When it hit theaters in 1980, “The Empire Strikes Back” changed everything. Yes, “Star Wars” was huge when it arrived three years earlier, but there had been blockbusters before. Movies like “Jaws,” “The Godfather” and “The Exorcist” drew record audiences and wowed the filmgoing world. But the reality we live in now, the one where every movie has a sequel pre-sold and any movie that goes into the black instantly becomes the foundation for a multi-film franchise? That’s the reality that “The Empire Strikes Back” spawned
If “The Wizard of Oz” weren’t a beloved family film based on a series of best-selling children’s books, it would be pretty damned weird. It still is, as a matter of fact. Think about it: You’ve got a teenage girl who’s whisked via tornado away from her dull (and sepia-toned) Kansas home into a magical (and colorful) world. Her house lands on a witch, she learns the witch’s sister wants her dead, and only after teaming up with a scarecrow, a tin man and a lion can she find the wizard who can take he back to Kansas. Or maybe, just maybe, it was all a dream…
It’s hard to remember now, but back in 1981, when “Raiders of the Lost Ark” hit theaters, the world — the movie world — was a different place. Sure, there had been blockbuster movies before — “Star Wars” and “Empire Strikes Back,” to name two, and “Jaws” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” to name two more. Those four movies were directed by two guys — George Lucas and Steven Spielberg — men who, in 1981, were still known mostly as the “Star Wars” guy and “The Jaws” guy. But with the arrival of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which was directed by Spielberg and based on a story by Lucas, those two guys suddenly became two of the most successful filmmakers in Hollywood history.
“Idiocracy” is that rarest of things, a very smart movie about some very dumb people. Even the premise is brilliant in its simplicity: A regular guy — nice, but a little dim — is put in suspended animation for 500 years. When he wakes up in the far future, he’s the smartest man in the world — because the world has gotten that much stupider. And meaner. And crazier.
“The Princess Bride” was an unlikely movie to arrive in 1987. Hell, it was an unlikely movie to arrive in any year. The other big films of that year, in case you’ve forgotten, were “Robocop,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “Wall St.,” “Lethal Weapon,” “Beverly Hills Cop II,” “Fatal Attraction,” The Untouchables” and “The Lost Boys.” Cynical, violent, movies for a cynical violent time.
“The Great Escape” is a great example of the sort of movie you just don’t see anymore: The lighthearted World War II movie. Set in a prisoner of war camp in Germany, the film avoids the sort of gut-wrenching violence or heart-rending drama of movies like “Saving Private Ryan,” “Schindler’s List” or even Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.”
If you’ve heard of the 1958 Japanese movie “The Hidden Fortress” at all, I’m guessing the rest of the sentence also included the words “George Lucas” “Star Wars” and “inspired by.” That’s a shame because, though “The Hidden Fortress” definitely had some influence on “Star Wars,” it’s an entertaining little movie in its own right.
Out of Theaters shifts gears this week and reviews a movie that’s in theaters now. You may have read reviews of The Force Awakens by Will Pfeifer and me. Or you may think reading is for chumps. If that’s the case then here’s the review that requires absolutely no reading.
Before the Force could awaken this week, it had to be created. And that conversation between Luke Skywalker and Old Ben Kenobi is the first time the Force was ever mentioned in “Star Wars,” a movie released way back in 1977 and the one responsible for everything — good and bad, inspirational and embarrassing — that’s come since.
James Bond is back in theaters with Spectre, so we’re bringing you an Out of Theaters two-fer with a 007 from yesteryear and a recent year. Today’s episode simultaneously discusses and compares Live and Let Die (1973) and Casino Royale (2006).