Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Next "Wave" in Animation: Classic Cartoons Go to the Beach


By Michael Lyons


It's August, time to ignore those "Back-to-School" commercials and remember that it's still summer.  Oh sure, everyone wants to start picking out just the right sweater and add pumpkin spice to everything, but it's still sweltering outside, people!

Let's hold on to these glorious warm weather months for as long as possible and head to the beach!  And, to get us in the right mood, like an animation sommelier, what follows is just the right pairing of classic cartoons to accompany your trip to the sea shore.

Here are some brief trips to the beach, featuring iconic characters from the golden age of animation, when litter wasn't allowed on the sand, but good ol' fashioned cartoon sight gags were permitted.

 Beach Picnic (Disney, 1939)

When it comes to classic Disney Donald Duck cartoons, they don't come more iconic than this.

With Pluto in tow, Donald, in his full-piece, old-fashioned bathing suit, and straw hat, embarks on a day at the beach.  They are both met with the standard frustrations, as Donald's inflatable beach toy (a horse he's nicknamed Seabiscuit) misbehaves, and an army of ants make short work of the multi-course spread of picnic food that Donald has displayed on his beach blanket.

Among the richly designed Disney comedic moments, there is an excellent sequence in which Pluto gets stuck to fly paper.  Then, of course, Donald's frustrations and tantrums are relatable to all of us who have embarked on a day at the beach this summer.

 Wackiki Rabbit (Warner Bros, 1943)

As far from Beach Picnic as you can get is this Merrie Melodies outing with Bugs Bunny.

Two castaways (voiced by story artists Michael Maltese and Tedd Pierce) are stranded at sea, floating on a raft, and starving.  They drift onto the shore of a small island with one inhabitant: Bugs Bunny.

The two men then spend the remainder of the cartoon attempting to eat Bugs, and the Bunny uses his smart-aleck wit to get the best of them continually.

Directed by animation icon Chuck Jones (billed here as Charles M. Jones), Wackiki Rabbit features his trademark, perfectly timed comedy (Bugs speaks as an island native in what seems like a long speech but translates to: "What's up, Doc?").  There's also that classic, cannibalistic cartoon gag where characters are so ravenous they begin to imagine each other as food.

Wackiki Rabbit also features beautifully stylized backgrounds by layout and background artists John McGrew, Gene Fleury and Bernyce Polifka which have a Polynesian and breezy summer flair.

 Beach Peach (Famous Studios, 1950)

"Oh, Popeye!  The beach just sands me!" says Olive Oyl at the start of this Popeye cartoon, where the two love birds embark on a day at the beach.  All is serene until the lifeguard (who sounds like Bluto but is blonde and a little more fit than Popeye's usual nemesis) spends the remainder of the cartoon attempting to steal Olive away from Popeye.

Is there the standard finale with Popeye downing his spinach and getting the best of the lifeguard?  There sure is, and here the sailor man even turns himself into a torpedo to do in his enemy.

Some solid gags follow, like Popeye tripping into setting up his place on the sand or a lifeguard having so little to do that he's drinking beer and watching TV.  Beach Peach may be a traditional Popeye outing, but it manages a few nice, satirical jabs at the perfect day at the beach.


Muscle Beach Tom (MGM, 1956)


In glorious, widescreen Cinemascope comes this Tom & Jerry short, where Tom attempts to impress his girlfriend by taking her to the beach.  However, when he disrupts Jerry's day, the expected fight between the two ensues.

Additionally, one of the weightlifting cats on the muscle beach gets into it with Tom.  There's the usual cartoon violence that follows, but also a good amount of clever sight gags.  The opening shot of a non-stop array of cats attempting to lift weights in several ways is very well done.

The animation here is also fully realized as the gags play out in Muscle Beach Tom against some beautifully rendered beach backgrounds by the studio's masterful artist Robert Gentle.


Although these classic shorts may take place in the unrealistic world of cartoons, each has the same to say about how we all revel in the relaxation that comes with a day at the beach.  Let's soak it up while we still can before those Halloween costumes arrive in stores.


Happy August to all!


 My book, Drawn to Greatness: Disney's Animation Renaissance is now available on Amazon!

