The Adventures of One Cinema-Crazy Infant
“You and I were really lucky to have so many good movies to go and watch” – Gordon Bradford.
The Childhood Films Blogathon, organized by the wonderful Caz over at letsgotothemovies provides this golden opportunity to reminisce about my earliest trips to the cinema.
Not like Brad to brag, but my initial ventures to the popcorn parlour (always taken by my father on Saturday afternoons) happened to happily coincide with one of the most genuinely creative times in sci-fi/fantasy movie-making. It was fuelled largely by the rise of Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), the effects group commandeered by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg as they dominated the early ’80s box office.
Honorary mention goes to the Odeon Cinema – the one opposite the beach – where the box office was accessible by a legendary escalator (long since removed, alas) which – to my juvenile delight – was not only an exciting ride, but a most stupendous moving portal to a well-wicked world of widescreen wonder.
“Come on Chewie, let’s check it out” – Han Solo.
1. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The world changed in May 1980 when Brad was, oh, about that high. The positively seismic upheaval that was the Release of the Sequel to Star Wars caused each and every sprog under the age of 12 (mostly with reluctant parent/guardian in tow) to converge on their nearest popcorn parlour.
Lee was in my class at school – a short, chubby, freckled, ginger-haired kid. i.e. pure bully-bait, so we offered him a chance to come to the Odeon with us. Probably a life-changing event for him, we hoped; certainly was for yours truly!
There is nothing as formidable as an infant with an insatiable Hoth-fix. So, soon after – probably the following weekend – we rounded up Ant: my fellow pint-sized perisher and a kid after my own bubblegum cards, and headed off into town again. We got to the Odeon only to discover that EVERY seat had been booked…
Bigger, bolder and arguably better than what had come three years before, The Empire Strikes Back was a phenomenon. You do realize of course that it is not only the greatest SF blockbuster ever made, but the only one in which the good guys lose…
Extraordinary… in so many awesome ways. And it always will be.
3 OUT OF 5: Oh, good lord, no! That’s not the star-rating, but the number of times we managed to see the movie. The other two trips were thwarted by a Full House sign (do they still have those?).
“I don’t mean to sound superior, but I hate the company of robots” – V.I.N.CENT.
2. The Black Hole (1979)
My next best magical experience at the cinema.
Disney’s initial step onto the Star Wars bandwagon was a surprisingly dark and sinister piece. The effects (some truly awe-inspiring matte paintings on show) looked spectacular in widescreen – especially the meteorite shower, the “lost” ship: the USS Cygnus and the black hole itself.
Having an army of droids on your ship seemed like the coolest thing, so naturally, the laser gunfights looked simply amazing. The USS Palomino’s resident robot: V.I.N.CENT (voiced by Roddy McDowall) was one of my very first favourite characters in SF movies, and his nemesis: the big menacing red robot: Maximillian, was always one of Dad’s faves.
The whole viewing pleasure was seriously enhanced by John Barry’s stunning score – it still gives me the shivers, what… 36 years later?! Good gravy, how time passes…
“…If it weren’t for sorcerors, there wouldn’t be any dragons. Once, the skies were dotted with them” – Ulrich.
3. Dragonslayer (1981)
Another fantastic Disney movie that didn’t involve cartoons or high-pitched singing. This dark and bewitching fantasy told how a lottery chose virgins to be sacrificed to prevent the local dragon from laying waste to the huddled villages of the dank and murky kingdom – that’s right: this wasn’t exactly Cinderella…
Galen Bradwarden, the young wizard’s apprentice must confront the beast (of course he succeeds – hey, his name’s Brad!).
Behold: the astonishing ILM SFX master-class that was the dragon itself: VERMITHRAX PEJORATIVE. There, only Caps Lock does it justice. They don’t make dragons like that anymore! You can gush about Smaug from The Hobbit all you like (it’s just CGI after all), but ol’ Vermy was the spikey flame-thrower that made me gawp the most.
Dragonslayer still stands up quite well today; a shame it has slipped into the “forgotten gem” category.
“I’m not your enemy! Ming is! Let’s all team up an’ fight ‘im” – Flash.
