Tag Archives: e.t.

Is it worth revisiting 80s films on the big screen?

It may sound weird, but I find myself asking this question a lot.  Over the past decade I’ve noticed that a lot of the films I grew up loving have started seeing revival screenings in movie theaters.  It actually probably started in the late 90s with the 20th anniversary of Star Wars and the special editions that were re-released on the big screen.  Not long after there was a 20-year anniversary screening of Ridley Scott’s Director’s Cut of Alien, and eventually there was the 2002 special edition of E.T.  At the time I was in college and hitting the theater multiple times a week as it seemed like I had tons of free time and extra money for catching movies.  These days both time and money seem to be vanishing into a black hole and I barely make the room in my budget or schedule for new movies, let alone flicks I’ve seen dozens, sometimes (gulp – I’ll admit) hundreds, of times.  I tend to throw on 80s flicks while I’m farting around home, doing chores, cooking, or just for background noise while I’m working on the site.  So I feel like I’ve seen so many of these movies to death, and when the opportunity comes for catching one of them on the big screen I always find myself wondering if it’s really worth it.  I found myself skipping out on a lot of opportunities to catch these flicks in the theater until this past fall when I snagged some unbeatable deals.

There’s a small theater chain in my area called Studio Movie Grill that’s been hosting a series of semi-monthly $2 screenings featuring one-night-only engagements of some pretty cool 80s flicks like Ghostbusters and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial.  At two bucks I couldn’t pass up on the chance to see both of these on the big screen again (both of which I saw back in the early 80s, E.T. during both it’s initial run and when it was brought back into theaters in 1985.)  I had a lot of fun reliving the theater experience with these, both of which were filled with families that were exposing their kids to them for the first time (as I gleaned from overhearing parents explaining the various plot points during the movie), but would I still go in the future if I wasn’t getting such an awesome deal on admission?

Short answer?  Yes.  Emphatic yes.  If you would have asked me before I went into both of these screenings if I thought I’d learn or experience anything new about these movies that I’ve seen so many times I stopped counting, I would have chuckled and said no.  I mean between the ability to practically get the theatrical experience at home on a 60-inch screen with surround sound, or slim likely hood that I’d notice anything that hasn’t already been documented a million times on the internet, what new could I really get from seeing these in the theater?  Well, I would have been wrong for dismissing the experience because for the first time in a very long time I saw these movies with totally fresh eyes.  I’m sure part of this is the communal theater-going vibe, but I noticed so many little details that I never noticed before.

For instance, in Ghostbusters I never noticed how many times the Stay Puft brand is peppered throughout the film before we get to see the form of the Destroyer that so innocently just pops into Ray Stanz’s mind.  When Dana comes home from shopping she unpacks a bag of Stay Puft marshmallows for one, but there are also mural advertisements on the sides of buildings in some shots!  Also, did you know that none other than Ron “The Hedghog” Jeremy has a cameo appearance in the crowd scene right after Walter Peck has the containment unit shutdown?  Yup, he’s there in the crowd.  I also never noticed the Chinese hat Ray is wearing as a thank you gift in the montage sequence when the Ghostbusters’ business is taking the city by storm (when they apparently helped a restaurant rid themselves of a spook.)

As for E.T., I took extra special care to keep an eye out for details in Elliot’s room since I’d been having so much fun analyzing the bedrooms in 80s kid’s flicks recently.  I already did an examination of his room a while back, but damn if I didn’t find more stuff!  First of all, when I originally dissected the room there was a weird dart board cabinet that I couldn’t identify (number 15 in the below picture…

ET 4

Well, it was as plain as day on the big screen.  #15 is in fact an Artful Dodger dart board cabinet from Oliver Twist!

artful dodger

Now that I’ve identified that it doesn’t do much to explain why the Artful Dodger is on a dart board cabinet, but still, mystery solved.  In addition to this I also noticed some more toys in Elliot’s room, as well as in their living room!

ET 1

1). Chutes and Ladders boardgame

2). Magic 8 Ball

Magic-8-Ball-Fortune-Teller-Alabe-Late-1960s

3). Lego Universal Building Set

4). Empire Strikes Back Twin-Pod Cloud Car

cloud car

5). Super Simon Electronic Game

super simon

Though the Super Simon box is in the screen shot above (in Elliot’s room), the game itself is actually on a shelf in the living room…

ET 2

But for the first time I noticed that there are also some other fun things in the living room like…

6). An Atari 2600

7). Big Trak from Milton Bradley

big trax

There were also a bunch of other small, fun things I noticed throughout the film.  Little details, like how John Williams drops into Yoda’s Theme for a could of beats during the Halloween scene when E.T. sees a kid dressed up in a Don Post Yoda mask…

ET 3

…or the fact that Dee Wallace is wearing a really weird handgun pin on her vest in one sequence…

ET 4

Sure, these things haven’t radically changed my outlook on the film, but any time I have the opportunity to learn something new about a film I thought I knew everything about, well that’s worth a full-priced movie ticket if you ask me.