Enjoy more of my articles and podcasts at my website, Words From Lyons




Thursday, July 21, 2022

Inside Job: Remembering "Innerspace" 35 Years Later

 By Michael Lyons

Innerspace should have been a blockbuster.  Produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Joe (Gremlins) Dante, the film was high-concept, combining science fiction and comedy, starring one of film's most likable actors and a loveable comedian who was starting to dabble in movies.

Additionally, it was released at the height of the summer movie season, it felt like a summer-escapist movie, and it was the '80s, the golden age of summer movies.  But, opening on July 1, 1987, just in time for the big Independence Day weekend, Innerspace came in at number three, behind the comic adaptation of the classic TV series Dragnet, the Stanley Kubrick Vietnam War drama Full Metal Jacket and just ahead of a re-issue of Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

There have been a lot of "Monday morning quarterbacks" reviewing what happened to Innerspace. Some felt that the marketing for the film just didn't do it justice.  Trailers and commercials sold the film as a wacky, slapstick comedy, and posters positioned it more as a wondrous fantasy (a picture of a thumb and forefinger, with a miniature vehicle and tiny person, and the tag line: "An Adventure of Incredible Proportions").

Others felt that the script was somewhat "all over the place," with moments of wild comedy, comic-book-like villains, and an unnecessarily heavy plot.

The story of Innerspace seems pretty straightforward: a test pilot named Tuck Pendleton (Dennis Quaid) agrees to participate in an experiment where he and a spaceship-like vessel are to be miniaturized and injected into a rabbit to see what future applications this could have for doctors and medicine.

Of course, all goes wrong, and, instead, Tuck is accidentally injected into the body of an anxious, hypochondriacal grocery store employee, Jack Putter (Martin Short).  As they are quite literally stuck with each other, the two must find a way to get Tuck out of Jack before the film's villains, looking to steal the new technology, get to them. 

Innerspace has enough creativity to fill several movies.  Although not on screen together for most of the film, Quaid and Short have great chemistry, which helps create a strong bond between the two disparate characters.

Short is also at his most fearless, comedic best here and was the perfect choice for the worrisome Jack.  As Tuck devises a way to communicate with Jack from within his body, Jack's realization in a doctor's office that he may be possessed is still a hysterical highlight of the film.

Also, a highlight is the Oscar-winning special effects of Innerspace.  Bringing everything from the bloodstream to stomach acid to the heart to larger-than-life must not have been easy in the era of practical effects.  How this film did it is still a wonder to behold.

The supporting cast includes Meg Ryan as Tuck's love interest, Lydia, who adds sweetness and a romantic "love triangle" of sorts to the proceedings, and character actors Kevin McCarthy, Fiona Lewis, Robert Picardo, and Vernon Wells make for perfect, over-the-top villains.

It all comes together in a movie that's as enjoyable as movies get, and it's a shame that Innerspace was somewhat dismissed when it was released. Anniversaries of films always help to right old wrongs like this, and, as this summer marks thirty-five years since the release of Innerspace, it's the perfect time to, once again, go on the "fantastic voyage" this movie provides.

 When it was released on Blu-Ray in 2015, director Joe Dante, like so many, looked back fondly on his film when talking with the website Cinema Retro, saying that Innerspace was "probably the movie that I had made up to then that was the closest to my intention.  As a result, I was very happy with it.  When I look at it today, I still think it's a tremendous amount of fun."


My book Drawn to Greatness: Disney's Animation Renaissance is now available on Amazon!

Visit my website Words From Lyons for more of my articles and podcasts.


Thursday, July 7, 2022

Steamy Cinema: Hollywood's Heatwave

 By Michael Lyons


"The best thing about a heat wave is constantly having the illusion you're getting exercise." - Unknown


Remember a few months ago when you complained about how chilly it was.  Not anymore, right?  Some areas that usually get snow for Memorial Day are sweltering.

While movies about cooler climates might seem like a great antidote, it could be a fun time to revel in the whole "misery loves company" mind frame and take a look back at just some of the many movies that have used heat waves at their backdrops (and a number of them take place in New York).

Here are some movies that have turned up the heat:


Rear Window (1954)

Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece.  Jimmy Stewart is a photojournalist recovering from a broken leg and confined to his apartment in Greenwich Village in New York City during a summer heatwave.

With nothing to do but stare out his window and watch the neighbors through their windows, he begins to believe that his neighbor may have murdered their wife.

