One of the most iconic films of the 1980s premiered this weekend, 28 years ago. In today’s Journal, we look at the films that were released on the weekend of July 5-7, 1985: BACK TO THE FUTURE, RED SONJA, THE EMERALD FOREST and PUMPING IRON II: THE WOMEN.
SCOTT’S FILM GEEK JOURNAL – ENTRY 52
BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985) – Do I really need to go through this? Do I really need to relate the plot to BACK TO THE FUTURE? Is there anyone reading this now that hasn’t seen this film at least a half dozen times?
Well, maybe there is, so here goes (and there will be spoilers for any shut-ins who have not watched the adventures of Marty McFly yet). Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is a high school student embarrassed by his conservative mother (Lea Thompson) and his cowardly, nerdy father (Crispin Glover). He is pushed around everywhere he goes and not even Huey Lewis wants to listen to his music. His only friend is the eccentric scientist Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd). One night, Brown unveils his greatest invention, a time machine fitted into a Delorean. After some major events I won’t go into here, Marty winds up accidentally transporting himself back to 1955. Once there, he meets his parents when they were young. His father is still a bullied nerd, but one who hasn’t yet let live completely crush his spirit. His mother turns out to be a bit hot to trot, which is a big problem since she starts falling for Marty. Since this isn’t a Tea Party porno, Marty decides that sleeping with his mom might not be the best thing in the world. Instead, he needs to hook her up with his future dad, or he will never be born.
BACK TO THE FUTURE is a film pretty much everyone loves. We love it so much that we forgive its flaws. Will anyone notice that Calvin Klein has vanished off the face of the earth? What will people say when fashions start matching the clothes Klein was wearing, right down to the eponymous underwear? Will Mr. and Mrs. McFly be a little alarmed when their son looks and sounds exactly like their old 1955 acquaintance? What about Biff? I mean sure, it’s nice to have him at your beck and call, but he also tried to rape Mrs. McFly. It’s not the type of thing most people would shrug off.
None of this matters when it comes to this film. BACK TO THE FUTURE does so many things right in such a refreshing way that all serious criticism goes out the window. Robert Zemeckis created a wonderfully paced film with great characters, edge-of-your-seat action, comedic writing and dazzling originality. What more needs to be said? ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)
THE EMERALD FOREST (1985) – Based on a true story (well, kind of), John Boorman’s film tells of a family of American developers who are settling into the Amazon rainforest, bringing civilization to an untapped area. One day, their young son is abducted by a tribe within the rainforest. The father (Powers Boothe) searches the jungle for ten years, in hopes of finding what happened to his son. He finds him grown into a young man (played by the director’s son, Charley Boorman), a respected member of the tribe that took him. He discovers that the boy has assimilated into the tribe and only remembers his previous life as a dream. Unfortunately, a neighboring tribe of cannibals and continued deforestation threaten to destroy this tribe’s way of life for good.
THE EMERALD FOREST is a fascinating and still undiscovered gem of a film. It tells a captivating story, balanced nicely by Boothe’s greatest performance. Charley Boorman also does an incredible job as a young man existing in two worlds. The film is at its best showcasing the traditions, rituals and beliefs of the Amazonian tribes and Boothe’s pained realization that his son barely knows him anymore. The cinematography from Phillipe Rousselot (INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, SHERLOCK HOLMES, A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT) is also top-notch, aided by the fact that the film was actually shot in the Amazon rainforest. It has all the gorgeous splendor of a great epic and all the exotic fascination of a Werner Herzog film.
THE EMERALD FOREST manages to be at once a heartfelt drama, exciting adventure and poignant statement about the human cost of developing the Amazon rainforest. Please track this film down, you will not regret it. ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)
PUMPING IRON II: THE WOMEN (1985) – This sequel to the award-winning documentary is, like its predecessor, based on a book. This time, the focus is shifted to female bodybuilders who take the sport seriously enough to have it make up a large part of their life. In this film, the top women bodybuilders meet in Las Vegas to compete in the World Cup Championship. This film focuses on four women in particular, including: the returning champion, an up and comer from Newark, an Australian said to be perhaps the greatest female bodybuilder in the world and another woman who hopes that winning the championship will allow her to start a life with her fiance, a male exotic dancer.
For all the reputation these films have, the most interesting part of PUMPING IRON II is not the women’s bodies or how they achieve those amazing figures. What is interesting is their commentary on how they reject the idea that muscles are ugly on women, that there is not beauty in their form and how they navigate a world that doesn’t always understand this, that assumes instead that bodybuilding is another aspect of sexuality. Also, it’s refreshing to see the film address how even these sculpted amazon women are concerned with their families, futures and security. It puts a human face on a superhuman display.
