)

In the 70s, action movies had taken a gritty turn, as exemplified by films such as The French Connection.  And prior to the 70s, action wasn’t quite so dark, but still was more dramatic than fun.  Films like The African Queen, North by Northwest, and John Wayne westerns.  Some excellent movies, but that sense of playfulness was mostly absent.

There were a few fun action movies before Raiders, such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, James Bond films, and Star Wars.  But  It was really Raiders that brought this feeling of fun into its own, and sparked countless imitators trying to capture that high-spirited adventure.

Raiders expanded the medium, such that from the 80s through today and into the future, we are able to experience both fun action movies and intense action movies, and as fans we are all better off.

Also, if you ever get the chance to see the shot-for-shot remake of Raiders made by twelve-year-olds, do it.  It’s amazing.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find it online.  (I saw it 15 years ago on a VHS tape owned by someone who knew one of the guys who made it.)  The best I could find is the first 10 minutes with no audio.  (If any of you can locate the full version online, please link to it in comments.)

The official website for the Raiders remake is here, though unfortunately it doesn’t have the full movie.

Other Notable Films

Superman II

“Kneel before Zod.”  That’s all that needs to be said for this.  And all that really should be said.  Because aside from a great villain, this film is an incoherent mess that is much better in your memory than in reality.

Clash of the Titans

“Release the Kraken!”  This is a special-effects spectacle movie whose effects were amazing in 1981, but really don’t hold up today.  And without that to carry it, there’s not much point to watching this.

The Great Muppet Caper

I talked about this in my write-up of The Muppet Movie in the 1979 entry.

The Evil Dead

I love Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness.  But the original Evil Dead isn’t in the same league.  It’s notable to see the clever techniques that Sam Raimi used to stretch his limited budget while still having a unique feel.  But the story’s generic, and the humor from the later films is lacking here.  Plus the entire events of Evil Dead are re-done with much better acting, humor, and production value in the first 10 minutes of Evil Dead 2.  So you can just watch the sequel and skip the original.

Stripes

Stripes continues the Laid-Back Comedy tradition developed by Caddyshack, featuring Bill Murray, John Candy, and Harold Ramis being Bill Murray, John Candy, and Harold Ramis.  While it doesn’t still enjoy widespread appeal after 33 years, it does have a small but devoted following of some who consider it among the all-time great comedies.  It’s certainly worth checking out or revisiting if you’re a fan of Murray/Candy/Ramis.

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Do you disagree with any of these choices, or think that I missed something?  Leave a comment below.