We asked our audience and you voted, THANK YOU..
JAWS, 40 years on:
‘One of the truly great and lasting classics of American Cinema’
The true meaning of Jaws has been picked over by critics and academics ever since its release in June 1975, and even its status as the first summer blockbuster has been questioned. But isn’t it just about a killer shark?
As part of Universal Pictures’ ongoing 100th Anniversary celebration, Jaws was one of 13 classic Universal films to be digitally remastered and fully restored from 35mm original film elements. Over the course of several months, skilled technicians worked with Steven Spielberg to meticulously balance color, remove dirt and scratches, and repair any damage to the film elements shot by shot and frame by frame.
“Jaws is one of the most influential pictures in Hollywood history and changed the landscape of how movies are released
First things first; Jaws is not about a shark. It may have a shark in it – and indeed all over the poster, the soundtrack album, the paperback jacket and so on. It may have scared a generation of cinemagoers out of the water for fear of being bitten in half by the “teeth of the sea”. But the underlying story ofJaws is more complex than the simple terror of being eaten by a very big fish. As a novel, it reads like a morality tale about the dangers of extramarital sex and the inability of a weak father to control his family and his community. As a film, it has been variously interpreted as everything from a depiction of masculinity in crisis to a post-Watergate paranoid parable about corrupt authority figures. But as a cultural phenomenon, the real story of Jaws is how a B-movie-style creature-feature became a genre-defining blockbuster that changed the face of modern cinema. In the wake of the epochal opening of Jaws 40 years ago, the film industry would find itself on the brink of a brave new world wherein saturation marketing and mall-rat teen audiences were the keys to untold riches. To this day, many consider the template of contemporary blockbuster releases to have been laid down in the summer of 1975 by a movie that redefined the parameters of a “hit” – artistically, demographically, financially.
In addition to Jaws, premier drive in theaters have listened to what the audience voted for and Gremlins has been voted as the other great classic to be shown on the national Drive in day line up of classic films.
30 years of ‘Gremlins’:
‘How Steven Spielberg Ushered in the Era of PG-13 Blockbuster Entertainment’
30 years ago, Steven Spielberg—still some way from his 38th birthday—was at the height of his power. He had invented the modern blockbuster in “Jaws,” re-invented the old-school adventure in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” perfected the family movie in “E.T.,” united all these things for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and founded an immensely powerful production company, funding and steering innovative, horror-flavored projects like “Poltergeist” and “The Twilight Zone“—and something called “Gremlins,” a project Spielberg had bought and then given to a promising director of comic horror called Joe Dante, because the maestro himself was busy with “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
The “Gremlins” script, by a young writer named Chris Columbus, was exactly the kind of thing Spielberg had made work so well so far. He had perfected a certain tone: family-friendly because it was also family-frightening. And you could be sure his movies were being seen by families: all of his big hits—including “Jaws”—had been released with PG certificates. 1984 was a time before the existence of the PG-13, when an R rating meant limited commercial prospects and was something studios did their best to avoid. Meanwhile, the huge range of content covered by the PG meant you could show kids a film where, say, a formerly adorable but now malevolent creature is rammed into a microwave and gorily exploded. And, clearly, audiences wanted to see it.
That said, there were limits. Early versions of the script had more mayhem from the transmogrified gremlins than just behaving unacceptably during a screening of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” (a movie whose tone—think of the scene in the haunted forest—still defines the scary family film). They were also going to eat the hero’s dog and kill his mother (offscreen) and throw her severed head down the stairs (onscreen—you can read more about these edits in our”Gremlins” piece from a couple of years ago). Some of these darker elements, it was decided, had to go. But the kitchen scene, with the blender and the microwave, stayed in, and became legendary. Meanwhile, Spielberg was shooting another PG movie in which a man’s beating heart was ripped out on screen. What could possibly go wrong?
‘Temple of Doom‘ came out in late May 1984, and “Gremlins” two weeks later, on the very same weekend as “Ghostbusters.” They’re similar films, sharing a particularly spooky kind of bizarre but domestic horror: the microwave in “Gremlins” has a mirror in the “Ghostbusters” fridge which is literally a portal to hell. “Ghostbusters” took first place at the box office over “Gremlins,” but both were huge hits, as was ‘Temple of Doom’: they ended up being the US’ 2nd (“Ghostbusters”), 3rd (Indy) and 4th (“Gremlins”) highest grossing films of the year (“Beverly Hills Cop” just barely beat “Ghostbusters” to the top spot).