I’m actually pretty excited as the Studio Movie Grill has announced their 2014 schedule of $2 revival screenings and there are a bunch of flicks I can’t wait to see in the theater (and for some it will be the first time I’ve seen them on the big screen.  There are two categories of events, the Brews & Views and the Family Rewind.  The former features some more recent fare mixed in, but there are a few flicks I’m looking forward to catching…

Bews and Views

Totally looking forward to catching Alien, Temple of Doom, and Jaws.  As for the Family Rewind, there’s way more on that list that I’m going to try and catch…

rewind

I mean, holy crap, I never got a chance to see The Neverending Story, Labyrinth, Goonies, Annie, The Princess Bride, and Gremlins in the big screen as a kid, and I can’t wait to see Back to the Future and Big on the silver screen again.  All in all this looks like it’s going to be a fun year at the movies catching up on all my favorites from the 80s!  So seriously, if you get a chance to catch a revival screening, or you have a Studio Movie Grill near you, it’s totally worth seeing these flicks in the theater again.  You won’t regret it!

The Seedy Adult Underworld of 80s Family Entertainment

I know every generation says this about the decades when they came of age, but growing up in the 80s was seriously a whole different world; like living on another planet at times.  There was a lot more going on when it came to entertainment aimed at kids in terms of adult themes and material that surely went over the head of most of the viewing audience.  Looking back I love this and really appreciate that the creators and writers didn’t dumb down the content, even if some of it might stray a little further towards “adult” than many people might realize. You definitely saw this in a cartoon like Ren & Stimpy (which granted was the early 90s, but was the culmination of the freedom the previous decade expressed), which constantly toed the line of what was considered decent for a kid’s show.  Heck, I’ve mentioned before that I think John Kricfalusi is very probably the guy responsible for animating anthropomorphic penis aliens into the background sequences in the Saturday morning cartoon Galaxy High (particularly in the first and second episodes)…

Galaxy High penis creature 2

I was having a conversation with a co-worker the other day about catching up with some 80s flicks that they hadn’t seen in over 20 years, in particular Ghostbusters and the Goonies.  The topic turned to the awkward dream sequence featuring a sex scene between Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stanz and spectral “presence”.  I guess you could call it oral innuendo, but the background behind that sequence is pretty plain.  Ray banged a ghost.  It’s one of the interesting aspects of reading the original Richard Mueller novelization

Ghostbusters Novelization

In the book (which is based on the Aykroyd/Ramis screenplay) we learn that, that dream sequence was actually from a real sequence planned for later in the film.  Right after Ray and Winston are driving through the city talking about the end of the world, when the two go to Fort Detmerring looking for a spook. They split up and Ray stumbles upon a room that is a replica of a revolutionary war officer’s barracks. He finds a uniform and puts it on, lays on a bed and promptly falls asleep. When he wakes, the ghost they were looking for is about to go to town on his junk. Apparently this sequence was largely cut, but I’m betting none of them wanted to ditch the blowjob joke, so they sandwiched it into the montage (and it also explains the old war uniform Ray is wearing beyond the fact that they morphed the scene into a dream.)  What’s even weirder is that this is actually the culmination of a plot thread in the book where Ray is both lonely and changing his feelings about catching the ghosts. Since Peter is courting Dana and (in the book) Egon and Janine are becoming an item, Ray is looking to blow off some steam, and the experience with the ghost is just what he was looking for. Also, there’s a bit with Ray thinking about how it might be wrong to catch these ghosts just to jail them in the containment unit, and when he awakes to his spectral date-night he wonders if maybe some ghosts are good.

The author, Mueller, actually expands the sexuality in the novel here and there. For instance, everyone thinks about sex to one degree or another, but if I’m used to dealing with a character where this is never brought up, say the Librarian in the opening sequence of Ghostbusters, then when she starts “thinking” about how she feels guilty for seeking out all kinds of ancient kinky woodcuts featuring taboo sexual practices in the library’s non-public collection, well, I get a little weirded out. As far as I can tell, the librarian character in the script is slightly different; she’s written to be rotund and in her mid to late twenties, but for all intents and purposes the scene in the script is almost shot for shot what we’ve come to know and love in the final film. Mueller, though, felt the need to paint her as a bit more sad and depraved, which for an incidental character is pretty weird. This sort of thing pops up here and there in the novel, including in the scene where we’re first introduced to Dana as she gets out of a cab and goes into her building. The narrative is fractured into a bunch of perspectives as a handful of people on the street take notice of her and give their two cents. One of these includes an elderly man walking his dog who glances at her and thinks, “…how long (has) it been since it’s been long…

This is actually a trend in 80s era novelizations, and for some movies that might be surprising, like say, the Goonies book

