1984 and Counting
I'm getting older now, so I suppose it's only natural that I'm developing a fondness for older movies. This isn't to say that I don't watch the new ones, but I find myself developing a certain nostalgia for the movies of my youth.
The other day, for example, I was watching Ghostbusters for the thousandth time. Ghostbusters came out in 1984, when I was nine years old, so I was well within the target audience for that film when it was first released. Yes, I saw the sequel. Yes, I watched the cartoon. And yes, I may have even owned the lunch box.
Ghostbusters is, I think, a movie that has stood the test of time. This is undoubtedly why they're filming a reboot. The characters are still engaging, Bill Murray is still funny, and it's still spooky without being scary. It's the perfect Halloween movie, and even though some of the special effects look dated it's still an engrossing film.
After I finished Ghostbusters, I started to wonder about other films from the same year. Wikipedia has a list of these films, which informed me that the top ten movies from 1984 were, in order, Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins, The Karate Kid, Police Academy, Footloose, Romancing the Stone, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and Splash.
Of course some of these movies have aged better than others. Films like Ghostbusters and Temple of Doom continue to attract new viewers, while others, such as Police Academy and Romancing the Stone, have largely been forgotten. This is true of any year in film - often, and for any number of reasons, the movies that were once the talk of the town escape the collective memory, while others, seemingly doomed to obscurity at the time of their release, find a new life with a younger audience.
After seeing the above list, I went and rewatched all ten films. Some of these, like Ghostbusters, I had seen very recently, while others, like Beverly Hills Cop, I hadn't seen since the 80s. I'd have to say it was interesting to revisit this year in movie history, though some of the conclusions I reached about that year's blockbuster films surprised even me.
For one thing, Beverly Hills Cop is now a deeply boring, talky, slow-paced movie. It would never pass for blockbuster material in this day and age. I think what originally sold audiences on this move was a) Eddie Murphy's charm, b) the soundtrack, and c) the word "fuck." The characters in Beverly Hills Cop go out of their way to say fuck at every conceivable opportunity. "Fuck you motherfuckers," quoth the young Murphy, "Y'all get the fuck out of here!"
Gremlins is another film that hasn't aged well. The acting is terrible, the special effects look positively prehistoric, and the story is nonsense. It's a great example of that "Transformers" kind of popularity, in which an idea present in a movie fascinates people just enough for them to overlook that movie's obvious flaws.
Police Academy and Footloose, however, are just BAD. Police Academy is so NOT funny, so labored, and so deliberately sophomoric that it almost gets points for being so terrible. Footloose, by contrast, is one of the most unintentionally hilarious movies ever filmed, and continues to give rise to parodies.
Romancing the Stone? Who else has seen Romancing the Stone recently? Or is it just me? Odds are that I'm the only guy that's bothered to watch this movie in some time, and even though it has a few redeeming features I can't recommend it.
I'd have to give The Karate Kid, Star Trek III, and Splash a passing grade. Not masterpieces by any stretch of the imagination - though The Karate Kid is still pretty damn good. And whatever happened to Ralph Macchio? Is he still around?
One thing that watching all of these movies has brought to mind is how much the world has changed since 1984. No cellphones. Computers with minimal amounts of memory. No Internet. Huge cars. Video arcades. Sweat clothes worn as daily apparel. Thriller-era Michael Jackson. Cold War paranoia. Reaganomics. The abuse of synthesizers. Rotary dial telephones. Huge tinted glasses for women. Big hair. Almost no CGI.
This, and many of these movies are tedious by modern standards. Whereas blockbusters in 2015 are mostly layers of CGI intercut with minimalistic conversation, movies in 1984 put a lot more emphasis on character development, plot twists, and dialogue. I'm not saying this is/was always a good thing - I'd certainly take Transformers: Dark of the Moon over Beverly Hills Cop - but it is indicative of both the era and the limitations on movie making back then.
So 1984 - was it a good year for movies? It was certainly a good year for me, but then again I was nine years old at the time, and a lot of these films were like doors to worlds I was just discovering. I can remember going to see Star Trek III in the theater, and being fascinated by the idea of the Genesis planet. I can remember seeing The Karate Kid, and wanting to study martial arts. Many movies from that year made a lasting impression on me, and this is why I keep rewatching the best of them.