Co-starring Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr, and the fantastic courtyard movie set, Hitchcock makes another character in the film.  

Rear Window is not just one of the director's best and one of the best thrillers ever; it's a great "snapshot in time" of life in major cities before air conditioning was so common in summer (anyone for a nice snooze on their fire escapes?).


The Long, Hot Summer (1958)

The title says it all.  Based on stories from William Faulkner, this tale of Mississippi in the summer provides the backdrop for the tumultuous relationships of the Varner family.  A fantastic cast, including Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Orson Welles, and Angela Lansbury, perfectly directed by Martin Ritt, easily makes this pure Hollywood gold.

In the Heat of the Night (1967)

Another iconic Hollywood classic uses a sweltering summer southern heat wave as a backdrop and metaphor.  Sidney Poitier is Virgil Tibbs, a police detective from Philadelphia who winds up investigating a murder in a small Mississippi town, clashing with the local police chief, played by Rod Stieger.  The two leads are incredible as they move from clashing adversaries to understanding allies. Throughout it all, director Norman Jewison's film is still relevant today.  

The Odd Couple (1968)

Alright, so maybe it's only the first act of the movie that takes place during a heat wave, but after that, you get the brilliant Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon as Felix and Oscar in this classic adaptation of Neil Simon's play about a slob and a neat freak, forced to live together after their divorces.

The opening heat wave scenes are hysterical, as Oscar has his poker buddies over for the weekly game when his air conditioner is broken.  Neil Simon's comedy gold follows: "Why don't we chip in three dollars a piece and buy another window?,” says one of the poker buddies. “How can you breathe in here?!"  And the rest of the film features summer in Manhattan as a backdrop.

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Al Pacino is brilliant as a jittery bank robber who attempts to knock over the First Brooklyn Savings Bank on a sweltering summer day.  With outstanding supporting performances from John Cazale, James Broderick, Chris Sarandon, and Charles Durning, director Sidney Lumet has made a film that is tense, dramatic, funny, and almost documentary-like (particularly the feel of city summer heat).  What's most incredible is that it's based on a true story, and the "Attica!" scene is still one of the golden moments of 70s filmmaking.

Body Heat (1981)

Writer and director Lawrence Kasdan's brilliant thriller turns up the heat in many ways.  A throwback to Hollywood's golden age of noir thrillers, the film tells the story of a slick attorney (William Hurt) who gets involved with a wealthy businessman's wife (Kathleen Turner).

With its South Florida setting, there's plenty of steaminess here.  The two lead stars are great, and the conclusion is still a marvel of the "twist ending." 


Do the Right Thing (1989)

It's incredible how both of-it's-time and prescient this thirty-three-year-old film is.  Spike Lee's masterpiece is about one day, on one block in Brooklyn, during a heat wave, during which racial tensions explode as the temperature rises.

This rare film delivers on so many emotional levels and becomes more of a revelation each time one watches it.


Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)

Bruce Willis' third outing as rogue police officer John McClane, trying to stop a mad bomber (Jeremy Irons) from destroying Manhattan and bringing along a reluctant citizen (a hilarious and sharp Samuel L. Jackson) in the process.

And New York City, in all its heat wave stickiness, is again the backdrop, complete with the Lovin' Spoonfuls hit song "Summer in the City" playing over the opening credits.



And these are just a few of the many heat wave movies out there.  So, when the summer temperatures become unbearable, let the movies bear it for you by heading inside, turning on the air conditioner to its "Arctic" setting, and enjoying one or all of these Hollywood heat wave films.

Stay cool, everyone!

My book, Drawn to Greatness: Disney's Animation Renaissance is now available on Amazon!

Enjoy more of my articles and podcasts at my website, Words From Lyons





Thursday, June 30, 2022

Programmed for Patriotism: Classic Sitcoms Celebrate the Fourth of July

Left to right: Sofia Vergara and Ed O'Neil in
the "I Love a Parade" episode of Modern Family.

By Michael Lyons

How did our favorite TV shows spend their summer vacation?  Usually, we wouldn't have an answer to that, as summer is typically relegated to a line-up of reruns from the past season.

However, there have been several sitcoms through the years that not only provided a glimpse into summer for the show's popular characters but also let us see how they celebrated that most iconic summer holiday, The Fourth of July.

