Tuesday, June 21, 2022

45 Movies For 45 Years: 1990

1990 was a big year for me since it was the year that I officially became a teenager. I have some pretty vivid memories from that time. I was beginning my journey into nerdom. I was falling in love with movies. I went to the theater often, which was not as often as I would have liked since I still depended on my parents for transportation. Our closest theater was a 30-minute drive away. Oh, and I didn’t have a job. I was a frequent customer of the local video store. Perusing the shelves of films was one of my favorite ways to pass the time.

But I have some specific memories of films I saw that year. I know I went with my mom and cousin to see Dick Tracy on my birthday that year. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was also a huge deal for me. I saw it twice and spent my meager allowance on the novelization and the comic book adaptation.

When I look back on that year, there is one movie that has embedded many images into my mind. It has steered the course of my taste in films since and stands out above all the others.

Total Recall.

It was a Schwarzenegger vehicle and probably the first movie of his that I ever actually sat down to watch. I remember Terminator being on in the background a few times as I grew up. As a kid, it didn’t appeal to me. I didn’t see Total Recall in the theater. Of course, my parents weren’t taking a 13-year-old kid to see an R-rated film. But a few months after its release, it started airing on one of the premium movie channels that we had.

I remember that it was a perfect storm one evening. My mom was at work. She worked in a hospital, and she had the 3 pm-11-pm shift. My dad was getting ready to leave for his job as a firefighter. My brother and I were getting ready to spend the evening at home all alone. We’d been fed, and I was popping some popcorn and flipping through the TV Guide to figure out what I was going to watch. I saw that Total Recall was about to come on. I had seen the commercials, and I knew I wanted to see it. Being the honest kid that I was, I went to my dad as he was leaving and asked if it was okay if I watched it. He thought about it for a minute and said, “Yeah, but don’t tell your mom.”

YES!!!

Now a little about the movie itself. Total Recall is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick called We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. Of course, it starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, and Michael Ironside. It was directed by Paul Verhoeven, the same guy that had brought us Robocop a few years before and would make Starship Troopers a little while later. The concept grabbed me immediately. Arnold plays a regular guy who works as a construction worker. He has all these dreams of being something bigger than he is. He sees an advertisement for a company called “Recall” that specializes in putting manufactured memories in your brain. The idea is that if you don’t have time to take a vacation, you can have the memories of a vacation put in your brain. It's the same thing. He goes through with the procedure and things go a little sideways. He discovers that he is a spy and he has a mission to complete on Mars.

I went back and watched this movie again a little more recently, about the time the remake with Collin Farrell came out a few years ago. The special effects don’t hold up, and the story gets clunky toward the end. It suffers from a classic problem where a movie has a great story but it needs to wrap up so quickly for no other reason than it’s time to wrap it up. But, even today, I can watch it and get lost in that world. Some of that is Verhoeven’s vision. He had a way of world-building that gave us futuristic satire of our society that made you think. He did it in Robocop as well. You see the things happening around the character and you think to yourself…”Yeah, I can see that happening”. But it is also a product of Philip K. Dick’s mind. He could tell such big stories in just a few pages. And when it is handled by the right filmmaker, it can deliver something truly amazing.

Total Recall may be considered to be a middle–of–the–road sci-fi flick in most critics’ eyes…but it is the one film from 1990 that left the biggest impression on me.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

45 Movies For 45 Years: 1989

1989 was the year that I turned 12 years old. I was getting to be the age where I was all in on films. I drove my mom crazy when I begged her to buy me some magazine at the grocery store that cost $4 just because the cover briefly mentioned a movie that I was excited about. We didn’t have 50 websites giving us up-to-the-minute details behind the scenes as we do now. We got our news in spurts. So, if there was a tiny mention of something we were into, we had to be on it.

It wasn’t plausible to get my mom to buy every magazine on the rack at Food World. So, many Saturday afternoons saw me at the local convenience store, sitting on the floor next to the magazines and comics, reading what I could until old Mr. Smith told me to go home.

This is probably the hardest installment I’ve had to write since I started this project. There are so many movies from 1989 that I love. And unlike a lot of the ones that I’ve written so far, where my favorite movie from a given year wasn’t discovered until years later…1989 was the first year that I can remember falling in love with many of these films from the word “go”. Some had to wait until the following year to see on video because movie-going in my rural town was a pretty big outing and not something did every weekend.