Goonies Novelization

Now you may be asking what could possibly be sexualized in the Goonies, I mean it’s not like there’s a secret love scene between Chunk and Sloth right?!?  Well, Sloth love Chunk, but that’s actually (and thankfully) not explored in the novel, but that didn’t stop author James Kahn from evoking electricity-induced orgasms.  Say what?!  Um yeah.  So in the wishing well sequence, at the end, after Andy has sent up the bucket empty, all the kids realize that they’re covered in leeches. Data has a bright idea and end up strapping two wires to a 20-volt battery. He sticks the wires in the water by his feet sending a light electrical charge through his body that’s lethal enough to kill the leeches. He does this for the rest of them, and afterwards, James Kahn tags on a small scene that is, well, almost obscene. After getting the shock, Andy and Stef are standing off to the side, and Kahn describes them as having “…limp smile(s) and small sigh(s)…” Then Stef says to Andy, “I got all tingly – just my luck, I’m in love with a pond!” After which the following passage appears: ‘It annoyed Andy, for some reason, I don’t know, like someone had made her feel good and she didn’t want to…’ Then Andy hauls off and slaps Data saying “Don’t-you-ever-try-that-again-with-me-Buster!” What the hell! Did Kahn actually suggest that Andy and Stef had orgasms from the electric shock!?!  Yeah, yeas he did.

What I’m really curious about is how much of this was in the original shooting script.  I know the leech sequence was in the script (as it made it’s way into both version of the book, including the leaner kid’s version) and was shot and deleted (and has sadly been lost to time), but how much of the subtly was in the actual film versus something that Kahn added for the book.  On the one hand, looking back this is so weird and out of place in the story, yet I have to remind myself that I was reading about pre-teen and teen orgasms in Judy Blume books when I was 7 years old!

There had to be flicks that were completely pure and free from blowjobs and sexual innuendo though right?  I mean you’d never see any of that in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial right?!  Wrong.  Again, taking a look at the novelization by William Kotzwinkle we get a much darker depiction of the story than what would eventually end up on film (well, I’m assuming the following sequences weren’t shot…)

ET Novelization

There’s a sequence in the novel where Elliot, Steve and Gertie’s mother Mary (played by an exasperated Dee Wallace in the film) is so lonely and lost in her own mind that she fantasizes about disappearing from life and, believe it or not, masturbation. (See page 17; the innuendo is there.) She’s also simultaneously dreading the world her children have to face, wondering if they’ll succumb to overdosing on drugs, all while listening in on them playing a campaign of Dungeons and Dragons in the kitchen.  There’s also portions of the book where E.T. becomes weirdly stalker-ish and longs to bond with Mary, starring at her from the closet, thinking about how he could fulfill her needs.  E.T. even gets pretty downright creepy in the sequel novel, E.T. The Book of the Green Planet, where he reaches out to his long lost friend from Earth, melding with the now older Elliot’s mind from across the cosmos.  It comes across very peeping Tom-like, and sort of disturbing.  Experiencing love and yearning “through” Elliot.

ET sequel

All in all, though all of this adult stuff might seem really questionable on the surface of things, again, I’m really glad that these authors and creators took the chance to expose kids to the real world.  Some of it is for the sake of comedy, some of it is important info that awkward pre-teens probably need, and some of it is just exploring deeper adult themes.  Weird, interesting and kind of neat…

Awesome 80s Bedrooms: E.T. Edition…

It’s been a few weeks since I sat down and got all OCD combing through a DVD looking for an awesome 80s bedroom.  Last night I popped my special edition of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial into the computer and spent a couple hours staring at Ellitot’s room looking for some fun stuff to talk about.  At first I was a little disappointed because so many of the scenes were in silhouette, but with a quick finger on the pause button I managed to find some nice shots with a lot of fun junk lying around, in particular I realized that Elliott has a favorite comic book hero that I never noticed before!

ET One Sheet

So, with any Spielberg flick from this period there is always going to nods to Star Wars, and E.T. is no exception, but there are a lot of other interesting things lying around Elliott’s room…

ET 1

1). Star Worlds Planetarium playset

Star-Worlds-Planetarium

2). Coors Beer baseball cap (because you know, drunk E.T. and Coors is totally the official beer of earnest sci-fi flicks…)

3). Viewmaster Theater projector by GAF

Viewmaster-Theater-Projector-GAF

4). Star Wars Hoth Turret and Imperial Probe Droid playset

Turret and Probot

5). Han Solo’s Blaster

Han Solo Laser Pistol

One of the things I love about Elliott’s room is all of the little items that represent space travel, be it the plethora of Star Wars toys, the space shuttle hanging from his ceiling (in a later screen shot) or his planetarium play set.  It’s subtle for sure, but still welcome for a movie about meeting an alien.

