Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Mavericks Part Two: The Eighties

In the Eighties we had a new resurgence of these mavericks. Not exactly the same but they did bring a different point of view to the screen.

Oliver Stone came at us with his post 1960s, Vietnam era disillusionment and brought great, if controversial films. I remember watching Platoon as a teen with my father. He never served but he has always felt a great respect for the military and of course that era evokes strong personal memories in anyone who was alive at the time. Historically fifteen year olds have very little empathy and understanding for others especially ancient history like the Vietnam War. Walking out of the theater that day was unlike any I’ve ever experience since or before. It was silent. So talking about how cool so-and-so was or how sad the story was or even how controversial. Everyone walked out silent, even my father. At the time I remember feeling uncomfortable at his silence, now I have only respect. He followed that movie with controversial hits like Wall Street, Talk Radio, Born on the Fourth of July, The Doors, JFK and Natural Born Killers, all movies that make my personal Top 100 list. Not everything he did was gold (have you seen Alexander?) but he’s a maverick of the time.

Also, from the most unsuspecting source came a director who to this day brings quality films: Opie! Or as we knew him: Richie Cuttingham. Or the name some in the Academy know him: Ron Howard. No director to my knowledge has made a jump from child actor to major movie director with a real passion and heart like this guy. You cannot in any way not like this guy. He survived the dark pit that so many child actors fell into to emerge as even more successful than ever. He shifts between comedy and drama so easily that you might never think his movies are made by the same man. He may not have that signature style that other directors bring to their films but that is probably a good thing. Every movie he does is from the heart. If you’re playing Six-Degrees of Separation then Ron Howard starred in American Graffiti, written and directed by George Lucas and co-starring Harrison Ford and Richard Dryfuss who also starred in Jaws directed by Steven Spielberg.

Beethoven (the dog movie), Home Alone, Christmas Vacation, Uncle Buck, She’s Having a Baby, Planes Trains and Automobiles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Mr. Mom, Class Reunion. What do all of these movies have in common? Two words: John Hughes. Don’t know him, you should. If you are a Generation Xer then he helped define your generation with dramatic comedies, zany comedies, melodramatic comedy and just plain comedy. If you’re like me you know all the key lines from almost everyone of the movies listed above. They made you laugh, cry and feel good to be a smart-ass teenager in tapered leg jeans and a dollop of mousse. Besides, John Hughes movies single-handedly jump-started the careers of the so-called Brat Pack actors in the Eighties.

James Cameron. If there was ever a man who made me cry it was James Cameron. Remember that scene when the ship went down and that woman was trapped in it? Then the Marines she was traveling with encountered Aliens? Tears. How about the one where that girl looses her lover to forces beyond either of their control? Despite the fact they had just met they fell deeply in love, soul mates destined to meet. Then that big robot came and smashed their windshield? And he was all metal inside and wouldn’t quit coming and coming after them? My heart aches for young love. Then the one where that couple goes on the boat and find true love again after loosing almost everything that they had? In the end they found alien life underwater that saved them from certain death! Yes. Aliens, Terminator, The Abyss. I remember those films well. They were some of the best sci-fi produced in the 1980s. They were relentless and well ahead of their time in Special Effects. They were inventive in their storytelling. He directed the crap out of those films. Then he had to ruin it by coming up with a movie that I can’t stop watching because the Special Effects are the best I’ve ever seen and the story, though dramatic and full of sappy love lines, Not only that he pretty much captured the title of most successful box office flick of ALL TIME! He did what those who came before him have been trying to do forever: Make a movie that both men and women can find something so intriguing they can’t take their eyes off of it and want to go back to again and again. For me it was an hour or so of watching the Titanic sink. Then there was that brief, little moment of pure emotion, Kate Winslet’s breasts.

“You wanna get outa here,” Max said. “You talk to me.” Thus were spoken the words of a man whom all in the post apocalypse looked to as savior: Mad Max. This guy went on to make Babe but before that he single-handedly inspired such poor imitations like Waterworld, and the pretty cool but still cheesy music video “Wild Boys” by Duran Duran, which was featured in a James Bond film. George Miller went on to direct other films besides Mad Max and Babe but really, who cares? The post apocalyptic vision of the future in Mad Max was only surpassed by the even scarier post apocalyptic future of The Road Warrior. Mad Max & The Road Warrior cannot be compared to anything else in style. Mad Max III: Beyond Thunderdome was the movie that would have been made anyway if Mad Max and Road Warrior weren’t, meaning it was one of the best imitators of itself I’ve ever seen.

Time travel was never as fun as when Marty McFly did it. The Back to the Future trilogy was one of the favorites of the eighties. It dealt with the paradox of going back in time and having your own mother want to make out with you in 1955. Technically since in 1955 you’re not born yet, she’s not your mother so it’s not like you’re really having an affair with you mother but despite the time paradox, it’s still plain creepy. Then in a key marketing move of the decade, Robert Zemekis made a movie so long that the second half became its own sequel. Now that’s a science fiction story all on its own. Robert Zemekis could have stopped there but he didn’t. He went on to make Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, one of my all time favorite films. In another coup of genre movie making Zemekis made a film that combine not only real actors with cartoon characters. That’s not the most amazing part. He made a movie with real characters interacting realistically with Disney AND Warner Brothers characters, my goodness that must have cost a small fortune. Not only that, Zemekis is personally responsible for hundreds of male viewers having to explain why a cartoon vixen gives them a Woody, Woodpecker, that is. Then to top it all off, the guy goes and makes one of my favorite science fiction books by great Carl Sagan into a pretty good movie with Contact.

Honorable mention must go to Ridley Scott for Blade Runner because that film has equally influenced the look of sci-fi that came after it. You have to see its affect on George Lucas’ Star Wars Prequels, The Fifth Element, and just about every futuristic movie in an urban setting. Also, the 1979 film classic sci-fi/horror flick, Alien. It took the idea of truckers and put them in space and made the “used universe” that George Lucas invented in Star Wars, dirtier and more realistic. Gritty Realism in genre film = Ridley Scott.

Also if I’m going to make a category for honorable mentions, then I have to mention John Carpenter if for nothing else than a great character like Snake Plissken and a great title like Escape From New York. That alone could get him the mention but then combine The Thing, Starman and Halloween and you’ve got yourself a winner. This guy is all over the place but how many directors get their name in front of just about every movie they ever direct. It’s generally called John Carpenter’s The Thing, or John Carpenter’s Escape From New York. It is not calle Steven Speilberg’s Jaws! 1980s sci-fi would not be the same without the dark vision of John Carpenter. Oh, yeas, did I forget to mention the movie with two of the most awesome gems of Eighties cinema: John Carpenter’s They Live! Who could forget the full five minute twenty second fight scene between Roddy Piper and Keith David. It has got to be the longest fight between two straight men over a pair of sunglasses ever in life or on film. Then there’s the most narly line every to be delivered on screen: “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I'm all out of bubble gum.”

There’s more but we’re “Outta Time” and the Nineties are coming to save the day.

1 comment:

The Phoenix said...

The Back to the Future movies were so much fun - especially the first two. The third was a little lame, however.