Why is it so hard to pick a winner for 1989? Because I love so many of the titles that came out that year…especially in the summer. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Back to the Future Part II, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, Ghostbusters II, and even Look Who’s Talking.

See? See how hard that is to choose? No? Well, you’re not a dude that’s about to turn 45. Because if you were my age…that’s some Sophie’s Choice level stuff right there.

So…I asked myself which movie from that year has meant the most to me over the years? Did any of them shape the way that I watch movies? Did any of them affect the movies that I love now?

Yes, one of them did. Batman.

Batman starred Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Jack Palance, and directed by Tim Burton.

It wasn’t the first comic book movie ever made. Several of the Superman films had already beaten it to the punch. But it was the first one that came out when I was of an age to care about it. I became a regular viewer of Entertainment Tonight, hoping to get a glimpse of a costume or any breath about the production. When the Batmobile was unveiled, it was the greatest thing I’d ever seen.

I wasn’t a huge consumer of comic books. I wasn’t the kid that went to the comic book store every weekend and bought an armload of the newest titles. I got an allowance of $3.50 a week. With that money, I went to the local convenience store and bought four things. A Snicker’s bar, a Sunkist soda, a copy of the latest Superman title…and Batman.

The only exposure that I’d had to an on-screen version of Batman up to that point had been the campy version from the 60s that starred Adam West and Burt Ward. It was entertaining as I watched it in reruns. But even as a kid I knew that Batman was supposed to be a darker character.

If you want to make a dark movie, Burton is the man for the job. Although, at that point in his career, that might not have been as widely known as it is now. His claim to fame was directing Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. You don’t remember the genius that movie was, but you need to revisit it. It was well done. But what he could do with the visuals of this film given what he had to work with at the time was incredible. There aren’t a lot of special effects here. We didn’t have CGI, so most of what you saw was practical. They used real cars. They used models. They built actual sets. And what we got was a very dark rendition of Gotham City that looked like a comic book page had sprung to life on the screen.

The film was out of time. It was assumed that it was set in the present day (of the time) since Batman had a lot of advanced tech to work with. But the cars and the clothes looked like sometime in the 30s. In this way, Burton created a universe that became synonymous with the Batman franchise and utilized in most of the later films. It inspired the animated series, which I argue is one of the best cartoons that has ever been on TV.

One thing that I love about this film is that it is not an origin story. So many times we’ve seen film versions of comic book heroes come along and we get a long, drawn-out story about how the hero came to be. Sometimes we get that story over and over again in various films. But, Burton didn’t want to make a movie about how Bruce Wayne became Batman. He wanted to make a movie about Batman fighting the Joker. So, he took the origin that could have been a whole movie of its own and broke it down into a short flashback scene. It’s all that we needed. We got the whole story of Batman’s birth in that scene that took less than three minutes. It was brilliant, and it’s something that I wish we could see more of today.

When Michael Keaton was announced as Batman, it went over my head. My 12-year-old self didn’t know enough about Hollywood to care who was playing the characters. I know now that it was a decision that hated by many fans. He was a comedic actor. But he was an excellent Bruce Wayne. He was a little less excellent as Batman. But that black rubber suit that they built restricted his movement, so I think he gave the same performance as Batman as anyone else would have.

Jack Nicholson played the Joker. His performance is legendary. He took the character that we knew from the comics and told us to forget all that. He played Joker as a 30s-style gangster that lost his mind. He still wore the colorful costumes, and had a maniacal laugh, but he wasn’t jumping all over the place and acting cartoonishly the way we’ve seen before. This version was much more along what we saw in The Killing Joke.

What we have today is a Hollywood that churns out comic book movies like it’s all they know how to make. And I’m not complaining about that. We get a lot of good movies that way. The MCU hasn’t put out a bad film yet. But something they all have in common is that they depend greatly on CGI to tell their stories. Batman didn’t have that problem. Burton proved that all you need is a good concept, a decent script, and a great cast to make a film that will be the template for others for decades.

And, it’s my favorite film from 1989.