“Gremlins” was overshadowed to a certain extent by “Ghostbusters,” but it’s a brilliant film, full of weird, witty and malevolent touches, like the scene in which the newly evil-ified gremlins torture and torment Gizmo, who has retained his innocence, by suspending him from a wall and throwing darts at him. The absolute weirdest and yet moving moment—possibly the funniest, possibly (if you’re a kid) the most upsetting—is Phoebe Cates‘ lengthy speech about how she knows Santa isn’t real: because her father died trying to climb down the chimney and surprise her one Christmas, and they only found him days later when the whole house started to smell. The studio tried to get the speech removed from the film, but Dante—backed up by Spielberg—insisted on it, saying it epitomized the tone of the whole film. And it does.
After the rewrites and the fights, Spielberg must have known the “Gremlins” release would probably be controversial, but he soon had a perfect storm on his hands. ‘Temple of Doom’ had been a financial hit but critically controversial, creating concern about the violence, and, to a lesser but more deserved extent, its racial politics (see our recent appreciation). Some reviews were actively censorious: one announced that letting a child see the film “would be a cinematic form of child abuse.” (“Gremlins” too has occasionally been criticized on racial grounds, something Oli’s piece above notes).
Anyway, into this mess dropped “Gremlins,” which received largely good reviews, but which was also accused by TV Guide of being “cynically aimed to draw an audience of small children who would no doubt be terrorized by this myth-shattering film.” Vincent Canby in the New York Times asked, “will children cheer when Billy blows up the Kingston Falls movie theater, where the gremlins, now resembling an average kiddie matinee crowd, are exuberantly responding to ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’?”
by conceded that Cates’ Santa speech was hilarious, but the damage was done. Steven Spielberg, hero of the middle-American multiplex, was suddenly Steven Spielberg, monster under your kids’ beds. That the kids probably loved the movies in question wasn’t the point.
Instead of going on the offensive, or going to ground, Spielberg made a cunning move, the kind of cunning move that explains just how he got to be so powerful in the first place: he came out for tougher ratings. Not just in a well-timed interview or a carefully phrased press release: he phoned his good friend Jack Valenti, the head of the MPAA, and suggested a new, tougher rating that would sit between PG and R. As Spielberg said in one interview, “I created the problem and I also supplied the solution … I invented the rating.” Two months later, “Red Dawn” became the first movie to be released as a PG-13 (nonsensically, “Gremlins” didn’t even get re-rated: you could still see it playing as a PG in August of that year, next to the new PG-13s).
PG-13 was a rating that allowed more latitude than the PG—which now essentially denoted a kid’s movie—but didn’t put the film off-limits to large audiences the way an R did. And it had been created not by outraged moral guardians, but by the filmmaker of the moment, the one who caused the trouble in the first place.
The rest is history. The PG-13 rating was a cash-cow, box-office “hot sauce” (Spielberg’s words again): at the time of writing, 9 of the 10 highest-grossing films of all time are PG-13s (it was all 10 until “Frozen” happened). It was the perfect blockbuster rating: you could push the violence and destruction, swear once or twice, suggest some sexy stuff and still pack as many people as possible into the theatre. Win-win.
It was also the end of an era. Suddenly, making weird, kid-friendly, kid-frightening, adult-intriguing films wasn’t really possible; the arrival of the new rating had a chilling effect, and a kind of film that had been blossoming in the ’80s suddenly died, becoming ghettoized as “for kids.” In 1982, Don Bluth‘s uncanny, unexpected “The Secret of NIMH” had been a box-office success and a critical darling; Bluth ended up working with Spielberg on the much tamer and less interesting “An American Tail” a few years later. The same year as “NIMH,” Jim Henson‘s “The Dark Crystal” was a weird, eerie all-ages hit; by the time the follow-up “Labyrinth” came around in 1986 no-one was interested, even with David Bowie‘s crotch doing its best, and the film was a financial failure. “The Never-Ending Story” appeared in theaters a couple of months after “Gremlins” and was met with confusion.Disney panicked and demanded extensive cuts to their “Black Cauldron” project, which would have been their darkest ever film; when it came out in 1985, the censored version was a box-office flop that left behind an intriguing suggestion of a much better, forever-lost piece of work.