ET 2

6). Star Wars Greedo action figure

Star Wars Greedo

7). Captain America Pez dispenser

Captain America Pez

8). Frozen Moments fake spilled can of Coke

9). “Jaws” shark pincher/grabber wand

Shark Pincher

10). Star Wars 2-1B Medic Droid (in the football helmet)

Star Wars 2-1B

So, I have to assume that the shark pincher wand was an in-joke/reference to Jaws right?  There are a lot of Star Wars figures scattered around on Elliott’s desk, but these are the only two we get to see clearly and not just in silhouette.  Also, the Pez dispenser was a bitch to identify.  Even though Elliott holds it up to E.T. to show him how to fill and eat the candy there’s only a split second or two where there’s enough light to identify it.  Also, this is not the favorite super hero I alluded to before.  That’s still to come…

ET 3

11). Star Wars X-Wing Fighter

Star Wars X-Wing

12). Darth Vader’s Tie Fighter

Star Wars Darth Vader Tie Fighter

13). Incredible Hulk Poster

So, as I started to pay closer attention to the set dressing in E.T. I started to notice a lot of Incredible Hulk items hanging around.  Granted, this was smack in the middle of the character’s popularity thanks to the Bixby/Ferrigno TV show, but I like to image Elliott being a huge fan of the Hulk because he was a middle child and always seemed like he was being put down by his brother and all his friends.  Like maybe he identified with that inner rage or something.  Anyway, there are a couple of other toys in the above screenshot, the aforementioned space shuttle and another toy hanging from the ceiling at the top right of the frame that I can’t identify…

ET 4

14). Elvis Costello poster (so Elliott has good taste in music)

15). Weird dart board cabinet.  Artful Dodger Dartboard Cabinet (see update below)

16). Mighty Marvel Incredible Hulk Glowplate light switch cover

Might Marvel Glowplate

17). Star Wars Tie Fighter

Star Wars Tie Fighter

Alright, the dart board cabinet.  The main reason I pointed to this is that I’d love to find out what that weird Jack the Ripper-looking design is on the cabinet (MYSTERY SOLVED!)  Also, there’s an weird amount of dart boards in Elliott’s room!  Not only does he have this cabinet on the wall but there’s an additional dart board to the left.  Also, that other dart board?  It changes through out the film.  There’s another design that’s strictly black and white that’s hanging in other scenes (which you can see in the screenshot with items 6-10 above.)

ET 5

18). Star Wars Hammerhead Action figure (as well as Snaggletooth, Walrusman, Lando Calrissian, and Boba Fett.)

Star Wars Hammerhead

I didn’t want to clutter this will all of the screenshots detailing the various Star Wars figures Elliott shows E.T. in silhouette, but they’re all listed above.

ET 6

19). Star Wars Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer Playset

Star Wars Darth Vaders Star Destroyer Playset

20). Stratego and Chutes & Ladders board games (as well as a Lego set to the right of those)

In the screenshot above there is a weird looking clown/egg head toy that I can’t identify.  The nose lights up and there’s a tuft of hair that pops up and down as well, but I’ve never seen it before and couldn’t figure it out from google.  Anyone know what this freakish thing is?  Also, there’s one additional Star Wars item, a Tauntaun up high on a shelf with some wooden dinosaur puzzle toys…

Okay, one last cool item that’s not technically in Elliott’s room, but goes to proving his love for the Incredible Hulk…

ET 7

21). Incredible Hulk Sleeping Bag

Hulk Sleeping Bag

I think part of the reason that discovering all of this Hulk merchandise in Elliott’s room made me so happy is that I was a pretty big fan of the character at the time too.  That TV show had a huge impact on me and I remember begging my mom for the Ben Cooper costume for Halloween around this time as well as having my own Hulk Sleeping bag and Hulk plush toy (that had velcro hands so you could make him hug your arm…)

While I’m talking about E.T. and stuff I noticed in the background, there’s another little thing that I noticed during the opening scenes with all the kids in the house playing Dungeons & Dragons.  It’s just a little thing but I noticed that C. Thomas Howell is smoking while they’re playing, but it’s only in a quick shot and the cigarette and ashtray disappear pretty quickly…

ET Smoke

I wonder if that was a mistake, like Spielberg didn’t intent for it to end up in the film, or was it placed to show the kids being a little rebellious?

**UPDATE**

I recently had the opportunity to catch E.T. on the big screen so I took extra special care to keep an eye out for details in Elliot’s room since I’d been having so much fun analyzing the bedrooms in 80s kid’s flicks recently. First of all, when I originally dissected the room there was a weird dart board cabinet that I couldn’t identify (number 15 in the above screen shot…) Well, it was as plain as day on the big screen. #15 is in fact an Artful Dodger dart board cabinet from Oliver Twist!

artful dodger

Now that I’ve identified that it doesn’t do much to explain why the Artful Dodger is on a dart board cabinet, but still, mystery solved. In addition to this I also noticed some more toys in Elliot’s room, as well as in their living room!

ET 1

1). Chutes and Ladders boardgame

2). Magic 8 Ball

Magic-8-Ball-Fortune-Teller-Alabe-Late-1960s

3). Lego Universal Building Set

4). Empire Strikes Back Twin-Pod Cloud Car

cloud car

5). Super Simon Electronic Game

super simon

Though the Super Simon box is in the screen shot above (in Elliot’s room), the game itself is actually on a shelf in the living room…

ET 2

But for the first time I noticed that there are also some other fun things in the living room like…

6). An Atari 2600

7). Big Trak from Milton Bradley

big trax

There were also a bunch of other small, fun things I noticed throughout the film. Little details, like how John Williams drops into Yoda’s Theme for a could of beats during the Halloween scene when E.T. sees a kid dressed up in a Don Post Yoda mask…

ET 3

…or the fact that Dee Wallace is wearing a really weird handgun pin on her vest in one sequence…

ET 4

Sure, these things haven’t radically changed my outlook on the film, but any time I have the opportunity to learn something new about a film I thought I knew everything about, well that’s worth a full-priced movie ticket if you ask me.