Monday, May 16, 2022

45 Movies For 45 Years: 1988

The summer of 1988 was a milestone of a year for me. I finished elementary school when I graduated from Ms. Bouchet’s homeroom class. The following fall I would be a big kid, and I’d start taking classes across town at the middle school. Yes, in the south, we don’t usually call it Jr. High…we call it “middle school”.

And my love of movies was just beginning to kick into full gear. I wasn’t just obsessed with movies themselves anymore. I was quickly becoming enthralled in the production aspects as well. I know that year brought us the classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit. For a long time…that was it. I didn’t need anything else. A movie filled with live-action AND cartoons? Yes! Please, yes!

I devoured magazine articles that told how all the special effects were done. I was amazed at the lengths they went to make a cartoon rabbit drink out of a real whiskey glass. It was amazing!

As I have grown, I still have a fond appreciation for that film. I watch it every now and again to scratch that nostalgic itch. But several other films came out in 1988 that I also consider among my favorites. Tom Hanks was getting Big…Michael Keaton was grossing us out in Beetlejuice…and Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman had the classic Rain Man.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I started to grow an appetite for action movies. By the time I was 15 or 16, I was hooked on films that had heart-thumping shootouts, car chases, people hanging from buildings, explosions, and everything else you’d associate with brainless popcorn films. One thing that I’ve noticed is that many of the action flicks I loved as a teenager seem to be cut from a template. There is a pattern that most of them follow that leads to them becoming successful. It’s a quality that has only been done perfectly one time; in the movie that created the cloth from which all others are cut.

Die Hard.

Die Hard stars Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Alan Rickman, and Reginald VelJohnson. It was directed by John McTiernan, who was mostly known for the film he’d directed the year before… Predator.

Bruce Willis was a fairly well-known person in 1988. He was in a pretty popular comedy/drama called Moonlighting at the time. But, in my opinion, this movie solidified him as a leading man in film.

Willis plays John McClane, a cop from New York who flies out to LA to spend Christmas with his family. His marriage has been on the rocks lately, and he’s hoping to get back into his wife’s good graces. His wife is Holly McClane (Bedelia). She has recently taken a job as an executive for the Nakatomi Corporation. They are having their Christmas party when John arrives. When he gets there, he goes to the bathroom just in time for some terrorists, led by Hans Gruber (Rickman), who want to steal the bearer bonds that the company has in their vault. They take the party-goers hostage except for John. Iit is up to him to stop the terrorists from killing any innocent victims and save his wife.

Before I tell you what I think of the movie (love it), I want to give you a bit of background info that I’ve always found interesting.

Die Hard was based on a novel called Nothing Lasts Forever, written by Roderick Thorpe in 1979. In the book, the main character’s name is Joe Leland. He is a retired New York City cop. He flies out to visit his daughter who is working for a big corporation, and they're having their Christmas party. The rest of it is pretty much the same. He even swings through the window just like Willis does in the film.

This is where it gets a little interesting. Nothing Lasts Forever was the sequel to another novel that Thorpe wrote in 1966 called The Detective. That book was made into a movie starring Frank Sinatra as Joe Leland. He had in his contract that if they ever decided to make a sequel to that film, he would get the first opportunity to reprise his role. So, honoring the contract, Fox offered the lead role in Die Hard to Frank Sinatra. Can you imagine ol’ Blue Eyes, in his late sixties, crawling through the ductwork in his undershirt and with his bleeding feet? It would have been something altogether different.

Luckily, Sinatra turned the role down. It was retooled into what we have now. Bruce Willis was chosen mainly because he was new and he was a lot cheaper than some of the big stars that were eyeing the role.

The rest is history.

Die Hard
is the perfect action movie. It has the gunfire, explosions, and fight scenes that you’d expect. But this was one of the first times I remember seeing humor so perfectly woven into a film in which the stakes were life and death. Willis had so many one-liners that it’s impossible to remember them all. And those little jokes did not detract from the tension. They actually made it feel more real. It made John McClane seem more like a real person. And that made the movie that much more intense.

And what can I say about Alan Rickman? He was one of my favorite actors. So many movies that I love he was a part of and just made them so much better by doing what he does best. The slow, methodical way he delivered his lines with just enough of an accent to make them seem more menacing was incredible. And this was the first movie that I ever remember seeing him in. If he had not been there, I don’t think this film would be the classic that I think of it as being today.