As we head into Independence Day weekend, here is a look back at just some of the popular shows that took time out for some patriotic programs set against The Fourth of July.


Happy Days, "Home Movies," 1981

In this episode from one of the last seasons of Happy Days (and a rare, two-part season episode at that!), Joanie (Erin Moran) makes a narrated home movie to send to her brother Richie, who is away in the army (Ron Howard had exited the show at this point).

Her movie is a look back at the summer of 1962 and all that's happened.  The "big news" is that she and Chachi (Scott Baio) have broken up.  This is where July 4th comes into play, as Joanie has to work at a beach concession stand on the Fourth, leaving Chachi alone to watch the fireworks, where he meets another girl...and the early '80s sitcom "drama" goes on from there.

While it may not be the most well-remembered of the Happy Days episodes, as is the case with many in the latter seasons, "Home Movies" revels in its July fourth and summer setting, filled with bar-b-ques, beaches, and plenty of innocence that reflects, not just the summer of '62 when the show takes place, but the overall, consistent tone of Happy Days itself.


Saved by the Bell, "Fourth of July," 1991

Speaking of innocence, there's this episode of Saturday morning's most popular sitcom, centering on the teens from Bayside High. Zach (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) and his friends get summer jobs at the Malibu Sands Beach Club.

For July Fourth, there will be a Miss Liberty Beauty Pageant, and Zach will be one of the judges which brings up his plight.  His friends Kelly (Tiffani Amber-Thiessen), Jessie (Elizabeth Berkley), and Lisa (Lark Vorhies) will be competing against Stacey (Leah Remini), daughter of the Malibu Club's owner and manager, Mr. Carosi (the voice of Lion King's Pumbaa himself, Ernie Sabella). 


Like all episodes of this show, it ain't deep, but the 90s nostalgia is on full display, as are some heavy July 4th vibes, reflected mainly in the pageant.  I'd vote for Jessie and her fantastic cosplay of the Statue of Liberty and Lisa for her passionate speech about how July 4th means sales at all of the stores. 


The Wonder Years, "Independence Day," 1993

More of a "dramedy" than a sitcom, The Wonder Years always blended humor with emotion and drama, and this episode, set on July Fourth, is no different.

This served as the series finale and the very last show.  Kevin (Fred Savage) leaves home and works at a resort, where his long-time girlfriend Winnie (Danica McKellar) is working.  The two argue and break up when he sees Winnie kissing another guy.

After events lead to both of them being fired from the resort, they end up reconciling and heading back to their hometown, just in time for the Fourth of July parade.

It's here that the voice of adult Kevin, the narrator (Daniel Stern), reflects on how he realized just how important his family and friends are, during that last July Fourth in his hometown, before heading off to college.

In the final shot, as the sun fades, street lights blink on, fireworks fill the sky, and the narrator looks back on his childhood; The Wonder Years does what it always did so well, fill our hearts and minds with wonder.


Modern Family, "I Love a Parade," 2018

We've seen how hysterical and out of control so many holidays can be for the Pritchetts and the Dunphys, and the Fourth of July is no different.

Jay (Ed O'Neill) and Gloria (Sofia Vergara) are huge fans of Independence Day, which gets even better as Jay is selected as grand marshall for the town's Fourth of July parade.

Among the other stories running concurrently with this is a sub-plot about Phil (Ty Burell) training his son Luke (Nolan Gould) for the annual hot dog eating contest.

Does the parade, the contest, or anything else in the episode go as planned?  It's Modern Family, so of course, it doesn't, but, as always, a very sweet message emerges.

And through it all, there's plenty of July Fourth spirit. As Jay states in the episode, "It's the perfect holiday.  You get to cook outside, blow stuff up, and wear shorts.  Easter should be taking notes."


And whether you elect to do one, or all of these things this Fourth of July weekend, here's hoping that one or all of these episodes help you enjoy the holiday.


Wishing everyone a Safe and Happy Independence Day!

My book Drawn to Greatness: Disney's Animation Renaissance is now available on Amazon!

Enjoy more of my articles and podcasts at Words From Lyons






Thursday, June 23, 2022

On The Right Track: The 45th Anniversary of "Rollercoaster!"