So, anything I missed?

Other Awesome Bedrooms I’ve covered…

Sara’s Room from Adventures in Babysitting

Eugene’s Room from The Monster Squad

Mikey’s room from the Goonies

David’s room from Flight of the Navigator

Robbie’s room from Poltergeist

Ben’s room from The Explorers

Pee Wee’s room from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

Fred Savage’s room from The Princess Bride

Josh’s room from Big

I went on The Quest, and found Go-Kids Dreaming about Frogs…

So last week I discovered an 80s kid’s flick that I’d never heard of before (The Quest), and I decided to try and document the process of finding some new nostalgia so to speak.  It’s rare that I stumble upon kids flicks that I haven’t seen from my youth as I was a voracious movie watcher with access to huge video stores and HBO.  I obviously haven’t seen every film from 1979-1989, but even the ones I’ve missed I’m typically aware of them (for example D.A.R.Y.L. or Mac and Me.)  The Quest was completely under my radar though, and as I loved Henry Thomas in both E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and Cloak & Dagger, I couldn’t wait to catch up with this obscure flick.

Unfortunately the film isn’t available on DVD, but there are a couple of copies floating around on Youtube, so this past weekend I sat down and took it in.  Before I dig into the flick, there are a couple things I’d like to mention.  First, for those interested in watching this movie who don’t want anything spoiled (I know I didn’t), then you might want to skip this review until you’ve gotten a chance to see the flick.  One of my goals with watching this flick was to come at it completely fresh with the exception of the image on the VHS cover (which led me to the film in the first place) so that I could do my best to recreate what it would have been like watching the flick for the first time as a kid.  But I do want to talk about the various plot points in the film, so you’ve been warned.

Second, I wanted to bring up the confusion over the title to this flick.  It was originally titled Frog Dreaming for its 1986 Australian theatrical release, but when it made it’s way to Britain and America it was re-titled The Go-Kids and The Quest respectively.  I haven’t done a ton of research on the reasoning behind the change, though I can infer it was because the original title is potentially a little too metaphorical for kids.  Similarly, the original one-sheet poster was a rather tame waist-up painting of Henry Thomas’ character Cody with little adornment.  This was also changed for the international releases.  I’ve already shared the American artwork, which features Cody, battle-ready complete with shotgun, underwater camera and a giant sea monster in the background.  Awesome right?  Well the British poster is similarly awesome, but it takes the imagery in an entirely different direction that I think also had a drastic effect on the re-titling of the film to The Go-Kids

This poster is a weird amalgamation of The Goonies, Conan, Star Wars, and National Lampoon’s Vacation (itself a parody of Boris Vallejo’s barbarian artwork done by Boris himself) theatrical posters complete with raised light saber, clingy girls, and skeletons.  Watching the film I did get a heavy Goonies vibe, so this is sort of a no-brainer, but I do have to say that adding the light saber was stretching it a bit (though it is a reference to a scene in the film.)  Anyway, here’s a couple of the other posters to illustrate my point…

    

As for the film itself, I will say that I loved it.  It’s right up there with other childhood adventure flicks like The Goonies, The Monster Squad, Flight of the Navigator and The Explorers, though it has very little of the pop and polish of any of those flicks.  The flick is sort of low key and a slow burn, but it has all the important ingredients that make it as cool as the other flicks mentioned.  So first things first, it didn’t disappoint.

The flick was written by Everett DeRoche and directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, a name that might be familiar with 80s kids for his flick BMX Bandits, or to horror fans for his Ozsploitation flick Dead-End Drive-In.  I have seen BMX Bandits, though it’s been 25 years or so, so I need to reacquaint myself with it.

  

The first thing I noticed while watching the film was that Trenchard-Smith was layering in the foreshadowing from the opening frames.  The opening titles are flicking across the screen while the camera is underwater in a murky lake which sets an ominous and slightly creepy tone.  From here it pulls out of the water and centers on various frogs around this watering hole lake.  The frogs switch to large lizards, which eventually give way to our opening set piece with involves a slightly drunk man lazily fishing on the lake.  Something is going on, the wind is picking up, the fisherman gets a bite on his line and bubbles start rising out of the middle of the lake.  Something big is in that water…

By the end of the sequence we get a glimpse at something rising out of the water in a very Loch Ness sort of fashion, but then before it can lift up completely it’s back into the murky depths…

  

