As a crisp winter morning crept over London last Sunday, Martin Short was driving off into the sunset, a new man at the end of Joe Dante’s Innerspace (1987). Indeed, we too had undergone a life changing experience: twelve epic hours of distilled cinematic nostalgia – 640 minutes of movies, five ten minute breaks, 12 bags of sweets – at London’s Prince Charles Cinema’s Amblin Marathon 2013.
Founded in 1981, Steven Spielberg’s legendary production company is responsible for some of the most beloved films of all time (also Viva Rock Vegas: swings and roundabouts). A check-list of a retrophile’s most re-watched DVDs, this line-up was loaded with iconic images and memorable scores and had more Spielbergian humour, spectacle and sentimentality than you could shake an absent father figure at. These are perfect films for children, working within the confines of genre (sci-fi, monster movies, swashbuckling adventure, Big Fucking Spiders) and viewing the spectacular events from an innocent, curious perspective, frequently shot from waist level. This is Spielberg’s (who executive produced all films featured, aside from the one he directed) gift to cinema: a childlike acceptance of the fantastical; escapism which always remains close to home.The tropes and themes shared by the movies are many, but there is no better way to describe the fabric that binds them as a particular kind of ‘movie magic’.
Loaded with enough caffeine and sugar to warrant arrest for intent to supply, we were ready to dive in.
2100hrs The event began with Spielberg’s “second most personal film” (edged out by Schindler) E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL which lends the studio its iconic logo. An ancient 35mm print, scratched and tortured to within an inch of its life, popped off the screen; the equivalent of a blue-movie for a room full of cellulophiles. E.T. is quintessential Amblin; a semi-autobiographical tale which sees a young boy named Eliot (Henry Thomas) struggling to cope with his parents’ divorce, befriend an alien who is accidentally left stranded in his Californian neighbourhood. Informed by Spielberg’s own childhood, this classic weepy perfectly embeds a very personal story into what is essentially a summer blockbuster. Breathtaking performances from the child actors and the different puppets and suits that make E.T.
2300hrs BACK TO THE FUTURE is hungrily claimed by maby as their favourite film of all time and for good reason. Robert Zemekis’ (who co-wrote with Bob Gale) time-travel comedy exudes so much charm and vibrancy, and is so genuinely funny, that it just makes you wanna squeal. The Delorean, the fire trails and that rousing score all give a feeling of bombast, but it is surprising quite how low-key and personable this story actually is; a key factor of its unique and lasting appeal. The magical time travel elements (recently given a realistic update in Rian Johnson’s Looper) play second fiddle to a character comedy which sees Marty, stuck in a picture perfect 1955, playing Cupid for his mother (Lea Thompson) and father (Crispin Glover) to-be. The performances are impeccable (Christopher Lloyd’s turn as ‘Doc’ is superlative) and the characters share legendary chemistry in this timeless family masterpiece.
0100hrs Joe Dante’s GREMLINS is a giddy pleasure of a film with a mischievous bite. Much of the Amblin cannon is indebted to the works of Frank Capra but Gremlins takes great relish in subverting the sentiment of It’s a Wonderful Life and Spielberg’s own brand of sentimentality. For more on Gremlins, read my Rhythm Circus review.
0300hrs ARACHNOPHOBIA was the dark horse of the evening, a scream of a picture which dazzled the audience with how effective it is in generating genuine scares. “The suspense of Alien! The excitement of Jaws! The fun of Back to the Future!” proclaims one of the film’s taglines (“Eight legs, two fangs and an attitude” boasts the other) demonstrating how brazen Frank Marshall’s creepy crawly horror is with its influences and it is no lesser for it. The references to other movies are so on-the-nose that the film almost parodies itself at times but never at the expense of entertaining its audience with awesome thrills. The structure is lifted straight out of Spielberg’s seminal toothy blockbuster – Jeff Daniels fitting nicely into the Chief Brody mould – but Arachnophobia stands strong with a perfectly tuned script (Don Jakoby, Wesley Strick) in which no set-up is left dangling without an exceedingly satisfying pay-off. Marshall (who, with his wife Kathleen Kennedy, also Executive Produced most of Amblin’s movies) channels his good friend’s expertise in frightening the audience whilst remaining homely and strangely cuddly throughout. Also, with dialogue like “A web would indicate an arachnoid presence.” John Goodman’s fantastic pest controller Delbert deserves his own spin-off.
0500hrs It is a miracle that THE GOONIES works as well as it does. It’s scattershot, flippant, irreverent, random and skirts the borders of political incorrectness. Nevertheless, Richard Donner’s (The Omen, Superman) kids-on-an-adventure movie is still an unashamed delight. When their beloved Goon Docks are threatened by evil suit-wearing developers, a group of kids – or ‘goonies’ – go searching for an ancient buried treasure to help save the neighbourhood. If the perilous booby traps don’t get them, a couple of dastardly crooks (and their tattooed ma’) certainly will. As with E.T., the film boasts a roster of talented youths, including Josh Brolin, future Lord of the Rings star Sean Astin and the 1980s institution that is Corey Feldman (Gremlins). Brolin and Astin share some genuinely sweet chemistry as the brothers at the centre of the story and Jeff Cohen as Chunk – the performer of the infamous ‘Truffle Shuffle’ – is beautifully funny, in a memorable scene channelling genuine tears to make his audience laugh.
0700hrs With his OTT slapstick, manic characters and frivolous approach to the laws of science, Joe Dante is a director who shoots and cuts his films like they are live action Chuck Jones ‘toons and INNERSPACE is no exception. A spoofed up reworking of 60s adventure flick Fantastic Voyage, this bodily sci-fi comedy sees Dennis Quaid miniaturised and injected into Martin Short’s backside. The pilot of a teeny tiny submarine, Quaid’s Tuck Pendleton (complete with a thick dollop of wise cracking Han Solo charm) helps Short’s Jack Putter evade government goons from his ear canal, making for some potent moments of rather sickly comic high-jinx. Innerspace may be a lesser work compared to those already discussed, revelling in a hyperbolic sentiment that is incredibly funny but not particularly clever or relatable, but it has a saving grace in the unlikely relationship that develops between the two heroes. Behind the surface-level sugar-rush comedy (which, incidentally, exacerbates the nausea that comes with sleep-deprivation and caffeine overload) is a heartfelt story about two very different characters learning a great deal from one another about how to be better men.
There is also a battle in which a henchman is digested in the heroes stomach acid which seems just so damn wrong.
For more information about the best, most unique cinema in London, head on over to The Prince Charles Cinema’s website or download their 3 Month Planner.