I really can’t do anything but gush over this movie. I watch it at least once a year. It was so well received, they made another one a couple of years later that was very good as well. It wasn’t AS good as sequels usually aren’t. But it was strong and stood on its own.

The third one though…wow! We’ll have to see in a week or so, but I think that one has a chance of making it on this list as well.

Then we get the stories of movies written to be Die Hard sequels and ended up becoming their own thing. You can see the origins coming from that original film. Under Siege (Die Hard on a ship). Speed (Die Hard on a bus). The list goes on.

And then there are the movies that were supposed to be other things and eventually were rewritten to put John McClane in them. Live Free or Die Hard and A Good Day to Die Hard both suffer because of that.

But there was a teenager that just happened to be in the room one night when his dad turned on the TV and started watching Die Hard…and that kid was hooked on stupid blow-em-up flicks ever since.




Thursday, May 12, 2022

45 Movies For 45 Years: 1987

In 1987 I had been alive for a solid 10 years. I distinctly remember going to a barbecue on my birthday, as we usually did since it was also the 4th of July. I walked to the sitting area on my uncle’s deck overlooking the lake and announced to my grandparents that I was a decade old. It didn’t impress them that much, especially since they had over 50 years on me.

The year I turned 10 was a pretty big year at the movies. Leonard Nimoy was working his directing chops with Three Men And A Baby. Michael Douglas had a Fatal Attraction. And Mel Gibson and Danny Glover started a franchise that spanned four films with the original Lethal Weapon.

The movie that came out that year that had the most of an impact on me is kind of embarrassing to admit. I may have to turn in my cinephile card once I admit how big of a fan I am of Ernest Goes To Camp.

When I was a kid, I was a big fan of Ernest P. Worrell. If you’ve never heard of him, you need to go to YouTube and at least watch some of the old commercials that he used to appear in. It was a weird thing that happened in the 80s because usually, a character that appears in commercials is owned by a brand like Flo or Mayhem. This time, the character was owned by an ad company and was licensed to advertise all kinds of products. The ones that I remember the best were for Mello Yello.

Ernest was played exquisitely by Jim Varney. He was the quintessential redneck, complete with a denim vest and ball cap. And in the commercials, he used to address his unseen neighbor, Vern, whose point of view we were usually looking at him through. He tortured Vern, continuously terrorizing him with his attempts to “help” him. He usually ended up demolishing a part of Vern’s home or injuring him in some way.

Ernest first transitioned to film in Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam, which went straight to video in 1986. It was a weird movie in which Jim Varney played multiple characters, only one of which was Ernest. Varney was a master of faces and voices. You can tell by watching his performances that Jerry Lewis had a huge influence over him. Future comedians such as Jim Carrey drew inspiration from him…whether or not they admit it.

Ernest Goes To Camp was the first theatrical movie to feature Ernest. The story is something that we’ve seen a few times. Ernest gets a job as a cook at Camp Kikakee. Being a perpetual 13-year-old boy at heart, he becomes fast friends with many children attending the camp. When the camp is bought by a big corporation that plans to demolish it, he and those kids go to war to save it.

This movie is hilarious. There were a lot of movies that followed with Ernest in the title where Varney reprised his role, but this one was very different. The later movies tended to have more slapstick and almost skit-like things thrown in. They almost turned Ernest into a cartoon character and put him into situations no human could survive. But here, it was almost like all the characters around him were from a different kind of movie than he was. Ernest stood out because he was in normal surroundings. There weren’t any monsters coming after him like in Ernest Scared Stupid. He wasn’t saving Santa like in Ernest Saves Christmas. And he wasn’t becoming a basketball phenom like in Slam Dunk Ernest.

This movie had a ton of comedy which was great for the 10-year-old me that loved watching the commercials every time they came on. But later on, when the camp is closing and Ernest seems to be losing his friends, I discovered that there was more to this character than just a lot of sight gags. And I discovered the genius of Jim Varney, whose career I would follow until his death in 2000 at the age of 50.