Sadly, I wish I could say that this was enough to hold my interest throughout the film, but it wasn’t. A little of this film goes a long way and there just doesn’t seem to be much happening beyond the introduction of the characters and the actual competition – a competition that is pretty dull overall. It is hurt even more in that the conclusion turns out to be anti-climactic in a way I will not spoil here. It may have made an interesting 45 minute HBO special. But at over 100 minutes, it treads the same ground far too often. ★★ (out of ★★★★)
RED SONJA (1985) – Just one year after the disappointing CONAN THE DESTROYER, Dino De Laurentiis wrangled the same director to do a spin-off of the CONAN franchise. Sonja (Brigitte Nielsen, in her screen debut) is a young girl who is desired by the lesbian Queen Gedren (somehow I missed this key and sort of offensive plot point when I was ten years old). When Sonja disfigures Gedren rather than give into her carnal wishes, Gedren has her family killed and her house burnt to the ground. She prays for vengeance and her goddess (which by the way, is Scáthach, though the film does not mention it) appears and gives her the strength to be the greatest swordswoman in the world.
While Sonja is training with the finest masters at swordsmanship, her one remaining sister is killed while escaping another raid by Queen Gedren. This raid was a massacre of a temple of priestesses charged with protecting the Talisman – the very thing that is said to have created the world and the very thing that could destroy it if it’s power becomes too great. Gedren steals the Talisman and begins using it to destroy kingdoms and crush her subjects underfoot. Sonja teams up with the warrior Kalidor, the spoiled child Prince Tarn and the prince’s loyal keeper, in a quest to kill Queen Gedren and destroy the Talisman once and for all.
Looking at what I have just written, I see that my own description of the film’s plot is sloppy and occasionally nonsensical. But really, no more than the rest of the film. RED SONJA is a mess, even if it is an entertaining one. There are plenty of unintentional laughs to be had at the film’s expense. Whether it’s the terrible acting, the laughable creature effects or the ridiculous dialogue, RED SONJA has a lot to offer the bad movie connoisseur So, why doesn’t it get the good marks of other 1985 howlers like SUPERSTITION or HELLHOLE? Probably because those films were ordinary schlockfests and their goofiness made them better than they would have been without it. But RED SONJA did not have to be a bad movie.
I am a longtime fan of Conan and the assorted characters of Robert E. Howard (Red Sonja, by the way, is not a Howard character, but a Marvel Comics spin-off, loosely based on a Howard character, completely unrelated to the Conan mythos). Howard’s stories helped shape my love of pulp literature, just as old back issues of CONAN THE BARBARIAN, THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN and the like helped shape my love of fantasy and comics. The previous year had seen the burgeoning CONAN series take a major misstep by trying to appeal to a more family-friendly audience. Thus, John Milius’ incredible CONAN THE BARBARIAN was followed up by Richard Fleischer’s enjoyable but all wrong CONAN THE DESTROYER. Fleisher is back for the slightly more violent, yet even more insipid RED SONJA. The script by Clive Exton and George MacDonald Frasier is a mess, reeking of the same dismissive camp that plagued the scripts of Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
But look at the talent on display. Not only did they have an opportunity to correct the mistakes of CONAN THE DESTROYER, they managed to gather a cast that included Arnold Schwarzenegger (who insists he thought he was doing a cameo – B.S., since he’s obviously written to follow Sonja on her quest throughout), Sandahl Bergman (ALL THAT JAZZ, CONAN THE BARBARIAN), Paul Smith (MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, DUNE), Ronald Lacey (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) and Pat Roach (WILLOW). The score is a great contribution from Ennio Morricone. The art direction and production design is great.
And yet, the film looks cheap even though it cost only $1 million less than BACK TO THE FUTURE. The acting is terrible across the board. Nielsen is horrible in the lead. Bergman seems to be trying to squeeze some menace out of a character that has been reduced to pure camp. And most egregious of all is Ernie Reyes, Jr. (THE LAST DRAGON, SURF NINJAS) in what could be the most annoying role in a fantasy film until Jar-Jar came along. RED SONJA is entertaining and pretty, but a painful embarrassment. ★½ (out of ★★★★)
BOX OFFICE CHAMPS – JULY 5-7, 1985
1. BACK TO THE FUTURE (1,420 screens) $11.2 million ($14.7 million – 1st week)
2. PALE RIDER (1,710 screens) $7.0 million ($21.6 million – 2 weeks)
3. RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II (1,820 screens) $6.4 million ($118.3 million – 7 weeks)
4. COCOON (1,163 screens) $6.3 million ($31.6 million – 3 weeks)
5. THE EMERALD FOREST (1,110 screens) $4.3 million (1st week)
6. ST. ELMO’S FIRE (1,207 screens) $4.1 million ($14.1 million – 2 weeks)
7. THE GOONIES (1,673 screens) $3.9 million ($47.6 million – 5 weeks)
8. FLETCH (1,022 screens) $2.4 million ($40.0 million – 6 weeks)
9. RED SONJA (1,091 screens) $2.3 million (1st week)
10. PRIZZI’S HONOR (660 screens) $2.0 million ($17.2 million – 4 weeks)
source: Box Office Mojo
Number of films covered in the Journal so far: 239
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