Next we’re introduced to Henry Thomas as Cody, who is for all intents and purposes the idealized version of who I wanted to be as a kid.  There will always be a part of me that wishes I was as clever as Data, as courageous as Mikey, or as flippant and “cool” as Mouth from The Goonies, but I was always a little more in the realm of Chunk (though not quite as much as a spaz.)  I always saw the better version of myself as being cool, quiet, in control and smart enough to build all sorts of gizmos and machines; a sort of young MacGuyver, but totally willing to carry weapons larger than penknives.  Cody is that kid.  Between his jean jacket, camo vest, fingerless gloves, and his penchant for welding and contraption building he has a lot of the “cool kid” bases covered.  Add to this the fact that he’s an orphan growing up in the Australian Outback with a disdain for authority and a flare for daredevil antics and you have one of the cooler 80s kid heroes ever on screen.  Sure, I might be playing him up a bit much, but again, I identified with the character heavily, so I can’t really help it.  Thomas’s Cody is the logical extension of his Elliott from E.T. and Davey from Cloak & Dagger, and The Quest is surely the third in his trilogy of kid’s adventure films.

As I mentioned, Cody is a tinkerer supreme, and the next sequence in the film involves him putting the finishing touches on a retractable attachment to his BMX bike that will allow him to ride smoothly on railroad tracks…

  

This is also a pretty cool scene as it sets up Cody’s role in the town as a bad boy daredevil.  He’s planning on riding the rails from the town to school in under three minutes, but considering it’s over three miles away, that’s kind of fast on a bike.  On his way to the tracks people from all over see him on his way and know exactly what he’s about to take on and a crowd starts to follow like a bunch of dogs following a fire engine.  This sequence also sets up his relationship with a local girl, Wendy, who obviously has a crush on him, which is one aspect of this flick that tends to differ from other similar 80s kid’s flicks.  Typically there is no romance for the main kid characters (with the exception of flicks like The Wizard or SpaceCamp), and even when there is it’s usually regulated to the more teenaged characters like The Karate Kid’s Daniel or Bran & Andi from The Goonies.

 

Anyway, after a near miss and last second bail-out, Cody proves himself by making it to the school in under three minutes.  Of course the local sheriff gets wind of the stunt and ends up giving our hero some grief.  To celebrate Cody and Wendy (with her little sister Jane in tow) decide to hike into the woods for a picnic.  Being a born adventurer Cody leads them a bit deeper into the bush than expected and they end up at Devil’s Knob and the lake known as Donkegin Hole (from the opening scene in the flick.)  Though he’s never been to this lake, Cody does know the guy from the opening of the film as a dentist from Sydney that camps out at the watering hole during the summer.  While searching for the dentist, they group split up and before they know it, the two girls find themselves stranded on a raft in the middle of the lake.  Of course the bubbles and wind start up again as well.  Cody comes to the rescue by jumping off of a five story cliff into the lake so that he can pull the girls to shore.  This is sort of a fun set piece in the flick that again displays the careless gusto of Cody…

  

Back on shore they finally discover the dentist, and well, lets just say that’s one dead dentist…

Cody soon discovers the legend of Donkegin Hole, which is thought to have a Bunyip (or large rat-like swamp creature) in it.  Starting to obsess over the whole thing, Cody takes a two-day trip alone out to the Aboriginal country to try and track down any information he can get on Donkegin and bunyips.  He’s pointed to a mystic named Charlie Pride, who he encounters one night on a foggy dock.  Pride gives Cody a test to stand up to a demon at the end of the dock, a test that will reveal whether he’s a boy or a man.  Of course he isn’t afraid, and he walks right up to the apparition and discovers that it’s nothing more than a scarecrow with a florescent light behind it.  Though it’s not really a pivotal scene, this is where the “light saber” on the poster artwork comes from.  In a fun 80s era reference Cody picks up the light and pretends it’s a light saber.  Looking back at the characters Henry Thomas portrayed in the 80s, this type of real-life kid play is a reoccurring motif.  Again, it’s also something you don’t always see in 80s kid’s flicks either.

  

This is also part of a weird thread in the film that involves a bit more mysticism.  One of the really cool aspects of this flick is how real to life it feels.  Because there isn’t a loud pop rock soundtrack and because everything plays out so slowly it feels very real.  So when Cody encounters Charlie Pride it goes into another place tonally.  Luckily though, Pride disappears and leaves Cody only with the experience of the scarecrow meet-up.  This only strengthens his resolve to solve the mystery of the Donkegin bunyip though, and when he gets back home from his research journey he devises a plan to try and snare the bunyip.  Of course this involves the construction of a homemade cannon, like any sane kid-plan would.  Cody baits a shark hook with a leg of lamb and then waits by the lake for the bunyip to surface, which it does, so he can shoot it with the cannon, which he also does.  Unfortunately it’s not enough and the bunyip re-submerges much like the previous times it’s shown up.  Plan A failed, but like any good mini-Macguyver Cody has a plan B in mind as well which involves a makeshift scuba helmet, a spear gun (mistakenly painted as a shotgun on the American poster), and a waterproof camera.  This time Cody is going to get a picture of this creature!

  

Again, it’s this devil-may-care sense of adventure that really draws me into the film, and the fact that the main character has to devise all sorts of ways to accomplish his insane feats just cements it as a cool flick.  Take the opening sequences of The Explorers movie where the boys are building the spacecraft, or when Rudy is pulling together all the needed weapons in The Monster Squad for examples of what I’m trying to get across.  It’s just pure wish-fulfillment.

