Remember when movies were totally awesome?
In the Eighties, scores of us kids hit the theaters, munched our popcorn, and came out after two hours ready to learn karate. Ralph Macchio showed us we could believe in ourselves, put wax on a car, rub wax off, and defeat the bullying Billy Zabkas of our world.
In 1985, we believed that if we got good grades in science, one day we’d invent a real time machine, go back to 1955, and “fix” everything that had ever gone wrong for our parents. We only had to harness lightning and get the needle on the DeLorean up to 88 miles per hour.
To watch a blockbuster theatre film in the Eighties was to dissolve into a dream, be that fantasy or nightmare.
Disgust and fear exploded inside of us like a microwaved Gremlin, making us hide our eyes when the music crescendoed and Jaws stalked swimmers, seawater bubbling up in scarlet.
We wept with Elliot as he said goodbye to E.T., with Luke as he said goodbye to Anakin, and with Billy when he buried his hunting dogs in “Where the Red Fern Grows.”
Movies lifted you from your seat and took you to the boundaries of Fantasia with Atreyu, sent you flying through the forests of Endor with Luke and Leia on those airborne motorcycle thingys, and sent you careening down a water chute into a lagoon with a pirate ship full of diamonds… and a notorious dead guy who probably offed his sidekicks because they poked fun at his name.
I miss the days-long high of epic movies. These stories, so full of personality and wonder, were so thrilling that sometimes the audience stayed seated, silent and contemplating, long after the credits rolled.
Good guys won. And Michael Jackson, still smiling and gorgeous, shone in his artistic genius on the soundtrack.
Today, movies are plain entertainment. Hollywood is starving, skinny, and cranky as h*ll, creating flicks that root for bad guys, gross guys, and badder, grosser guys. People pack theaters for busy and plotless CGI, brainless parodies of films audiences once adored, and snarky, unfunny raunchfests. It may sound old-fashioned, but give me a mind-blowing original story over the lowest common denominator, and I’ll show you something that makes an audience love, dream, think, fight for good, and make up their own stories.
It’s patience. It’s art. It’s cinema.
The escapism of film… one of the best things about it… is further eroded because now it’s too accessible. Why wait all week to catch a show at the Regal 8? We can watch movies all day long on Dish Network. Instead of a thriller and a slice of pizza with friends on crisp Fall Friday nights, we log on to Fandango and reserve tickets weeks in advance for midnight screenings of upcoming blockbusters, friends be damned if they were too slow to reserve theirs.
We hit midnight release parties and grab DVDs while they’re still warm. Once they’re in our library, we watch them whenever, wherever… even in our 2010 year model minivans, which by the way, still don’t have the imagination to fly or flux capacitate.
And do we really need a behind-the-scenes exclusive from EW the second ink hits paper on a Hollywood development deal?
Movies are so on-demand that it’s killing the slow-cooked heartiness of great cinema. We, the audience, are Augustus Gloop doing a cannonball into Willy Wonka’s chocolate river, gulping without tasting, consuming without savoring.
If we keep consuming this crap, marketing lackeys and boardroom suits will keep insisting that filmmakers crank out less art and more crap for us to devour. Why not? Our appetites are so voracious that there’s a huge buzz every time Miramax drops a film trailer.
Think back. Remember when you loved a movie so much that you went back to the theater and paid four bucks to watch it again and again? Film was a rare treat. Once that silver screen faded to black on the final showing, your movie was gone forever.
There were no basic movie channels. Dish Network, pay per view, video on demand, DVDs, Netflix, Blockbuster Video, Hulu, and YouTube? They didn’t exist. HBO and Disney Channel cost a fortune.
Most people didn’t even have a VCR.
We didn’t know or care about actors’ or directors’ love lives or political leanings. We simply expected well-told stories, gritty, desaturated, and visceral in all their analog glory, and we were rewarded. Movies were painstakingly handcrafted gifts from hardworking, imaginative filmmakers, gifts we opened together. No tiny screens. No earbuds. No viewings in isolation.
This is why I feel sorry for anyone who was born after 1985. Other than Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, will they ever know the thrill of a truly well-told, standalone story? Case in point: a couple of years ago, I watched the original “Star Wars: A New Hope” with a 12-year old. He’d only seen the newest Star Wars flicks (the ones with Yoda doing CGI martial arts, versus Frank Oz’s slower, storytelling puppet), his assessment was this: “Wow. This is boring and stupid. Who would even like this?”
Since we can’t bottle that sense of wonder for the entertained but uninspired future generations, I only hope that you’re out there, Doc Brown, building your time machine and making it flux on garbage, because right now, we need a trip back to good ol’ 1985.
The next time you’re at a Regal 27 and you can’t gulp down what the film studios insist is delicious cinema, walk out, demand a refund, and then hit the Belcourt for a showing of “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off” with your friends.
I guarantee it will be one of the best nights of your life.