Other horror, freed from the burden of worrying about the kids, could be much nastier (although there’s also an argument that since PG-13 debuted, more mature films have been watered down to earn the certification). Followers of “Gremlins” like “Critters” are more brutal but lack the keen edge of the bizarre. Great comedy-horror continued to be made throughout the ’80s—the decade that brought you “An American Werewolf in London” and “Evil Dead 2“—but it was very much for adults.
Those who had worked on “Gremlins” went one way or the other: Chris Columbus had a 1985 kid’s hit with the sanitized “The Goonies,” while that same year Spielberg made “The Color Purple,” the first film in his later style of Oscar-friendly, grown-up worthiness.
Dante, meanwhile, has had an odd career, with its share of hits and flops and a consistent off-beat tone that sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. He made the 1990 sequel “Gremlins 2: The New Batch,” which is nastier and significantly less interesting, and 1998’s “Small Soldiers“; a film mostly forgotten now unless you happened to be at the precise right age to see it on release. It was marketed weirdly and set off its own argument about violence in children’s films, becoming the only Dreamworks release so far to be a PG-13. It’s actually a clever little film about violence in kid’s films (and with several cheeky “Gremlins” references), but it cost Dante the chance to work in cinema for over a decade. He came back with “The Hole,” which we really wanted to like and basically didn’t.
Dante, Spielberg and “Gremlins” created—and if you haven’t seen this line coming, you haven’t been paying attention—a monster, in the form of the PG-13 rating. “Gremlins” feels almost unique now, the kind of film you wish there was more of—but it’s also the reason there aren’t any others, a victim of its own grotesque success. But perhaps that’s just as it should be: we go back to look for the mysterious Chinese place we rented the VHS from, and it isn’t there any more.
‘Back to The Future’:
One of the things all teenagers believe is that their parents were never teenagers. Their parents were, perhaps, children once. They are undeniably adults now. but how could they have ever been teenagers, and yet not understand their own children? This vi [missing text] teenagers by being one. But “Back to the Future” is even more hopeful: It argues that you can travel back in time to the years when your parents were teenagers, and straighten them out right at the moment when they needed help the most.
The movie begins in the present, with a teenager named Marty (Michael J. Fox, from TV’s “Family Ties”). His parents (let’s face it) are hopeless nerds. Dad tells corny jokes and Mom guzzles vodka in the kitchen and the evening meal is like feeding time at the fun house. All that keeps Marty sane is his friendship with the nutty Dr. Brown (Christopher Lloyd), an inventor with glowing eyes and hair like a fright wig. Brown believes he has discovered the secret of time travel, and one night in the deserted parking lot of the local shopping mall, he demonstrates his invention. In the long history of time travel movies, there has never been a time machine quite like Brown’s, which resembles nothing so much as a customized De Lorean.
The gadget works, and then, after a series of surprises, Marty finds himself transported back 30 years in time, to the days when the shopping mall was a farmer’s field (there’s a nice gag when the farmer thinks the De Lorean, with its gull-wing doors, is a flying saucer). Marty wanders into town, still wearing his 1985 clothing, and the townsfolk look at his goose down jacket and ask him why he’s wearing a life preserver.
One of the running gags in “Back to the Future” is the way the town has changed in 30 years (for example, the porno house of 1985 was playing a Ronald Reagan movie in 1955). But a lot of the differences run more deeply than that, as Marty discovers when he sits down at a lunch counter next to his Dad – who is, of course, a teenager himself. Because the movie has so much fun with the paradoxes and predicaments of a kid meeting his own parents, I won’t discuss the plot in any detail. I won’t even get into the horrifying moment when Marty discovers his mother “has the hots” for him. The movie’s surprises are one of its great pleasures.
“Back to the Future” was directed by Robert (“Romancing the Stone”) Zemeckis, who shows not only a fine comic touch but also some of the lighthearted humanism of a Frank Capra. The movie, in fact, resembles Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” more than other, conventional time-travel movies. It’s about a character who begins with one view of his life and reality, and is allowed, through magical intervention, to discover another. Steven Spielberg was the executive producer, and this is the second of the summer’s three Spielberg productions (it follows “The Goonies” and precedes “Explorers”), and maybe it’s time to wonder if Spielberg is emulating the great studio chiefs of the past, who specialized in matching the right director with the right project. This time, the match works with charm, brains and a lot of laughter.