A lot of people look at the name Ernest on a movie poster and automatically assume that it’s going to be some stupid comedy that kills a few brain cells every minute that it’s on the screen. And if you’re watching some of the later direct-to-video films, then those people would probably be right. But this first movie was an exception. This is a heartwarming story told through the eyes of an exceptionally funny character played by a talented comedian. I strongly recommend you take 90 minutes and give Ernest Goes To Camp a shot. It is my favorite movie of 1987.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

45 Movies For 45 Years: 1986

1986 is a year that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Not because of any particular movie that came out, but because of something that happened in the news.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. I read every book that my library had about the space program, the planets in our solar system, the moon, NASA…you name it. So, when I was I the third grade and we got the news that a teacher was going to go into space and conduct classes for us on television. I was thrilled.

That was the year the Challenger exploded a few second after blast off. The entire crew died.

That we saw it happen made it so much harder to deal with. It was a defining moment in my life. It was the moment that I realized that not all the stories had a happy ending.

I just wanted to take a moment and acknowledge that at the top of this entry. But this blog is about movies, and there were a few of them in 1986.

Sigourney Weaver was fighting Aliens, Ralph Macchio was back in The Karate Kid Part II, and Matthew Broderick was making comedy history with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But, for the second time in this series the film that made the biggest impact on me was a Star Trek movie. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

I wrote a while back about the fantastic movie that I thought Star Trek II was. Star Trek III has never been one of my favorites, even though it was the story of how Spock came back from the dead. But it was successful enough for Paramount to trust Leonard Nimoy to fill the director’s chair one more time. The Voyage Home is the third part of the Star Trek trilogy, which a lot of fans call II, III, and IV. They have a story thread that runs through them, starting with the death of Spock, then the destruction of the Enterprise, and finishing up here as the crew returns to Earth and takes on a new ship.

The difference in this movie and the others is that it is a comedy, though the premise doesn’t seem very funny. In the 23rd century a mysterious probe show up out of nowhere and starts evaporating the Earth’s oceans. It is threatening the life of the planet. Just as this is happening, the Klingon Bird of Prey that the Enterprise crew took over in the last movie show up. Spock does a little bit of magic reasoning and figures out that the probe is trying to communicate with what it thinks is the main life form of Earth, humpback wales. They were prominent in the oceans the last time the probe came around a few million year ago. But by then they’re all gone. So, Kirk decides to do what any of us would do…go back in time and scoop up a couple of whales.

So, we get a funny movie about Kirk, Spock, McCoy and company walking around in San Francisco in 1986. Most of them are human, but their reality is so far removed from what life was like in their ancient past that it’s hilarious to see them try to blend in. A lot of the comedy comes from watching Spock doing the nerve pinch on a bus punk, McCoy resurrecting a bed-ridden old lady with some future medicine, Scotty causing a paradox by inventing future materials, and Checkov asking various passersby where he can find the “nuclear wessel”.

As far as plot…there isn’t really much. This movie was supposed to be a light-hearted romp and give fans a welcomed breather after the heavy plots of the last two films. The crew had dealt with the death and resurrection of their friend. This time, they were looking for whales in the past.

That’s all that I really have to say about it. It’s not the best Star Trek movie…but of all the movies that came out in 1986, it is the one that had the biggest impact on me. I love Star Trek…and I love time travel. Some of the best Star Trek episodes had to do with time travel, and this was the first film that dealt with it. It wasn’t the last, and it didn’t even do it the best. That distinction belongs to First Contact. But, if you want to have a fun adventure with the crew of the Enterprise…er, HMS BountyThe Voyage Home is the way to go.

Monday, April 25, 2022

45 Movies For 45 Years: 1985

1985. There were a lot of good movies that came out that year. Stallone was back in two of them, Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV. Oprah had her acting debut in The Color Purple. And the world was learning that Goonies never say “die”.

It was the year that I turned eight years old. I was in the third grade. I had developed a fascination with reading. I read every book that I could get my hands on. My town’s public library was one of my favorite places, followed closely by my school library. And not only had I discovered a love of reading, but I had also discovered a love of science fiction.

One of my favorite books of that time was a “choose your own adventure” story. You would read the first couple of pages of the book and you would make a choice. The page that you read next would depend on your choice. It was great because you could go back and make different decisions and have a whole new story. This particular story had to do with time travel. I thought that the concept of traveling to the past or the distant future was intriguing. I used to run around in the woods behind my house pretending I had been transported to a prehistoric time when dinosaurs still lurked around every corner.