Long story short, Cody, with the help of Wendy on the air pump contraption, dives into the lake hell bent on finding the Donkegin bunyip.  He never resurfaces though, which sends Wendy crying back into town alerting everyone that Cody is dead.  Or is he?

  

Later that night Cody’s guardian and the sheriff decide to try and drain the lake to find the body, while Wendy takes one last look around Cody’s workshop trying to come to terms with his passing.  What she finds though is that Cody had figured out what the bunyip actually is, and there’s a chance that he might still be alive.  She leads the town folk back up to the lake, which has been half drained by this point, and thus begins a mad rush to try and find out if Cody is still alive somewhere under the water.  It’s at this point that we get the full reveal of the bunyip creature and it’s not at all what the viewer expects!

In reality the creature is an old piece of mining equipment called a Donkey Engine.  It’s basically an huge excavation crane that has had air trapped under it causing it to life to release some of the pressure from time to time.  Cody managed to find his way into the air pocket underwater, and as the “creature” lift’s its head out of the water he finally manages to escape to freedom.

All in all this was a really interesting flick that manages to pull together so many of the things that I loved when I was a kid.  If I’d seen this back in the day I probably would have been head over heels for it.  The only thing that doesn’t sit well with me is the weird mystical subplot with Charlie Pride.  He reappears one more time at the end of the film.  Cody, after surviving the whole ordeal, makes his way alone back to Donkegin Hole to survey the area.  On a separate cliff, Pride appears, though this time he’s covered in tribal garb and made up to look like a Kurdaitcha (aboriginal boogeyman).  Pride proceeds to sweep his arms about making all sorts of junk (including the Donkey Engine) to magically crawl back into the leftover water.  The film ends with Cody realizing there is magic involved, which totally negates what the rest of the film was building up through the whole running time.  I can understand if Trenchard-Smith and DeRoche wanted to keep from stripping all of the magic from the film, but to blatantly throw this sort of mystical endcap onto the film really does it a disservice.

Here’s to hoping this flick eventually makes it onto DVD.  I’m also crossing my fingers that I can run across another hidden gem of a flick like this in the future…

I’m going on The Quest!

One of my favorite pastimes since creating this site is seeking out old magazines from the 80s looking for hidden gems from the decade that I think are worth talking about.  Be it old advertisements for forgotten food like the Frankenstein’s monster-influenced, chili-stuffed hot dogs (Frank’n Stuffs), or insane ads for Back to the Future-themed Power Wheel DeLoreans, there’s always something fun to uncover.  Recently while flipping through some old issues of Billboard magazine I stumbled upon an advertisement for a kid’s movie that I’d never heard of before.  Now I’m not the end-all be-all encyclopedia of everything 80s, but I did experience my fair share of what the decade had to offer kids, in particular film-wise.  With the exception of a handful of made-for-TV flicks here and there, I think I’ve seen most of the kid’s flicks from the decade.  Or I thought I had, until I saw this awesome advertisement for The Quest

Why did I never stumble across this VHS cover while combing though the various video rental joints of my youth and teenage years?  The flick star’s E.T. and Cloak & Dagger’s Henry Thomas as an orphan living in the Outback with relatives after his parents pass.  Emboldened by the local legends of a lake monster named Donkegin, Thomas gears up and goes on the hunt for the creature.  Right now that’s about all I know about this flick (well, that and that The Quest is the American title for this Aussie flick which was originally known as Frog Dreaming.)  I’ve found this flick in various forms on Youtube and I’m super excited to watch it asap.

I’ve never really done this on the site before, but I thought it would be fun to try and share the process I go through while looking for content to write about.  In this instance, I’ve found a badass advertisement for an unseen flick from the 80s, and I’ve tracked down a copy to watch.  I wanted to share this portion of the excitement, which is mostly the unknown and potential for finding another awesome kid’s flick from my youth.  Will the movie live up to the potential and hype of this ad, or will it be an utter let down?  Some of you have probably already seen this flick and know that answer.  But I’m about to find out, and hopefully I’ll be able to share my thoughts next week after watching The Quest.

I mean come on, it’s Elliott with a shotgun hunting the down-under equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster!  How can this not be awesome?

Digging deeper into the story of E.T.

Here’s my second and final Monkey Goggles article that was originally published a little over a year ago on the Archie McPhee literary webzine.  As I mentioned yesterday, I’m putting these articles up here as it seems that MG isn’t going to be publishing any longer and in case that site fades away I’d like to have a record of the article.  This piece centers on the differences between the final cuts of films and the book adaptations of the screenplays those films were based upon. T he main example I use is the novelization of E.T. and how it could have been, and in the novel is, a much darker story.  You can also find my thoughts on the sequel story, E.T. The Book of the Green Planet, that was never made into a film, only published as a stand alone novel…

In the realm of film novelizations, there’s rarely room for originality, but every once in a while these books can be a treasure trove of interesting material.