By Michael Lyons 

"Somewhere in the crowd is a killer who can turn their smiles into screams." - Original movie poster for Rollercoaster


This tag line for Rollercoaster sums up the film, sets the stage for this thriller perfectly, and reflects the decade in which it was made.  Emerging from a period of disaster movies and into an era where summer movies would reign supreme, Rollercoaster was lost in the "Star Wars summer" of 1977 but has emerged in the forty-five years since its release as a highly entertaining film.  

In Rollercoaster, Timothy Bottoms stars as a mysterious unnamed man who is terrorizing amusement parks by planting explosive devices on the tracks of rollercoasters.  After detonating one in the film's shocking opener, the authorities begin an investigation.

This brings in safety inspector Harry Calder (George Segal), who the mysterious bomber begins communicating with.  Harry gets pulled into the investigation and caught between the FBI and the anonymous psychopath.

Rollercoaster unfurls, not in an action-packed manner, but instead like a tightly-wound thriller, effectively directed by James Goldstone.  The destruction of the roller coaster in the opening sequence is staged in a disquieting, gripping way that immediately pulls the audience into the film.

Later scenes in the film, including one where the bomber communicates with Calder via an earpiece and forces him to make his way through a litany of rides in an amusement park, and another moment near the end of the film, where a S.W.A.T. team attempts to disarm a bomb, unfurl with Hitchcock-like tension.

Adding to these sequences is that Rollercoaster filmed much of the film on location at amusement parks like Virginia's Kings Dominion (where Hanna-Barbera's costumed characters make several cameos) and California's Magic Mountain (the film's gripping July 4th climax).

Through it all, Segal gives an excellent, "everyman" performance, adding a dose of great, cynical humor and sparring with the film's authority figures (and Hollywood acting legends), such as his boss, Simon (Henry Fonda in an extended cameo) and FBI Agent Hoyt (Richard Widmark, as grizzled perfection).

Rollercoaster opened on June 10, 1977, and was released in "Sensurround."  This short-lived sound system from Universal Studios was introduced with 1974's Earthquake. With "Sensurround," large sound speakers were installed in theaters that would enhance the sound in certain scenes of the film through a variety of technical methods, creating louder sounds that the audience would "feel," as well as hear, and would surround the movie goer, as well.

During specific sequences in Rollercoaster involving, the rollercoasters featured in the film, the audience would get the sensation of riding the rollercoaster with the characters, thanks to the booming audio trickery of "Sensurround."

Creating an "experience" for moviegoers, coupled with the setting of amusement parks, Rollercoaster seems as if it would have been just what summer movie audiences wanted. But, in June of '77, Star Wars seemingly steamrolled over all other competition at the box office.

This, coupled with mixed to negative reviews from critics, led to a modest box-office success (and eventually Universal eventually got out of the "Sensurround" business).

It was showings on cable and home video in subsequent years that led to a following for Rollercoaster, particularly from film fans who are aficionados of this era of film.

If it has slipped off or has never been on your radar (particularly as a movie that themes perfectly for summer), celebrate the forty-fifth anniversary of Rollercoaster by pressing "play," then lower the lap bar, keep your arms inside the car at all times and enjoy the ride!

Enjoy more of my articles and podcasts at Words From Lyons !

My new book, Drawn to Greatness: Disney's Animation Renaissance is now available on Amazon!




Thursday, June 9, 2022

Reel Memories: Looking Back at the Summer Movie Season of 1982, Forty Years Later


By Michael Lyons

The 1980s was a true "Golden Age" for summer movies.  The Jaws and Star Wars summers of the '70s gave way to a decade during which Hollywood realized that the warm weather months could be the bread and butter that made studio accountants extremely happy.

And, as the '80s started, these same studios held their most significant films, by some of their most talented directors, starring some of the screen's biggest names, for summer.

The result was some of the biggest films of all time, now all drenched in the soft glow of nostalgic popularity, most of which came out during the summer and many of which came out during the summer of 1982.

There were so many defining summers for summer movies during this decade, and deference must be paid to the summer movie season of 1982.  

From May through August that year, audiences could go to see not one but two sequels to two of the most famous film franchises of all time; the first feature to extensively use computer animation; several landmark science fiction films; Don Bluth's first animated feature; Arnold Schwarzenegger's first starring role; Ron Howard's first major studio film as a director; and not one, but two Steven Spielberg films, with one going on to become the most popular and one of the most beloved films of all time.