It should be no surprise to anyone who knows me that the movie from 1985 that affected me most was Back To The Future.

It was a classic and unexplainable trope in some of the old goofy sci-fi stories that a teenage boy would be friends with some crazy old inventor usually called “Doctor” or “Professor”. It was a way to have a story for kids about someone their age having an adventure with technology that they couldn’t have created on their own. The Professor made the shrink ray or the clone maker. In this case, the Doc made the time machine.

Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox, is friends with Doc Brown who created a time machine out of a DeLorean. The Doc’s machine runs off of plutonium, which he stole from some Libyan terrorists. They track him down as he’s showing off his invention. The Doc gets killed, and Marty jumps into the DeLorean to get away, accidentally sending himself back in time 30 years to the year 1955.

Once he’s there, he finds that his presence has disrupted history from occurring the way it should and that his existence in the future is in jeopardy. So, he gets Doc’s younger self to help him solve the problem and send him back…to the future.

I get worked up just thinking about this movie. The premise is a little goofy. Yeah, it’s weird for a 17-year-old kid to be friends with a man in his sixties or seventies, but it works to get us to the part of the story set in the 50s.

If there is one thing that this movie gets right, it’s the feel of the 50s. You can almost believe that Marty went there. The clothes, the music, the colors, the advertisements…all of it is there to create a sense of nostalgia. This movie wasn’t made for me. This movie was made for parents and people just a little older than them. My mom was born on November 25, 1955, which is just a couple of weeks after the timeline of the movie. People that were a little older than that would remember this time from when they were kids. That’s who they were shooting for.

Even though it has its roots in science-fiction and has a few scenes with special effects, it’s a pretty small film. Once Marty is transported to 1955, the movie depends on the story and the characters to carry it, and not on special effects or CGI. And the characters delivered. Crispin Glover is a weird guy and no one else could have played the role of George McFly. He was a coward that Marty helped to find his backbone. He not only ensured that he and Lorraine (Lea Thompson) would get married, but he made their future better. Thompson was great as Marty’s mom, even though it was creepy that she tries to “get with” Marty….**shiver**.

And who can forget Thomas F. Wilson as the big bully, Biff Tannen? Everyone has known a Biff in their life. He’s the guy that thinks he’s the greatest at everything, but he’s just a tiny weasel in a big suit.

Fox and Lloyd hold this movie together. Even though there was an age difference, they are one of the best comedy duos of all time. They have a chemistry between them that worked not only in this film but was the best part of the two sequels that came later. It seems so strange to find out that Fox almost didn’t play Marty. Eric Stoltz was originally cast because Fox was busy making Family Ties. They nearly filmed the entire movie with Stoltz in the lead but just realized that the chemistry wasn’t there, and the movie wasn’t working. They were able to work out a deal with NBC to get Fox at night and on the weekends. They reshot almost the whole film. If that had not happened, then this series would not be the well-loved classic that it is today.

I quote this movie so much it’s accepted by my family as part of my dialogue. How many times have I gotten into a car and said “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”? It’s a number that is too high to attain. “This is heavy” is a staple of mine as well.

And, yes, the paradox stuff doesn’t quite work out. We know that if you changed history and it was something that caused you to not exist that it would be pretty instantaneous. You wouldn’t watch a picture of your family slowly fade and then see your fingers and hand disappear. But this is a family comedy, not a straight-up sci-fi film, so it works.

So today I’d have to say that Back To The Future is not only my favorite time travel movie of all time, but it is the most defining movie for me that came from 1985.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

45 Movies For 45 Days: 1984

By 1984 I was old enough to notice there might be some good TV shows and movies that didn’t involve cartoon animals and Muppets of various sizes. I spent hours in front of the television in the company of Sesame Street and Captain Kangaroo. But I started to pay attention a little more often when my parents watched their shows. I started noticing things like The Incredible Hulk and The Dukes Of Hazzard. Live-action entertainment was beginning to pique my interest.

And it was a pretty good year for live-action movies. Indiana Jones was exploring the Temple Of Doom, theaters were full of Gremlins, and the crew of the Enterprise was back in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock.