4. Flash Gordon (1980)
In my book, sci-fi heroes didn’t get any BIGGER than Flash Gordon. Gorged myself on Weetabix cereal every morning in order to collect all 18 Flash Gordon movie cards.
Much-praised and much-maligned in equal measure, it is best to regard this notorious Dino De Laurentiis production as a 90-minute Queen music video. The visual effects, the spaceships, the costumes(!), the set design were all very special. For me, Max Von Sydow as Ming The Merciless, Ruler of The Universe was one of the Best Villains. Ever.
How can anyone deride this movie?
The Hawkmen attack on War Rocket Ajax with the accompaniment of Brian May’s stirring guitar strains is enough to excite any infant – actually, this classic scene alone should be used to train the new generation of would-be film directors.
Thirty decades later, my generation are still quoting from this movie – a veritable sign of greatness if ever there was one.
“Think of it: three super-villains! …Or four if you count him twice” – Lex Luthor.
5. Superman II (1980)
A huge fan of Superman comics, to watch him on the big screen seemed too good to be true. The first film seemed too weak; it could – and should – have featured a costumed super-villain. Superman II seemed to respond to that criticism by featuring a dastardly trio from Kal-El’s homeworld of Krypton.
The action and effects were pretty good, but it was John Williams’ sensational score that really enhanced it’s blockbuster status. Terence Stamp owned the screen as the evil General Zod. For this comicbook aficionado, this was my first enjoyable superhero movie.
Well, that’s it, and – oh, grief, we’ve reached that stage…
The Triumvirate of
Ho-hum, here we go…
For every great smash hit at the cinema, there is a dud… or three – those movies you wanted to watch, were fantastic to sit through at the time, but have simply failed to follow you through that frightful armpit-hair-growing-stage of your life.
For me, these three movies appeared to be classics in the making, but now just make me CRINGE.
(Okay then, let’s get it over with…)
3. Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom (1984)
How – on Earth – Raiders of the Lost Ark slipped past my radar back in 1981 will remain one of Life’s Great Mysteries. Got really excited upon first learning about Temple of Doom, but had no idea that it was actually a sequel. Rented Raiders out on video and LOVED IT. Still do, of course. So, even more so, big things were expected here.
Thrilled to the spectacle @ the Obi Wan Club, jumping out of a plane on a dinghy (another unfulfilled ambition), the mine-cart chase, the tense rope-bridge sequence – yes, it was great, at the time…
…but watching on the telly a few years later, it felt insufferable, shambolic even. That Om Namha Shivaye Om Namha Shivaye business is way too freaky; and the chilled monkey brains banquet? Screaming Willie? And Short Round? No thanks…
In order to get the Temple of Doom poster, you had to send off ten empty potato chip packets “to this address.”
2. Condorman (1981)
This “adventure” movie (from Disney again(!) but at least it wasn’t dark) had such good car and speedboat chases, but really…
Condorman could only ever be “appreciated” by those whose age consists of a single digit. The main character was NOT based on a real comicbook; Michael Crawford – then a TV sitcom star – was monumentally miscast; Oliver Reed spent much of the time bellowing his once-promising movie career away; and the poster came saddled with a tagline reading: “He Spies! He Flies! He Death-Defies!”
1. Buck Rogers In The 25th Century (1981)
HRH Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer on 29 July 1981. ALL schools were closed so EVERYBODY could watch it on television, simultaneously broadcast on ALL three(!) channels. Dad was seriously dischuffed by this.
The Odeon was showing Buck Rogers just on that one day only, for those suffering from royal nuptials fatigue. Knowing how an episode of the Buck Rogers TV series was never missed in the Brad household, before you can say: “beedeebeedeebeedee” away we went. But as any bright, fresh-faced moppet of that age could tell you: this was not – by any means – in the same league as Star Wars… or The Black Hole for that matter.
Problem is: Gil Gerard was the worst possible choice to play the lead; it was as camp as a row of tents; the sfx were hand-me-downs from Battlestar Galactica; there was an almighty embarrassing dance scene and that surfeit of spandex did irreparable damage to my central nervous system.
Again, don’t ask…