I walked in the front door of my house the other night to the sound of Ray Parker Jr. singing the GHOSTBUSTERS theme song. My wife had just shown the movie to our two young boys, and the moment they saw me, they immediately wanted to tell me all about the masterpiece of cinema they had just witnessed. I told them that my mom had taken me to see that movie in the theater when I was a kid as well, and they almost didn’t believe me. This movie was simply too good for it to be that old. Obviously, they thought it had withstood the test of time, and I agree with them 100%.
Oddly enough, I thought back to that day when my mom took my little brother and I to see GHOSTBUSTERS, and the first thing that came to my mind was being terrified by the library scene at the very beginning. It’s my most vivid memory of that day, and it was the first thing I told my dad about later that day when he asked how the movie was. My own kids didn’t mention that scene (or any of the questionable language my wife had forgotten was in the movie) at all. All they wanted to talk about was the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and the ghost traps.
How times have changed. Kids’ expectations of movies in 2014 are certainly different than they were in the ’80s, and I dare say they’re probably a lot more desensitized than I was to things like ghost librarians flying up into the air and turning into terrifying monsters. That being said, it’s interesting to see how they react to my other childhood favorites.
When I was a kid, my dad and a friend of his got their first VCRs around the same time. They would rent piles of movies at the video store, and then daisy chain their machines together to make copies, our version of Netflix. We watched STAR WARS, GHOSTBUSTERS, LABYRINTH, THE GOONIES, THE DARK CRYSTAL, and countless other ’80s mainstays over and over and over again, to the point where the tapes wouldn’t even work anymore. (We got very good at adjusting the tracking so that STAR WARS would play just right with no fuzz.) Those movies, the movies that were in constant rotation on that old top-loading Zenith VCR, are the ones I like to show my kids. Some they love, and some miss the mark, but their reactions are always interesting.
My favorite ‘80s movie by far is THE GOONIES. I’ve seen it dozens and dozens of times, my brother and I still quote it whenever we see each other, and I still enjoy watching it to this day. I put it on for my kids not long ago, and was disappointed that by the time the Goonies reached the restaurant to have their first encounter with the Fratellis, my older son had already gotten out his DS and was no longer paying any kind of attention. No puppets? No animation? No deal. Of course I still let the movie play because I still wanted to watch it, and noticed that my kids really started to take notice once Andy started playing the skeleton piano. From that point on, they were glued to the screen, but that means they only liked about one third of the movie. All events leading up to the “rich stuff” were boring to them. When you think about it, it makes sense. Most of the first half of THE GOONIES takes place in either gloomy coastal weather or dark buildings and caves. Most of the color comes later during the immediate events leading up to the discovery of One Eyed Willy’s treasure.
To put that theory to the test, a few days later, I showed them LABYRINTH, another one of my childhood favorites. As far as my boys were concerned, it had a leg up on THE GOONIES instantly. There is little to no setup in LABYRINTH other than “This is Sarah and she’s a spoiled brat who needs to learn to stop taking things for granted.” Aside from that, the first 10 to 15 minutes of the film get right to it: goblins, Jareth, Hoggle, eyeballs that grow on walls, talking snails, and Helping Hands. Other than the really odd drugged peach-induced dream sequence, this movie was an instant hit with my kids. In fact, their favorite part was what I always considered to be my least favorite part of LABYRINTH: the goblin battle at Jareth’s castle. I have never enjoyed that scene, and never will, but they thought it was hysterical. And that’s where, in typical fashion, I realized that this little movie experiment I’ve been doing with my offspring has been teaching me more about myself than it has about them.
The thing is, I started to realize that I didn’t like the endings of most of the movies in my quintessential ‘80s playlist. At first I thought that perhaps it was because the endings of all those movies sucked, but that’s not the case at all — LABYRINTH ends in an all-out puppet war followed by an M.C. Escher inspired conclusion where Sarah finally defeats the Goblin King, THE GOONIES ends with a pirate ship full of skeletons and treasure, and STAR WARS ends with the freaking Death Star exploding! No, the real problem is me. These movies are so insanely special to me that I take much more pleasure in the journey than I do the reward. I never want them to end, and when they do end, I start to detach from them. I never realized that until I watched them all with my kids. I still start to get that nagging feeling of being ripped out of the story line about ten minutes from the end of all of them.
Roger Ebert once said, “It’s not what the movie is about, it’s how it is about it.” The reason a movie like THE GOONIES still holds water today is because it is a story masterfully told, and the dialogue is strange and unique. Mix that with perfectly executed casting, and the end result is an instant classic. Maybe my kids don’t appreciate the lack of flash or color in a movie like THE GOONIES, but I’m 99% sure they will when they get a little older. Maybe they’ll even get that same melancholy feeling I get when I know the end of the movie is coming soon. When a movie is about its story as well as that one is, the last thing I want to see is end credits. Whether you’re a kid or an adult, end credits mean “Ok, back to the real world you go.” Honestly, I’m not often a huge fan of the real world, so a movie, book, TV show, or even song that can take me away from it for a few minutes is a treasure. On the bright side, the advantage of having that experience with my kids is that they do everything they can to keep the story going after the screen goes dark. It’s great that they still have the energy and the imagination to do that; soon enough, that will no longer be the case.
I envy my kids. They get to see movies that I already know are amazing for the very first time. But watching them be wowed by vintage Spielberg and Lucas is the next best thing, and it’s definitely a sight to behold. When a movie is truly doing a good job of being about what it’s about, the decade of origin doesn’t matter.
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