It all happened forty years ago this summer.  And the movie season was kicked-off with two stars who would become the biggest names in action over the next decade.



The month of May saw summer (or at least the summer movie season) start early on May 14th, with the release of Conan the Barbarian.  An eagerly anticipated adaptation of the stories by Robert E. Howard, the film would mark the first feature role for Arnold Schwarzenegger and signal the start of a career that would make him an action star.  Many consider it his best and defining role, and Conan the film, released smack-dab in the '80s sword-and-sorcery movie fad, is still one of the best of that short-lived genre.

Memorial Day Weekend of 1982 saw the return of one of the film's most iconic characters with  Rocky III.  Sylvester Stallone returned in the role that made him a star, and also as wrote and directed this third outing.  With an opponent named Clubber Lang, played with ferocity by Mr. T, who would become one of the decade's most emblematic figures.  Rocky III is a smartly crafted continuation of the Balboa saga, with a commentary on fame and an inspirational message about how it's never too late for a comeback that still resonates four decades later.

Want more from 1982's May at the movies?  How about the big-screen adaptation of Annie (directed by John Huston!) and Steve Martin in Carl Reiner's underrated, creative comedy Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, which featured the comedian "spliced into" classic Hollywood film noir.

This was followed by a month that truly made 1982 a "Spielberg Summer."


This month started with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, a sequel that many feel saved the franchise.  While Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a hit, many were disappointed in it.  Still, there was enough there to warrant a second launch of the Enterprise.

Wrath of Kahn brought back the camaraderie that so many loved from the series, adding a healthy dose of humor, Ricardo Montalban as a fantastic villain (and a great connection to the TV show), and an emotional message ("The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few").

With Wrath of KahnStar Trek really did feel like a motion picture!

Opening the same day was a movie that would forever change our perception of the "haunted house" plot paradigm.  Poltergeist, as the poster read, definitely knew what "scared us," telling the story of a family (parents Craig T. Nelson and Jobeth Williams are so perfectly believable) who find their new California suburban home haunted by the titular beings, vengeful ghosts caught between our world and the next.

Produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Tobe Hooper (which is still a legendary Hollywood "behind-the-scenes" story), Poltergeist was upfront in its scares, combining the realism of William Friedkin's Exorcist with an otherworldly flair that became a Spielberg staple.

The result was a movie that continues to jolt audiences and inspires filmmakers (most notably James Wan, who has taken this to the next level), with iconic scenes as soon as one mentions them (clown doll hiding under your bed?).  Poltergeist also gave us the chilling line that entered the lexicon, "They're here!"

This could have also referred to a new generation of summer movies and blockbusters that would continue to make film history, particularly one week after Poltergeist when another Spielberg film debuted.

E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial opened on June 11, 1982, to gushing critical praise and lines at movie box offices that hadn't been seen since the summer of Star Wars in 1977. The story of a "boy and his alien," young Elliot and the otherworldly E.T., who wants to go "home," was a once-in-a-generation movie. 

 And, if you were lucky enough to see it in theaters during the summer of '82, you knew it.

Not since the days of Disney's classics like Pinocchio, or MGM's Wizard of Oz, had a movie so connected with our emotions, and not since George Lucas' Star Wars, Spielberg's Jaws, or the pair's Raiders of the Lost Ark, from recent summers, had such excitement been felt at a movie.

This writer still has a memory that rings in his mind of the rainy day, packed house at the Smithtown Movie Theater, bursting into applause as E.T.'s spaceship streaks a rainbow across the sky at the end of the film.

The impact of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial can, obviously, in no way, be understated these four decades later.  This rare film soared beyond the screen and has secured a place in our hearts and minds that we save for those elusive "bests of all time."

As critic Roger Ebert wrote: "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is a reminder of what movies are for.  Most movies are not for any one thing, of course.  Some are to make us think, some to make us feel, some to take us away from our problems, and some to help us examine them.  What is enchanting about E.T. is that, in some measure, it does all of those things."

Not long after E.T. hit theaters, another influential film debuted.  At the time, the film underperformed but is today considered a groundbreaking science fiction feat, and that was Blade Runner.  Director Ridley Scott quickly established his "style" with this rain-drenched, Tokyo-inspired, neon-infused vision of the future.  