Several of the movies that came out in 1984 are on my list of some of the best ever. One of these days I'll make my top 100 list and all of the ones I just mentioned will probably be there. 1984 also had Beverly Hills Cop, The Karate Kid, Police Academy, Footloose, Romancing The Stone, and Splash. All are fantastic movies, in my opinion. Some of them spawned franchises. Some are classics today. But one film released in 1984 affected my childhood more than any of the others…

Ghostbusters.

I didn’t see the movie until after it had been out for a couple of years. I remember that my dad was going to watch it when it aired on HBO a few months after it had left theaters and invited me to watch it with him. But seeing the lady in the library burst into a scary monster was all that my seven-year-old eyes had to see to realize that it wasn’t the movie for me. I hid in my room until he called me back a couple of hours later to show me the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man rampaging New York City. That did get my attention, but not enough for me to brave that monster again. At least not for a while.

It was a year or so before The Real Ghostbusters started coming on TV on Saturday mornings. I started watching that cartoon from the first episode. I loved every second of it. The idea of a group of men that could battle ghosts with proton beams captured my imagination. I had my mom buy me action figures for my birthday and made up my own stories. I bought myself a proton pack with a beam made of Nerf and ran around in the woods behind my house pretending to be on an adventure with Peter, Egon, Ray, and Winston. Slimer was always hovering over my shoulder, waiting to eat every crumb I might have dropped on the ground.

I was a full-on Ghosthead. And I had never watched the movie.

It wasn’t until the announcement of Ghostbusters 2 that I finally got brave enough to give the original another shot. I went to the local video store and rented it. I was probably 10 or 11 at this point. So when I saw that library ghost this time, she was not nearly as scary. I didn’t even think she looked real. I let out a deep and satisfying sigh of relief, sat back, and enjoyed one of the best movies ever made.

Ghostbusters is a paranormal, science fiction, horror-themed film. But, first and foremost, it is a comedy. They could have made a scary version of this same story, but the decision to make it funny and fill it with actors that had cut their teeth on Saturday Night Live was genius. It gives us a jumping-in point with the audience because we know that this stuff isn’t real. It doesn't even look real on the screen. By making it funny, we forgive some of the less than stunning special effects.

Not that all the effects are bad. Some of them are pretty good for 1984 standards. Stay Puft looked as real as he could. The images of some of the ghosts that escaped and ran loose in the city looked pretty good. The two gargoyles didn’t look great. They were going for a whole Harryhausen kind of stop-go animation that I never thought looked quite right even at the time. And it completely takes my kids out of the movie today.

The characters make up for so much of that. We know exactly who these guys are from the very beginning. The personalities of Peter, Ray, and Egon, played by Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, and Harold Ramis, were telegraphed so well that they each filled a needed slot. We had the brain, the tech guy, and the street smart. Dana and Louis, played by Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis, were also great. Moranis adds the comedy sidekick character that he has always done so well.

The one character that I felt for was Winston, played by Ernie Hudson. He was intended to be played by Eddie Murphy. Hudson stepped in after Murphy bailed. He thought he was one of the main characters throughout the movie. Eventually, his character was re-written so that he appeared halfway through the film and given only a handful of lines. Hudson took a bit of a hit with that. But, to his credit, he’s the one that still makes himself available at Ghostbusters events whenever he can.

So, as far as sci-fi/horror it lacks some substance. The story is pretty simple and would be weak if taken seriously. But the fact that this is the bottom layer of a cake in which the top layer is a comedy works just fine. It takes the edge off and makes it so that even though we’re watching the fate of the city, as well as that of the world, we’re having a good time.

It was followed by a sequel a few years later that takes a lot of flak I don’t think it deserves. How often do you get a sequel that compares to the original? Not very often. But it was fun.

And then there is the story of the 2016 reboot that got its legs knocked out from under them before given a chance to stand up. I went to see it in the theater. It was not the terrible movie the critics make it out to be. It was funny and a lot of fun. It doesn’t compare to the original, but I never expected it to. I hope that they get a chance to do another one, but that may be hoping for a lot.

So, in a year when so many of my favorite movies were released, I can say that only one had as big of an impact on who I am as this one. Ghostbusters will always be my favorite 1984 film. It possibly makes my top ten list. Maybe one day I’ll make that list and find out.