Novelizations were originally a brilliant marketing scheme to bring a sense of weight and establishment to otherwise light genre flicks, at least in the case of the print editions of stories like Star Wars.  It’s rumored that Alan Dean Foster was hired to ghost-write the novel in George Lucas’ name so that the film would have the “literary” background of at the time recent hits like Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and Peter Benchley’s Jaws.  Later, in a pre-home video world, these novelizations became a merchandising phenomenon, giving hungry audiences an outlet for reliving their favorite films and breathing new life into genre publishing.

The novelization of E.T. sold more than one million copies and gave a generation of fans a glimpse into an alternate view of the story that almost was.  The original idea behind the movie was not to make a tranquil boy-loves-alien adventure, but instead a darker, more sinister sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Originally titled “Night Skies”, the story centered around a malevolent race of aliens that land on earth and besiege a family living on a farm.  Though there was a script written by John Sayles, Spielberg eventually decided that he didn’t want to produce a violent extra-terrestrial sequel to Close Encounters, and instead broke up the script, reusing aspects that what would eventually become story points in later Spielberg productions — namely Poltergeist, Gremlins, and E.T.

Though the character of E.T. became much tamer in the eventual film, author William Kotzwinkle had a much deeper and slightly darker tone in mind when he was commissioned to pen the novelization.  First and foremost, the book contains a fascinating shift in the story’s point-of-view.  Whereas Spielberg chose to ape Charles Schultz’s child’s height world-view perspective, rarely showing the faces or upper torsos of adult characters and basking in the wonderment of a kid’s point-of-view, the book instead takes on a more omniscient angle.  Instead of approaching the alien from Elliott’s perspective, we are instead invited into the mind’s eye of E.T. himself, seeing Earth as it appears to him.  He loses the infant-like quality that made him so loveable in the film, and is instead imbued with the sage wisdom of a ten million year-old wanderer.

One of my favorite moments in the novelization is when, E.T. plays the role of the audience for a second, and it gives the author an opportunity to provide some commentary on Spielberg’s filmic charm.  Kotzwinkle has E.T. strolling out to the edge of the redwood forest where the aliens have landed at the beginning of the film.  After securing a sapling for examination and cataloging, E.T. is enraptured by the lights of the suburban neighborhood sitting at the foot of the valley.  Knowing that this is going to be their last visit to Earth for centuries, E.T. lingers, longing to peek into the windows of the homes, to get a glimpse of the human middle class life.  Again, it’s just a bit of commentary on what makes Spielberg’s early work so special.

It’s also interesting that, with this shift in viewpoint, certain aspects of the story take on a much darker tone.  At the beginning when the humans come to the landing site and start searching the woods, we’re introduced to “Keys”, Peter Coyote’s nameless scientist character who is known in the story by the jangling key-ring on his belt.  When E.T. sees him for the first time, the keys are described thus: “…the old botanist saw the man’s belt, with something hanging from it like an assemblage of teeth, jagged-edged, trophies possibly, wrenched from the mouth of some other unfortunate space creature, and placed on a ring…“  A bit later, the author has E.T. describing the circular key ring as a sort of open-mouthed grin with jangling teeth.

There’s also an isolationist’s tone to the opening of the novel. E.T.’s species survive for millennia and have cultivated a vast knowledge as well as a Zen-like understanding of peace and harmony, yet they refuse to attempt to communicate with the humans, instead centering all their attention on Earth’s flora because they are afraid of being ridiculed and mocked.  It’s a very odd and dark way to approach the material, for sure.  E.T. was Wall-E before there was a “Wall-E”.

Another interesting aspect that Kotzwinkle either added to the “E.T.” universe or amped up from the script was the idea of the alien race being so closely connected to plant-life that they not only communicate with it, but also have the ability to physically manipulate it. It’s either that, or that plants defy their normal physics in their presence. In the opening scene when the humans have descended upon the landing site and E.T. is trying to get back to the ship, there are trees that lift their roots to trip the pursuing earthlings, while a patch of emotionally-clingy weeds hold the alien back, wanting him to stay with them. It exudes a passion for the story that goes beyond simple script adaptation, which I think is rare in these 1980s era movie novelizations.

I could go on and on with how much deeper the original novelization probes into the characters – how Elliot, Steve and Gertie’s mother Mary (played by an exasperated Dee Wallace in the film) is so lonely and lost in her own mind that she fantasizes about disappearing from life and, believe it or not, masturbation.  (See page 17; the innuendo is there.)  She’s also simultaneously dreading the world her children have to face, wondering if they’ll succumb to overdosing on drugs, all while listening in on them playing a campaign of Dungeons and Dragons in the kitchen.

Who would have thought that there’d be room for this sort of storytelling in what amounts to simple movie merchandising in a decade known for its hollow commercialism?  I honestly didn’t think there was anything left for me to learn from a story I grew up with and thought I knew so well. Never in a million years did I think I’d get so sucked into reading the E.T. novelization that I’d be skipping lunch breaks and desperately wondering what happens next.