A slowly-paced film starring one of the summer movie stars of the decade, Harrison Ford, Blade Runner would introduce us to terms like "neo-noir" and "cyberpunk" and become a fantastic cult favorite that creative generations are still examining.

Equally influential was director John Carpenter's re-imagining of The Thing.  A remake of the 1951 black-and-white B movie, The Thing from Another World (which was very influential for Carpenter), the film told the gruesome tale of a helicopter pilot (Kurt Russell) and a team of researchers in Antarctica who are overtaken by a parasitic lifeform.

The Thing featured gut-churning but incredibly compelling effects by Rob Bottin, astonishing in their pre-CGI-practicality.  Initially, a box-office failure, The Thing is now considered a gold standard of sci-fi and horror.

And so, the summer movie season of 1982 headed into July, where a groundbreaking film pointed toward the future of movies.


In the summer of 1982, a young animator named John Lasseter sat in a movie theater in wide-eyed wonder, knowing that he had seen his future path in animation.  The someday Pixar founding member and creator of such landmarks as Toy Story was watching Tron.

In July of 1982, the film certainly did lay the early groundwork for what was to come in the movie industry.  Telling the story of human computer programmers who find themselves inside a video game, Tron didn't wow critics and audiences with its story. Still, its extensive use of computer animation was a true harbinger of all that was to come.

Although not initially successful, it was a landmark film in that it was an early glimpse into the movie world we live in today, as CGI is now such a mainstay of every production.

Another animator, Don Bluth, had a seminal moment in July of 1982.  The animator who led a walk-out from Disney, wanting to chart a new course for animation, got that chance with The Secret of NIMH.

A dark tale of laboratory mice, NIMH brought a definite Disney look but different sensibilities, signaling Bluth as a significant player in animation, which would continue through the decade.

July of '82 was also prime time for some comedies that deserve a revisit while forgotten through the years.  These include the Broadway musical adaptation, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, starring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton, and director Garry Marshall's Airplane-like send-up of soap operas, Young Doctors in Love.

Then, there was Night Shift, Ron Howard's first major studio film as a director, which probably ranks as one of the most underrated comedies of the decade.  Two third shift employees of a New York City morgue - a mild-mannered introvert (Henry Winkler) and a loud-mouth ner do well (Michael Keaton) - find themselves working as pimps operating out of that morgue.

Night Shift is more than just this off-beat, funny concept; it's an all-around funny film with terrific characters, moments, development, and a scene-stealing, star-making turn from Keaton.

This month also saw an eagerly awaited adaptation with The World According to Garp.  From the best-selling John Irving novel, the film starred Robin Williams (in his first role that allowed him to display his acting and comedic skills) as a writer who leads quite the eccentric and, at times, tragic life.

As the summer of 1982 headed into the August finale, the summer movie season still had a few hits up its sleeve.


Just in time for back-to-school came Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  Chronicling a year for students at the titular high school, director Amy Heckerling's comedy (from a script by Cameron Crowe) is also a poignant, coming-of-age story that introduced the world to the talents of Sean Penn, as lovable stoner surfer Jeff Spicoli and allowed a generation to fall in love with actress Phoebe Cates.

This summer, there was room for drama with the now-iconic, An Officer and a Gentleman.  Richard Gere plays Zach Mayo, who struggles through training as a US Navy Aviation Officer, conflicting with a tough Sergeant, played by Louis Gossett, Jr., in an Oscar-winning role.

An Officer and a Gentleman was a late-summer box office success, with the film's hit Academy Award-winning song "Up Where We Belong" heard on radios for the rest of the year, and the film provided this summer with a romantic, happy ending.

Reflecting on the Summer Movie Season of 1982

It was quite the four months, filled with movies that still echo in the halls of motion picture history, pop culture fanaticism, and nostalgic warmth.

Sure, there would be plenty of super movie summers ahead, such as the '84 summer of Ghostbusters and the Batman summer of '89.  And the parade of mammoth warm weather movies would continue well into the '90s with behemoths like Jurassic Park and The Lion King.

But, forty years ago this summer, moviegoers were in the midst of an amazing "Golden Age" that still shines just as bright today.


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